Or should I say ‘Blue Toad Muuuuuur-der! Files…’
A pretty straight forward puzzle game made by Relentless Software, makers of the series of Buzz quiz games (and some other stuff) and released via PSN in December 2009, with the PC version (which is the version I played) coming out in on Steam in 2010. The game has received some mixed and poor reviews but actually seems to have had relatively little press around it at all.
I bought the game a little while ago now, and always meant to finish and write a little bit about it – I thought it was weird that there was no GameFaqs guide, and relatively little press.
While the PSN version was initially episodic the pc version comes with all six episodes available for immediate play. The six cases are: Little Riddle’s Deadly Dilemma, The Mystery of Riddle Manor, The Mystery of the Concealing Flame, Death From Above, The Riddles of the Past and Flight of the Felonious Fugitive
The games narrator is very verbose, dramatic and entertaining – definitely a big part of what holds the game together. Apparently all 22 voices, including the dog, were voiced by a single actor, Tom Dussek – and while sometimes this is a little obvious when certain characters are talking to each other, it is still pretty impressive.
Alongside this dramatic narrator is a reasonably nice score with over the top ‘dun dun dun!’s all round.
While the narrator dialogue all throughout the game is amusing, I quite like the comments you get after each puzzle has been solved, being invited to look as smug as possible, being called a great big swot and of course being told how terrible I am when I don’t do very well.
What is also interesting is you can play with multiple people on a single computer – heaven forbid! I wish more games and for that matter, people would realise same pc and same console multiplayer is a great and much wanted feature.
There are very few graphical options beyond resolution, the style of the game is very simple and cartoony, but not un-pleasant. While the style is simple and cartoon, however, the content of the game isn’t really kid oriented – murder, extra marital affairs, fraud (oh, my!)
The game play has two distinct elements. One part is mainly conversations where you have to listen and look out for clues which you will use to decide who out of 4 suspects listed in each case has committed this cases crime. Between conversations there are puzzles – the obvious comparison to draw is between Blue Toad Murder Files and Professor Layton.
Each puzzle is timed; you are scored on completing it within a set time and without mistakes. You do have the option of giving up and this does not affect how the story progresses at all – so you can play as few or as many puzzles as you would like to. When you do give up, the game does explain how you were supposed to complete the puzzle.
The only true downside is the game could have been much better with a hint system – there are occasional puzzles that are just too awkward and a starting hint would have made the game more fun and made me as a player feels less stupid when I can’t figure out a particular puzzle.
Story and style wise the game has heavy hints of Agatha Christie murder mysteries – there’s even a playable character called Miss Marple. You, as a detective, are on holiday – and a crime just happens to be committed when you arrive – as has been pointed out by people long before me in regards to this kind of plot, surely the newly arrived detective is the most likely suspect, and I was kind of hoping that the game would play on this humour a bit more – maybe you, as the player, should have been the killer.
The first case is fairly short, introducing the player to all the relevant game play mechanics; to puzzles, conversations, moving around, and the suspects – it was a nice straight forward introduction.
Every so often there are small quiz sections to see if you’re paying attention to plot and detail, some as supercilious as ‘What colour was the train?’ in the first case – but it does make you pay attention to the small details from then on, making you remember (or if you’re lame like me, take notes of) details like full character names, numbers and colours of random on screen objects in case they’re important.
The humour in the game is mostly a strange collection of British stereotypes and awkwardness; the doctor has terrible handwriting, the hotel owner is very bad mannered, old, chatty and dotty women (Mrs Gossip and Mrs Bothersome) the suspicious and gruff police inspector, and finally the ‘scum!’ yelling indignant butcher.
The final part of each case is a ‘Whodunit?’ where all four suspects are arranged police line up style and you chose which suspect you believe is guilty. If playing multiplayer, you can each pick different suspects. Finally players are all scored and ranked.
The ‘off in his own world’ village priest is a veritable pile of cthulhu references or what feel like cthulhu references, it did make me worry initially that it was going to be that and only that from now on – cthulhu things are everywhere now, and while that in and of itself isn’t always a bad thing, it’s tacked onto some not very great things. But they stuck to it just being the priest being strange, and didn’t really make much more of it than they needed.
One interface feature…thing that annoyed me was when you are talking to someone you have the option of replaying what just happened with a click of the mouse – and I’m not sure why you would ever want to (I did it once by accident, which is how it annoyed me).
Overall, the game mostly plays like a graphical novel – it’s very story, humour and dialogue heavy – as mentioned earlier you can play as few or as many puzzles as you like – whether you like this or not is up to you, I didn’t mind it and it was the only thing you could do when some puzzles were too frustrating sometimes.
Some of the puzzle controls could be a little fiddly – especially in the placing items puzzles, it’s very hard to place them back when they were originally outside the solution area as the area each item snapped to was very small.
The puzzles don’t build in difficulty over time but are varied across every case – which I think is the right way to do it – if it just became more and more difficult over time, I think if it got frustrating you wouldn’t be able to or feel like you’d be able to continue. And if you quit and came back to a difficult puzzle after a while it isn’t likely to be fun. But then a hint system would have made those occasional really frustrating puzzles not as bad.
There doesn’t feel like there is much of a push to do particularly well, your score has no impact on the story, which I have no problem with necessarily – it means you still get to experience the game you bought regardless of skill level. A global score board would have maybe given more competitive players more of an indication as to how well they were doing.
Another minor game play annoyance is as you move from case to case, each time you have to pick a character and number of players – instead of picking once and being able to change easily. This does make the game seem a little unpolished.
The types of puzzles however actually seemed very varied, and while some were variations of an earlier puzzle there felt like there was enough that was different – some of them being simple, others interesting (like a simplified n-queens problem) and sadly occasionally some being just a little too hard or awkward for me.
As the cases progressed, around case 3 and 4 – I found myself skipping a few more puzzles here and there that were a few more that were frustrating – where there were only one precise solution and trial and error felt like the only way to get there.
None of five cases felt particularly long on their own but together they make for a good day or two days play, or longer obviously if you decide to do one case a day. The story takes many twists and turns as more and more people are Muuurdered! There are secrets and hidden motives although unfortunately the after credits surprise didn’t feel like too much of a surprise, I had been suspicious of the ever present character that turned out to be Eeeeevil!
The final case felt like it upped the pace, running full speed to the conclusion. The annoying puzzles of case 3 and 4 having gone, the puzzles in the end case felt more readily solved. Sadly, the end of the game didn’t feel like it closed all of the interesting loose ends up but as it ended with ‘End?’ So I’m assuming the idea was for there to be a long running series like Sam and Max. Unfortunately as the game was released 2 years ago I am not sure it will be getting more sequels, which is a shame, as there was a lot of good to build on.
So, my final thoughts! While the game is (like many others I would like to point out) not perfect in how it plays by a long stretch – the biggest downer being the lack of a hint system, it has a great sense of humour and story, and I do enjoy both puzzle games and story driven games. Obviously if you’re not into puzzle games, it’s not going to be you’re thing, but for anyone maybe a bit interested it is only £9 and is worth playing despite its flaws.