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!
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