Inspector Waffles review
Whilst Inspector Waffles may follow a current fashionable trend in featuring animal detective protagonists, this traditional point-and-click adventure by solo developer Goloso Games is definitely no copycat. With its sharp writing, a likeable cast of characters, charming pixel art presentation and enjoyable but never too taxing puzzles, the game very clearly stands on its own four paws. Really, aside from being a little short and some very minor issues around item use, Inspector Waffles feels like a near-purrfect adventure game. It's also one that mercifully has far better cat puns than this review.
You play the titular feline detective, a little jaded from a previous case that went all kinds of wrong (which you as the player will learn more about as the game progresses), and a little tired of the bumbling animal folk you’re forced to call your colleagues. As the game starts, you're just finishing off an ice-cold glass of milk at your favourite bar when you're called to a murder scene. Fluffy – the beloved owner of Fluffy Box Furniture – has been killed at his home and it's up to you to find out whodunnit. Along the way there are plenty of twists and turns as you question suspects and witnesses, discover new locations and, as with every maverick detective, find the best way to get the job done – even if that means not always by the book.
Puzzles in Inspector Waffles are the traditional inventory kind of combining items or using them with other in-game objects or characters. There's also an option to turn hints and clues in the text dialogue to yellow, so you pick up what's relevant quicker. Whilst there's no hotspot highlighter, there was only one instance in the whole game where I found myself truly stuck because I hadn't seen a fairly obscure item in a room, so I didn't find this much of an issue. The puzzles in general are clearly signposted and thankfully make sense – no mean feat sometimes in an adventure game!
If you do end up getting stuck, there's a pretty funny in-game hint system you can use. Waffles' mother, you see, used to be a detective herself, in fact one of the very best in the business. So if you ever need help, you can head to the menu and select the “Call Mom” option. As well as getting a hint as to what you should be doing next, depending on where you are in the game, you'll of course also have to suffer her fussing to check that you're okay and asking when you're going to visit her, in a very sweet, embarrassing motherly fashion. It's a clever way of making a hint system feel natural to the story, and even if you never get stuck it's worth calling at least once or twice for the funny dialogue, which is different each time.
Along with solving puzzles using inventory, the main way of progressing in the case is to interrogate suspects and witnesses. As you speak to people and investigate leads amongst the apartments, bars and hot dog stands of Cat Town, the bits of useful information you uncover will be written down in your notebook as clues. You can then use these clues, alongside the items you find, when you interrogate people as evidence to back up your questions or to open up new avenues for conversation. There’s no penalty if you put forward a clue that doesn't fit, as Waffles will just remark as such, and you can simply try another. One slight annoyance in this area is that if you want to show a character an object, you can't just drag it onto them; instead you'll have to go through the corresponding dialogue options again before being given the chance to select the item. It means sometimes having to go through the same conversation several times, but at least the lines are very easily skippable, so it only takes up a second or two more.
The game has a fantastic sense of fun in its writing and its big cast of characters. Your boss Patches sees himself as a “gourmand” but really just enjoys eating everything and anything. Your newly appointed and rather naïve sidekick Spotty, a dog, is incredibly eager to work with you, much to your annoyance. Meanwhile Luno the reporter is, just like every journalist(!), incredibly nosey and always appearing to be ten steps ahead of everyone else on the police force. Every cast member is believable and very endearing, save of course its evil antagonist. There are even a few sections where you play as another character apart from Inspector Waffles, which I won't spoil, but which was particularly entertaining to play through due to its clever, comical realisation of the character.
There's no voice-acting in the game, with conversations appearing as on-screen text. Cat puns are littered throughout (sorry), from a painting by the great “Meowgritte” to a book called “The Great Catsby,” but never feel too over-the-top or forced and rightfully decreasing in frequency near the end of the story when the more dramatic plot threads take hold.
Whilst it’s unusual to see no walking or movement animations (the inspector always stands in one spot in a scene while you click on objects of interest), the animations that are here do a good job of continuing the sense of animalistic world-building. Waffles' tail will swish from side to side, and the loveable Spotty will jump up and down with his tongue hanging out when he gets too excited. They're only small visual touches, but they help make the otherwise fairly static presentation feel a lot more buzzing with life.
The world and characters are made up of pixels in a similar chunky style to games like The Darkside Detective, whilst the wordless, panel-style cutscenes are hand-drawn. Although this is a game dealing with murder and jaded detectives, the palette isn't muted or noirish (black-and-white) in colour, as Cat Town's places and inhabitants are all bright and vivid. This modest graphic design makes the soundtrack all the more important, so fortunately its composer Philip Aldous delivers. Most different areas, from the police office to the murder scene, have their own short two- to three-minute jazzy theme comprised of jaunty piano or guitar, but none ever feel repetitive or annoying.
Aside from the game’s puns and likeable characters, there's also a clear love of the adventure genre on display, particularly modern titles and their developers, in Inspector Waffles. Fans should be able to spot several references to recent and upcoming games nestled within the story – a nice break from the usual throwbacks to Monkey Island normally found in similar games. There's even a witty idea based on the fact that this is one in a long line of titles starring an animal detective, which I’ll leave you to discover for yourself but which I'd love to see realised by their collective developers one day.
The game took me four hours to finish, but alongside the main story there's also a side quest I didn't complete to fill up a sticker book full of collector’s cards hidden throughout, which I'm told by the developer also unlocks a secret ending. This means that even having completed the investigation, there are still extra things to uncover and explore, adding a bit of optional longevity to a reasonably short title. Near the end of the game you have free rein to revisit most locations with Spotty in your car if you do fancy finishing the bonus mission. Or you could always reload a manual saved game if you need to go back to an earlier point. When you’re ready to solve the case, although there are one or two slight melodramatic elements with the plot near the end, it mostly makes sense, with a heartfelt, warm conclusion.
My minor complaint about the game’s length is really only because Inspector Waffles is such a fun experience from start to finish that I'd have quite liked some more of it. What could have been just another copy-and-paste mystery following a furry detective as he solves a murder becomes much more than the sum of its parts due largely to the great writing and excellent collection of characters – the whole experience really is the cat's pyjamas.
The cat’s out the bag: with its amusing dialogue, entertaining cast of characters and engaging plot, Inspector Waffles is a delightful pixel art romp that’ll leave you “feline” very good.