Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of the Frozen City review

Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of the Frozen City
Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of the Frozen City
The Good:
  • Nice variety of gameplay with some inventive puzzles
  • Pleasant hand-drawn art
  • Accessible to casual and younger gamers
The Bad:
  • Illogical storyline
  • Poor use of 3D capability
  • Puzzles badly integrated with setting
  • Unclear instructions
Our Verdict:

Feeling more like Layton-lite than heavy-duty Holmes, Mystery of the Frozen City is for those who enjoy casual puzzling enough to overlook a nonsensical story.

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London is in the grip of a mysterious ice storm. Springing out of nowhere, the unnatural weather has brought the city to a halt, even beginning to freeze the Thames. In their rooms at 221B Baker Street, Holmes and Watson are brooding on this strange phenomenon when a letter urgently calling for their assistance arrives. An experimental weather machine has been sabotaged, its vital control crystals needed to end the storm now missing. In Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of the Frozen City for Nintendo 3DS, the two sleuths must search the exhibition for the missing crystals, along with clues to reveal the saboteur. Sadly, whilst facing an interesting variety of challenges in this casual puzzler, their investigation is hampered by some poor design decisions and a somewhat ludicrous plot.

The action takes place entirely within a scientific exhibition, with different areas dedicated to different types of inventions, such as a hall full of flying machines. The weather machine is a result of collaboration between several scientists, each of whom holds a set of the crystals needed to shut the machine down. The game is therefore effectively split up into chapters, as you try to gather each scientist’s set of crystals, whilst also pursuing information leading to the culprit. The freezing of the city is only the start of the plan, however, as an army of robots moves in to take over, converging on the exhibition as your efforts start to reverse the effects of the storm.

This is not a story that bears close scrutiny, and the convoluted process to close down the machine feels like a wholly artificial contrivance. A safety mechanism that requires a disparate group of individuals to be in the building at the same time does not strike me as particularly safe, and there is no reason why the saboteur could not destroy this system as well. The panel in the side of the machine where the crystals are inserted is easily accessible, and it would be child’s play to damage it. For that matter, as I placed crystals in the machine whenever I found them, the saboteur could simply have removed them and thrown them away. The extreme cold is required for the invading robots to operate, as a lack of cooling mechanism causes them to explode in all but the lowest temperatures. Creating a vast storm rather than adding such a mechanism seems like an overly complex plan to me, and since it is later revealed that the robots cannot operate in heated buildings anyway, the invasion would appear to be a non-starter, even with the storm in place.

The story doesn’t fit well with the Sherlock Holmes canon either. The original tales were always based firmly in reality, with any fantastical elements given a down-to-earth explanation by the end. By contrast, this tale is packed with fantastical elements, including a teleportation machine and a pair of glasses with filters that x-ray items and allow you to see into the past. Holmes himself comes across as less brilliant than usual. The scientific exhibition appears to be well-publicised, but Holmes has to be called to it to discover it is the source of the storm. He relies heavily on the aforementioned glasses in places where you would expect his keen detective instincts to direct his actions. When he does pronounce his deductions, they seem based on obvious details such as noting that a scene of an unmasked saboteur must have happened after said saboteur had their mask ripped off. With other oddities like Inspector Byrne of the Yard replacing Inspector Lestrade, it feels like a familiar headline name was chosen by the developers with only cursory knowledge of the source material.

The background graphics are hand-drawn and include a nice amount of detail. Offices have untidy desks and packed bookshelves, and the exhibition halls are full of intriguing machines, many of which crackle with electricity or give off bursts of steam. With bright colours, crisp lines and good use of shading, the various locations really come to life. The characters are equally well-painted, with some of their own idle animations and expressive faces. During conversations, half-body stills of the people speaking appear behind their dialogue. These change depending on the situation, such as covering them with snow during conversations taking place on the roof. Several locations are wider than the screen, and panning slightly rotates the view of larger items as if the player was moving sideways across the room. 

Had this been a DS title, The Frozen City's graphics would have been highly effective. Unfortunately, on the 3DS they do not fare so well. In stereoscopic 3D, too many items appear to be made up of thin sheets, creating the effect of a child’s cardboard theatre production. Even the changing views of the larger items still feel like cutouts rather than solid objects. The characters come out worst of all, looking like paper dolls animated by pins holding them together at the joints. Whilst it seemed a waste of the console’s ability, I found turning the 3D off made this game much easier on the eye.

Music consists of a handful of tunes that loop continuously. These range from a jaunty dramatic piece at the start to a gentle melody of largely woodwind. The move from one style to another blends fairly well, with no jarring shifts to break immersion. Whilst the soundtrack is pleasant enough to listen to, however, I didn’t find it particularly inspiring. There are also simple sound effects throughout, such as the hissing of machinery and the squeaking of screws. The game is completely unvoiced, even in the numerous cutscenes.

The upper screen is used for the main display, and control is almost entirely handled with the stylus. Sliding the stylus on the lower screen moves a cursor on the upper screen, somewhat like using a touchpad. When the cursor is over an interactive area it changes shape to signify pick up or interact options, and lifting the stylus takes the appropriate action. Moving the cursor to the edge of the screen pans across a wider area where applicable. Panning can also be achieved using the control pad, which initially feels odd but soon becomes natural. You'll need the stylus in any case, as the touch screen also has functions like the inventory as buttons in each of the four corners.  In exploring the corners of the upper screen you can inadvertently activate these buttons on the lower one, though a faint copy of the button appears to warn you when this is a risk. During the many minigame puzzles you encounter, which often require finer manipulation, the action shifts strictly to the bottom screen, with the top screen simply displaying a title screen for the current challenge.

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