If you’ve ever wondered how LucasArts’ classic Sam & Max Hit the Road might have turned out if an independent Portuguese developer had gotten their hands on it (and who hasn’t thought about that at least once, no?), Detective Case and Clown Bot: Murder in the Hotel Lisbon, a 2D point-and-click comic adventure from Nerd Monkeys, steps in to answer that question. Unfortunately, despite having a mildly entertaining plot and self-referential humor, the game is hampered by flat and off-color comedy, frustrating trial-and-error gameplay, and a variety of other annoyances that prevent the game from reaching its full potential.
On the positive side, Case & Bot’s premise is fairly wacky and, in general, a pretty interesting take on the whodunit genre: there’s been a murder at the Hotel Lisbon, but the ineptitude of the local police department has led them to the belief that the victim committed suicide—by stabbing himself in the back fourteen times. Obviously, a more competent investigator must be found if this mystery is to be solved. Enter: Detective Justin Case, boorish private eye with a penchant for floppy blue hats, and his floating robotic sidekick Clown Bot, whose true dream in life is to be a circus clown. And tell really, really bad jokes.
Graphically, the game does a good job imitating the cartoony, pixel art style of the LucasArts classics that clearly inspired it, and also manages to throw in some additional graphical flair. For example, instead of the city’s streets simply being empty, as is common in 2D adventures, silhouetted traffic occasionally passes by in the foreground. While initially interesting, this effect becomes distracting as cars and even a large trolley run in front of the scene at various times. While thankfully disabled when dialog bubbles are onscreen, it can become a hindrance when the interface buttons are momentarily obscured.
Sound effects are sparse, including a trumpet-like flourish when you successfully solve a puzzle and a few other sounds. There are no voiceovers. Contrasting with the notable lack of sound effects, the game’s music is ever-present, and despite making use of a full band and managing to have a few catchy tunes, the short, repetitive tracks become irritating very quickly. The soundtrack’s one bright spot is the inclusion of a traditional “fado” song (a Portuguese folk genre akin to the blues), performed by Alexandra Martins. However, the baffling decision to include only extremely low-bit-rate files for all of the music and sound results in such muffled and low-quality audio that it raises the question of whether this was intentional due to technical limitations, or was an oversight that somehow made it to release.
The interface is quite intuitive, requiring only a left-click to navigate the environment or to bring up a set of floating buttons for such options as “Pick Up” or “Talk.” Dialog with characters utilizes a menu at the top of the screen, with a series of sentences the player selects from to initiate conversation. Conversation choices can generally be revisited as many times as necessary in order to catch any clues missed the first time around, until that particular line of questioning is no longer needed. Although there is an inventory for collecting clues, players who dislike the task of combining items to solve puzzles will find inventory puzzles thankfully absent.
The city in which Case & Bot takes place is mostly unremarkable, consisting of several streets connected to each other by a sidewalk. Each of the street names helpfully corresponds to the main attraction there, such as Police Station Street or Hotel Street. Locations are largely functional in their design, though a few extra touches such as bullet holes in the door of the police station and crude drawings in a bar bathroom serve to provide a little bit of comical flavor to the environment. A fast-travel feature is also present, in the form of a taxi service that Clown Bot can call. In one of the game’s few successful attempts at comedy, this taxi has a particularly useful, and unexpected, ability (hint: try calling the taxi indoors).
Speaking of jokes, the first that you will encounter is an example of the game’s self-aware sense of humor: amid the raucous applause of a silhouetted audience, a la Mystery Science Theater 3000, a curtain draws back to reveal Act One. There are several instances of this type of meta-comedy, including a clever send-up of the ubiquitous “404 Not Found” browser message, appropriately located in room 404 of the Hotel Lisbon, and there are also a few winking references to other adventure games and franchises. Unfortunately, these dashes of self-reference constitute most of the game’s successful attempts at humor. The rest of the comedy fails to hold up, either from simply not being funny or from being rendered ineffective by the English translations, which have occasional typos and possess a somewhat bland tone at times.Continued on the next page...