Welcome to the cozy town of Little Riddle. At first glance this picturesque small town is the ideal place to live. There's plenty of room to walk around, no traffic congestion to speak of and beautiful scenery as far as the eyes can see. And did I mention the population of colorful characters? Little Riddle makes a great first impression. But look closer, because this quiet town has a dark secret. What first looks like the perfect place to go antiquing, quickly becomes a place to commit the perfect MURDER!
Blue Toad Murder Files is an episodic murder mystery that has you interviewing suspects, searching for clues and solving brain teasers in order to figure out who pulled off the nefarious crimes. You play one of four Blue Toad agents tasked with solving the various crimes committed in Little Riddle. To do this you will have to pay close attention and sit through about an hour's worth of silly cinema scenes and puzzles.
In total there will be six individual episodes. The first three are available now both in a bundle and individually, while the second half of the season will hit the PSN towards the end of April. Each individual episode will run you $7.49, which is comparable to the pricing structure of other episodic PC and console games. However, if you buy the full three-pack in a bundle it will only run you $14.99, effectively making the third game free. For this review I will be looking at the full bundle, touching only slightly on the individual stories of each episode.
The mysteries don't take long to start piling up. You aren't off of the train and in the town of Little Riddle more than a few minutes before the town's goofy Mayor is gunned down right in front of your eyes. From there we go straight into investigation mode, interviewing the four suspects, taking down notes and solving a series of logic puzzles that often have very little to do with the actual murder.
By the end of the first episode we've figured out who the murderer was and are ready to send them off to jail. But just as you getting ready to put the cuffs on, the murderer is gunned down it's off to solve another case. As you swing into action you'll discover that there's something far more sinister at play, perhaps even a full conspiracy. By the third episode you'll be investigating who burned down the local Town Hall and what all this has to do with the overarching storyline.
The story is there to push you along and give you a bunch of different puzzles to solve. Each of the game's first three episodes feature a dozen puzzles to solve, not including several pop quizzes and you ultimately pointing the finger at one of four suspects. These puzzles start out simple enough, asking you to convert U.S. dollars into British pounds or find the quickest path into the Town Hall. However, there's enough variety to quiz you in all sorts of different ways. In one puzzle you might be asked to water the garden, while in another you'll have to seat a bunch of hungry dinner guests in a very specific order. You'll deal with anagrams, math problems, reading comprehension and all sorts of other puzzles.
For the most part these puzzles are a lot of fun, many of them (especially late in the game) will require you to play close attention and read the instructions thoroughly. There's very little gameplay outside of the puzzles and quizzes, so Blue Toad Murder Files lives and dies on how into puzzle solving you are. What is especially annoying is that many of the puzzles feel like filler. You'll find that many puzzles are nothing more than you trying to impress the townsfolk enough to make them want to help you. While I understand why they set the game up this way, I have a hard time believing that in order for Sherlock Holmes to solve the case he first had to make sure a bunch of flowers were evenly watered.
It's clear from the start that this puzzler was developed for younger kids. Even though the game deals with murder, it's always committed in a whimsical way. The whole game is narrated by one guy, with most of the voices done by one man (even the women's parts), similar to what you might find in an audio book. The game has a lot of fun with the cliches of the narration, even going as far as to break the fourth wall on a number of humorous occasions. Best of all, the townspeople of Little Riddle are all memorable and full of character. You get the near-sighted postman, an ornery butcher (SCUM!), the sexy librarian, mannish jeweler, a sick antique dealer and much, much more. After I was done with my investigation I wished I could go back and have further conversations with some of these people.
Sadly, there isn't much reason to go back through these episodes once you've fingered the criminal. The dialog is always the same, never giving you a choice of what to say or do. The puzzles are also the same, so once you've solved them there's no reason why it will take you more than a few seconds to solve them again. It would have been nice if the game randomly changed the puzzles, even if it is just giving you a slight variation on another puzzle But that's not how they did it, so once you have the answers it's a little too easy to go back through and get gold on every puzzle.
Blue Toad Murder Files owes a lot to Level 5's wonderful Professor Layton series on the Nintendo DS. These games are full of great characters, ingenious puzzles and an art style that I fell in love with the moment I saw it. Unfortunately, Blue Toad feels more like a speedy imitation than a full homage. Not only were there are lot more puzzles to solve in the Professor Layton games, but they were also a lot cleverer in their implementation. Sure you were asked to do things that didn't have much to do with the story, but they never felt as outlandish as what you're made to do in this game.
The game's presentation is fine, though it pales in comparison to Professor Layton or the numerous episodic games that Telltale Games has put out. The voice acting is alright, but I felt the subconscious urge to mute the narrator every time he emphasized the word "MURDER!" There's a lot of good-natured comedy, though it feels a little too safe for this game to appeal to an older audience.
I'm also a little disappointed by the game's short length. Each episode lasts only a fraction of a typical Sam & Max episode, and by the end I never felt like I had done much. Most of the game is spent watching a video and solving a short puzzle, so asking $7.50 for an hour-long experience feels a little expensive. Even if you buy the bundle, you aren't getting a whole lot of content. After you're done with the game you can go back and play the individual puzzles again and watch all of the cut scenes, but this just helps illustrate how shallow the actual game is.
The best way to play this game is with a bunch of friends. You can play each of the four missions with up to four players (local multiplayer, no online mode here). You work at solving puzzles and by the end you each get a crack at solving the case. This is an inspired mode, but there's a lot of untapped potential when it comes to playing with your friends. Still, going through these cases with a buddy is much more enjoyable than doing it by yourself. Either way, I like that the option is there.
I definitely like the idea of an episodic puzzle solving franchise, especially if the price is right. Unfortunately I'm not sure this is the best Sony can do, especially given the relatively high price tag. You can have a reasonable amount of fun playing through the episodes once, but it's a shame there isn't more for you to do after you've solved the crime. Having said that, I am excited to see how the story concludes at the end of April.
Blue Toad Murder Files does a good job of giving PlayStation 3 owners a competent knock-off of Professor Layton. Unfortunately, there aren't enough puzzles or replay to warrant the high price tag. Still, fans of puzzle solving will have a reasonable amount of fun getting to know the colorful characters and solving these simple murders!