Available on: Nintendo Switch and Microsoft Windows,
Genre: Visual novel, Puzzle video game
Publisher: The Irregular Corporation
Released: March 5, 2020
There was a time where I may have skipped on a game like Murder by Numbers, but a long time ago I made fun at a little game called Phoenix Wright. Who could possibly think that a game where you play a Lawyer would be fun? Thankfully, an old friend mentioned it just enough times that I got curious and gave it ago, and I am forever thankful to her.
I stumbled across Murder by Numbers by sheer accident after looking at new releases on the Switch back in February. All I had to go on was a 50 second trailer that looked like it had exploded right out of my 90s Saturday morning cartoon nostalgia. Sold yet? Yeah, me too!
What I was in store for was nothing short of one of the most enjoyable games I have played all year and I don’t throw out statements like that out flippantly either.
Murders, motives, and conspiracies
At first, I thought given the comic like art style it would have a fairly tame story with fun puzzle elements, but nothing could be further from the truth as you become prime suspect in a brutal murder. The main character Honor Mizrahi is a support actress playing a bumbling police detective on a show called Murder Miss Terri.
Back in reality Honor is faced with a real life murder and the suspect finger is squarely pointed at her, she must step up with the aid of a newfound friend in the form of S.C.O.U.T who acts as the interface for the clue gathering.
S.C.O.U.T is a lovable mascot like partner who suffers from a massive loss of memory after finding himself in the local dump. Throughout the course of the adventure, Honor will help him recover what has been lost, although they might not like where that journey takes them.
From Superstar to Gumshoe
I’ll try to avoid spoilers, but I can’t help but be amazed at the time that must have gone into designing and writing the ensemble of diverse characters that make up this spectacular game. From the best friend K.C who has helped Honor through a particularly nasty divorce, to the overbearing mother who will stop at nothing to keep her daughter from any crime scene.
Even the minor characters that show up in cases feel vibrant and detailed, and just as much attention went into them as the main cast. This left me with the hope that they would pop up again when one chapter closed.
As I moved through the chapters, I was eagerly teased with more questions and was so impressed as the whole story is intricately woven together. There were plenty of times when I was asking a question only to have an answer or more questions presented which only spurred me on further to get to the bottom of it and see how far this rabbit hole would go.
Numbers and more numbers!
I was completely sold on the theme and story of the game, but I was a little worried I wouldn’t have the first clue how to navigate the puzzle part but given that I taught myself Mahjong just to get a trophy on Judgement for the PS4, I wasn’t going to stop myself here!
You will have to tax the grey matter a little to get the most out of Murder by Numbers, and even if you have never played Picross or even heard of it before, I assure it is just as fun as hammering out a few Sudoku puzzles and greatly satisfying when you get a rather difficult one finished. Don’t expect the images to look anything like a clue in game though, it’s like putting an 8-bit puzzle together.
The tutorial explains the basics well enough, but you will need to teach yourself a few extra tricks as things get a little more complicated with larger grids and less clues. You can use ways to circumvent the puzzles and get hints, but these end up lowering your overall score and thus prevent you from accessing bonus puzzles to the game, so I would encourage you to stick at it and even if you must clear the board and start again, it’s worth it.
I think Murder by Numbers may very well be responsible for replacing my Sudoku itch in favour of Picross, so much so that I went and downloaded a couple of apps just so I could keep playing on my way to work.
Sounds and looks mighty fine!
The title song for Murder by Numbers was stuck in my head for months and I am a sucker for a catchy tune, so when this came along, I had the soundtrack on loop for some time. For all those die-hard Phoenix Wright fans, you’ll know the name Masakazu Sugimori as the man behind the music.
As nostalgic as the game feels with it’s retro 90s vibe, it feels fresh and such a well-crafted take on the visual novel that has saturated the market. I found it amusing that the characters were designed by the same folks responsible for Hatoful Boyfriend, a pigeon dating simulator (Yeah, I didn’t believe it at first).
It’s great as well to see a game not shy away from diversity, K.C could have easily been written as the stereotypical gay best friend, but instead he comes across as just an important character as the main duo.
Even one of the cases is heavily centred at an LGBT+ pride fair and I couldn’t help but see the level of attention and understanding that went into portraying every character in this chapter. I was just as impressed when a confused Scout starts questioning pronouns within the LGBT+ community, and instead of closing off the question with a joke, Scout is answered with a real genuine understanding. It’s easy to tell when a game is preachy and fake, but I never saw that here.
Time to get your Sleuth on!
I think it’s clear how much I love and respect Murder by Numbers, from its colourful cast of unique and lovable characters, it’s addictive music score and even when I wanted to throw my switch controllers at the TV after spending way to long trying to solve a 20x20 grid.
When a game sends me right to the Internet to find out if a sequel is in the works then you know it has my seal of approval, sadly there seems to be no news on that front, given the success of Fall Guys, I would say it may be some time before we see the next chapter of Murder by Numbers.
So, with the January sales in full swing, I heartily recommend this game if you just want to scratch that murder mystery itch!
Play this game if:
You like puzzle games
You like light heart felt visual novels
You like comic style art
You like a good detective mystery
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