There is something to be said about a good old murder mystery. I'm not just talking about those dark and miserable murder stories that can be seen on television any day. Rather, I'm talking about those light stories your grandma used to read. Agatha Christie's Miss Marple, for example, will go down in history as a fantastic detective, just a quirky old English woman.
As a matter of fact, there really isn't any videogames based upon this style of story, the “ye old English country village with dasterdly murders afoot”. That, I suppose, is where Blue Toad Murder Files comes in. A six-part episodic murder mystery game coming to PSN from the team behind the Buzz line of games, wrapped up in a delightful bumbling English village of Little Riddle and bristling with English stereotypes (you better know your “plaster” from “bandage”), Blue Toad Murder Files looks like there could be a lot of fun here.
Follow the jump for my hands-on through the first episode.
Blue Toad Murder Files (PSN)
Developer: Relentless Software
Publisher: Relentless Software
To be released: March 25, 2010 (Episodes 1-3); April 29, 2010 (Episodes 4-6)
Blue Toad Murder Files is a series of episodes about a rash of murders in a little English town of Little Riddle. The narrator, who voice acts every character that makes an appearance, explains that after some major success solving some murders, your character is in need of some rest. Up pulls the train into Little Riddle, and the game starts. Introduced there is the train station attendant helping an old woman, and after some puzzles, your character heads off to the center of town to meet the mayor. Once there the old man is promptly murdered. Oops. This is a very brief summary of the plot, but the game is rather funny, and the humor is certainly unique, with the sort of gasps and looks of shock that only this genre brings.
Now, there are four characters you can play as: a Harry Potter-esque boy genius, a bespectacled blond teen girl, a middle-aged man, and an old granny. The plot plays out the same with any character, and if you play multiplayer, the plot elements just alternate between the characters that is in control at that moment.
After every narrative interlude, players are shown some very simple Professor Layton-esque puzzles. Nothing too hard, but you want to finish these very fast and correctly to get a good score. Fail that and face a back-handed compliment from the condescending narrator. These puzzles range from placing letters into a coded notebook to recreating the face of a character you were shown earlier. After the initial minute or so of confusion the puzzles are easy to understand, and with a group of people helping each other out, it's actually quite fun. Occasionally, the game will pause to a Whodunnit? section where the plot is reiterated, and you'll have to reiterate certain details before moving on.
Multiplayer is the way we played this chapter, and Blue Toad Murder Files only supports that offline. Players work against each to get the best scores on the puzzles, although the game is not very competitive. Everyone tends to want to help each other out on the main puzzles, and when you get to the Whodunnit? is when people become more malicious. In the end though, the multiplayer is really just like single player, as you hand off puzzles using one controller, and with less than 20 puzzles per episode, you get the same playthrough whether with friends or not.
Graphically, all the characters are very charmingly designed, and the whole town of Little Riddle is an adorable and stereotypical village. The voice acting is sublime, with the voice actor going above and beyond the call of duty to make each character hilarious. The game is funny in a way a family can enjoy, with characters like the very mildly racist old woman, the bumbling constable, and the hotel concierge who offers traditional English customer service, it's something that is very self-aware. Many of the jokes are very British, so those across the pond might find this game even more enjoyable, or at least easier to understand.
There are a couple of potentially major problems with Blue Toad Murder Files. Like all good mystery novels and films, the first time you experience them is really the only time you can experience them before the major plot twist is explained. Blue Toad Murder Files is no different, and while each episode ends in a plot twist leading to the next, the that chapter you just played has been entirely experienced. There is absolutely nothing more to see or experience. And you sure as hell wouldn't want to play through a chapter with friends after you played it; it's just cheating. And considering the game is not hard at all, that is no fun for anyone.
What makes this worse is the price. Relentless Software and Sony have some interesting plans with pricing. Each of the six chapters cost $7.49 per chapter, and with those individually lasting between one and two hours, with no replayable content, $45 is almost a little hard to swallow for the full experience. Thankfully, the real buyer's option is the bundle, with the first three chapters coming at the end of March for $14.99, and the second half coming at the end of April for the same price. Thirty bucks for all that? Not so bad, if still a little on the high end.
Honestly, however, I think you want to think of Blue Toad Murder Files like a TV show you watch with a specific group of friends. Getting together and playing this game with three other buddies, helping each other out in the puzzles and trying to do your best score on the Whodunnit? Segments is not a bad way to spend an hour and a half. It's actually a lot of fun, but the lack of replay value and the just slightly expensive price tag is a drag. However, what is here is actually very enjoyable in a laid-back way, especially those with a sense of English culture and stereotypes. This loving homage to the charming village murder mystery should win over a certain group of fans.