Many games have featured detectives as the main character over the years, but the list of those that have managed to simulate the detective experience while remaining fun to play is pretty short. So it’s surprising that the latest addition to this brief list is from a small indie developer and began life as a kickstarter project.
I’m not kidding when I refer to a small indie developer – SFB Games is made up of just two brothers although for the purpose of Detective Grimoire they’re joined by an extra artist, a composer and seven voice actors. However you wouldn’t know this from playing the game as from the moment the opening movie-style credits begin (accompanied by a Tim Burton-esque soundtrack) it’s clear that a great deal of care and attention has gone into development.
The only area where the limited resources do show through is in the scale of the game – the investigation into the murder of Richard Remington takes place in Boggy’s Bog which only consists of around thirteen locations and seven people to speak to (not including Officer James and the mysterious little girl). However this enforced constraint only benefits the experience as there’s no excess filler to get in the way with the whole story and host of interesting game mechanics squeezed into a three hour adventure that feels fresh out engaging throughout.
The Detective Grimoire of the title is introduced drifting through a swamp to investigate a murder that’s taken place in Boggy’s Bog. While the atmosphere is dark and mysterious there’s a distinctly lighthearted tone which extends to Grimoire himself who although he looks like the stereotypical detective, dressed in a trench coat and sporting designing stubble, is definitely no grizzled veteran with a dark past. Similarly the dark and spooky swamp is a charming area to explore (despite the recent murder and possible monster lurking in the shadows), each of the locations in the swamp brought to life with some great 2D graphics in the tradition of the best point & click adventure games of the past. Although each location is a single static screen, there’s plenty of movement within the environments as water bubbles, leaves blow in the wind and some memorable characters fidget and gesture wildly.
The various stylised characters all look great, which is testament to the developers background in producing flash games. This is best demonstrated during the conversations as Grimoire questions his subjects – the only actual time he appears on screen. Unlike other adventure games you don’t direct your protagonist but instead just view the screen and click on items of interest. Interactions are also more simple than you’d usually expect as it isn’t even necessary to specify any particular actions to examine items or initiate conversations, which does make progressing very straightforward but at the same time removing much of the challenge. The best innovations come with how Grimoire conducts his investigation which includes a whole host of fun (but very easy) mini-games, the best of which are when he needs to gather his thoughts – which involves selecting the right statements and objects to generate the desired sentence. However some of the tasks do seem far too basic, especially the tactile puzzles that were clearly designed for the touchscreens of iOS and android devices – although there are a few that are far more interesting and instantly brought a smile to my face.
The audio also contributes extensively to the overall sense of enjoyment and the creators clearly recognise this – an early message encourages you to play the game while wearing headphones. All of the characters (particularly Grimoire) are excellently voiced with just the right level of humour and without ever becoming annoying. I was able to listen to all the various dialogue options without ever feeling the urge to skip the audio, and the excellent soundtrack really adds to the experience (kudos to the composer).
I ended up finishing the whole of Detective Grimoire in a single sitting (getting 100% of the clues, notes and suspect profiles) which is a clear sign of how much I enjoyed it, but also its major drawback. It’s very easy and over far too quickly with very little replay value, and as previously mentioned some people may feel it’s aimed at a younger audience. However like the Professor Layton games (which Grimoire subtly references at one point) it’s a charming experience which gamers of all ages can enjoy if they embrace it – I’d certainly welcome the chance to join Grimoire on more investigations in the future.
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