Metropolis Crimes review

Metropolis Crimes
Metropolis Crimes
The Good:
  • Varied, well-integrated puzzles
  • Nice background art
The Bad:
  • Dull stories and unsympathetic characters
  • Precision control requirement with unresponsive input recognition
  • No manual save
Our Verdict:

The nicely integrated puzzles in Metropolis Crimes are fun to solve when they work, but the weak story and characters and overly frustrating controls will have you seeing red.

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Red Johnson is a ginger-haired, laid-back private detective living in a corrupt city called Metropolis, where crime reigns supreme and police would rather blame an innocent bystander than actually investigate a case. If that sounds familiar, you've probably heard of Red Johnson's Chronicles or its sequel, One Against All. The largely unknown Metropolis Crimes actually came before both, but was distributed only in limited markets worldwide. This Nintendo DS game shares some of the same good points of its successors, such as attractive graphics and challenging puzzles, but unfortunately most of the bad ones as well. And along with the weak storyline and flat characters, the handheld game suffers from unresponsive and inaccurate controls as well, which make it a frustrating experience at times.

If you're not familiar with the series, Lexis Numérique has a reputation for creating games that are a bit different, and Metropolis Crimes is no exception. It consists of four cases that introduce Red and his methods of approaching cases. In the first, he stumbles onto a crime scene at the photo studio of an old friend. The two people outside blame each other, and when Red finds out there is money missing from the cash register he decides to investigate. The second one deals with a break-in at an old theatre leading to the death of one of the perpetrators, while in the third Red himself is framed for murder when asked to enter a fortune teller's trailer. The final case begins with the body of an elderly woman found inside a washing machine in the cellar of her own house. Each investigation follows the same basic structure, consisting of several phases involving taking witness statements, discovering and analyzing clues, interrogating suspects and deducing what went down.

Each stage is self-contained and upon completion is evaluated with a letter grade that adds points to a total case score (depicted as a needle gradually moving up on a dial). How well you do influences the rating you get at the end of the case, along with the number of puzzles or minigames you have to complete (do well in the first two rounds of an interrogation and you're done; miss out on one and you can still 'win' by doing a third round). Whenever you finish a phase, the game autosaves. You can't save manually, which means if you blow a puzzle or dialogue and want to retry, you'll need to replay the entire stage (potentially repeating a dozen puzzles or a handful of interviews in the process). Two or three times you will visit Red's hideout, where he has a computer, a scanner and some other hardware where you can analyse clues CSI-style.

In any given scene the interface requires you to use the touch screen in many ways. To find out where interaction is possible, you draw a circle (symbolizing a magnifying glass) and move that across the screen until it turns into a jigsaw puzzle piece (a puzzle) or a door (exit to a different location), which you can then touch to access. To open your notebook with clues, statements and a description of people you've met so far, you must draw three sides of a rectangle at the bottom of the screen (the bottom itself being the fourth side). Witnesses can be interviewed by drawing a question mark over them (using the shoulder buttons to switch between them), while choosing the correct answer in one of the many quizzes requires you to duplicate a symbol associated with the corresponding sentence on screen. A couple of times you need to blow into the microphone to remove dust or spread it around to cover fingerprints.

Finding and analysing clues is often a matter of figuring out what the game wants from you. All you get is an object that you use the stylus to interact with, such as unscrewing caps, turning dials, pushing buttons and peeling off labels, or you can switch to 'view' mode to turn it around or zoom in and then back to 'interact mode' to try other actions. It is fun to experiment to see what you can do, and these puzzles are not only varied and clever, most are well integrated into the story. However, there is a big problem to overcome, as the interface is very unresponsive. If you're trying to twist off a cap or pour a liquid and the game doesn't react as you'd expect it to, you have no way of knowing whether you are doing it wrong or your inputs simply aren't being properly recognised. As the time you take directly influences your score, it can be really frustrating if a few minutes pass and you still haven't gotten anywhere with opening that washing machine door to have a look inside.

Interrogation of witnesses and suspects, all equally unwilling to cooperate, consists of several rounds. At the start of each, you will be shown several key words that have their own minigame attached (though you generally don't know which subject is associated with which type of puzzle or minigame). For instance, you can trigger a 'find the difference' minigame where you see two pictures of someone's apartment and you have to point out where changes were made. There's also a mini-quiz where the interviewee repeats their statement and you need to find inconsistencies compared to what they said before, an inventory selection task to present an item that incriminates someone, a 'psychological profile' where you have to rapidly tick the screen with the stylus when the suspect makes a particular movement (a bar decreasing over time and depleting very fast whenever you press at the wrong moment), and more. If you are lucky in getting activities you happen to be good at, you may finish the conversation in only two rounds (with two or three puzzles/minigames each) but if you fail one of them, you need to play a third round (exhausting all of the subjects).

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