Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Review: Detective Grimoire: Secret of the Swamp

A remote swamp. A mysterious creature. A murder. Detective Grimoire begins with an interesting premise that immediately draws you in, and it manages to hold interest throughout. Despite some flaws in gameplay, Detective Grimoire has more than enough charm to stay fun throughout.

Gameplay in Detective Grimoire consists of investigating environments and speaking to suspects as the titular detective. Occasionally, you will have to solve small puzzles to move forward, and every suspect has one unique “challenge” conversation subject, which will require you to pick the correct response from multiple options to find the truth. The gameplay feels very similar to the excellent Ace Attorney series, and veterans of those games will feel right at home in Detective Grimoire. Unfortunately, those same players will find Detective Grimoire insultingly easy in comparison.

I’m not really sure what audience Detective Grimoire is intended for. The questions that you will need to answer about the case are blindingly obvious if you’ve been paying any attention, which, along with it’s cartoony art, makes me think that the game is intended for children, but the dark subject matter (it is a murder mystery, after all) and the general style of writing feel more like they’re aimed at adult players.

Still, the game is absolutely charming, and its wonderful presentation can more than make up for how easy its puzzles are. Boggy’s Bog is well realized as a setting, and the colorful cast of characters are a joy to interact with. In classic adventure game fashion, Grimoire himself plays the straight man to many of the game’s more “out there” elements, and much of the game’s humor comes from his commentary and reactions. The wonderfully stylized art and animation combined with spot-on voice acting (even if Grimoire often doesn’t enunciate properly) make every character feel distinct and memorable. The music sets the mood and lends its own unique flair.

The story involves a murder mystery at the tourist attraction “Boggy’s Bog,” where a bigfoot-esque, maybe-real-maybe-not creature called Boggy is said to dwell. The strange thing is, the owner of the attraction was the victim, and evidence suggests that the killer was none other than Boggy! Of course, this is a murder mystery, so there’s obviously more to the case than meets the eye. The game is quite short, but manages to throw enough twists and interesting avenues of investigation to keep things interesting throughout.

The writing is another plus, here. Between Grimoire’s running internal monologue and each suspect’s unique way of speaking, all delivered with excellent voice acting, Detective Grimoire manages to be consistently entertaining. There was never a moment where a bit of bad writing pulled me out of the experience.

The game breaks down is where it tries to actually be a “game.” As mentioned previously, the mystery-solving challenges are far too easy, mostly involving simply repeating things you’ve heard earlier to a different character. Or sometimes the same character. There’s a recurring puzzle where you have to arrange elements and phrases to make a complete sentence that advances the plot, and these are only marginally more challenging than the multiple-choice challenge quizzes. It’s a shame, because both of these puzzle types could have elevated the game into something more than it is. They could have been interesting logic puzzles, but as they stand, they’re little more than passing distractions. Once again, I have to compare to the Ace Attorney series, which gives these kinds of puzzles the depth and thought they deserve, and is more engaging for it.

There are also occasional puzzles to open doors, which feel pointless and tacked-on. The controls for these puzzles also feel unresponsive and finicky. On a few occasions, I could figure out the solution quickly, but then spent far longer wrestling with the touch screen trying to get the pieces of the puzzle into place.

The story has a satisfying and complete ending, but still comes with a sequel hook, so I suppose the real question is, “Would I play a second Detective Grimoire game?” Yes. Yes I would. The adventure game genre is traditionally focused more on story than gameplay, so one can forgive a lot of flaws in the latter if the former is particularly strong. The problems in gameplay could be polished and fixed in a sequel, and the character of Grimoire is certainly more than likeable enough to carry an ongoing series. If they can keep up the kind of stylistic quality shown in Secret of the Swamp while improving the core adventure gameplay, Detective Grimoire could have a real future as a franchise. In my review of The Room, I lamented the lack of good adventure games on mobile platforms, and a strong new series would be welcome. Detective Grimoire has its problems, but it shows a lot of potential, and could very well be the start of that strong new series. I, for one, will be keeping an eye on it.

Released: 2014-1-13
Developer: SFB Games


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