Blue Toad Murder Files Review
There really is a lack of adventure games these days and although Blue Toad Murder Files: The Mysteries of Little Riddle perhaps qualifies more as a puzzler based on the premise of a mystery/detective story, it still feels refreshing. However, before I begin the analysis, I would like to make one thing abundantly clear: although this episodic-based game comes from Relentless Software, who provided us with the popular Buzz! trivia games, Blue Toad does not function well as a party game. It supports up to four players but there are several glaring flaws in this respect, and I will outline them in a moment. That being said, it does work very well for one player, so long as you enjoy the simple charm and have always been partial to Sherlock Holmes novels. Obviously, we’re talking about a simpler theme in the game but it really does ask that you be observant, quick-witted, and capable of paying attention to detail. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
The graphics are surprisingly good for a downloadable product, and I think we’re starting to see a continuous trend of increasingly better visuals on the PSN. Perhaps it’s only natural and even expected but it’s still nice to see. The town of Little Riddle is charmingly appointed and detailed; it’s a vibrant palette of colors that sort of reminds me of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood in a cartoon. You don’t have the freedom to wander around and explore but perhaps we’re better off for it. We always get a top-down, three-quarters view of the quaint little town, and we’ll see various parts of the town as the story progresses through each episode. The design and animation of the characters is decent and fits nicely into the family-friendly, appealing atmosphere. I would’ve liked to have seen a bit more visual inspiration in a few of the puzzles but hey, they’re puzzles. The graphics are hardly the focal point.
As for the sound, I think it all depends on how you respond to the prominent voice acting. It almost sounds as if one voice actor handled almost every character in the game, but they do have distinct styles and even accents. But like the graphics; it all fits: the narrator is appropriately over-the-top, the dialogue is silly and often comical, and the standard sound effects gel with the simple soundtrack. The music definitely should’ve played a larger role, especially at certain points in the mystery, but the combination of those sweet little effects and subtle yet well-implemented tracks makes this category a plus. I should probably reiterate, however, that if you have an issue with the voice acting – which admittedly can begin to chafe after a while – you’ll quickly grow annoyed. But it’s very subjective. Personally, due to the British tone and feel, it feels a little like playing one of those English sitcoms like “Blackadder.” Only this game is a while lot brighter overall.
The gameplay is all about puzzles and gathering up information that will help you solve the case at hand. The mystery travels through a set of episodes but because the gameplay and technicals are basically identical for each, we’re issuing an overall review that deals with the first three episodes, currently available on the PSN. In the first episode, you must solve a murder and while you do reach a conclusion (of sorts) at the end of the episode, the story invariably continues into Episode Two. And so on and so forth. During your stay in the small, traditional town of Little Riddle, you can choose one of four characters for each episode (it doesn’t matter whom you choose) and you will visit places and people of interest. As you go, you will have to complete a series of diverse puzzles that will shed more light on the case, and you will also be asked a bunch of questions that will test your memory and observation ability. It’s actually quite well done and I found myself smiling more often than not.
The puzzles range widely in terms of style and difficulty, which definitely keeps you thinking. Sometimes, you might even need a pencil and paper to solve a math-based conundrum, while other challenges will test aspects like spatial relationships and deciphering codes and anagrams. The great part is that you really won’t see the same puzzle twice and if you don’t keep a sharp eye and ear on the proceedings, you will fail those little investigator exams. There are usually 16 challenges to attempt in each episode and you will be scored on the completion of each: if you can finish below a certain time goal and without failing once, you will receive a gold medal. If you go over the time but still didn’t fail, you’ll get a silver and if you go over and fail multiple times, you’ll get a bronze. If you decide to give up, you get nothing. Completion gives you a solid sense of satisfaction and you really find yourself looking forward to the next puzzle. In this way, the developer succeeds admirably.
But as I said earlier, despite the fact that up to four players can dive into the mystery, the game doesn’t perform well in this way. The problem is that it’s just a hot-seat style of multiplayer, in that you and your friends simply take turns on the challenges; nothing else really changes. This also hurts the pacing and feeling of involvement; if there are four players, for instance, you’ll be sitting and watching most of the time. On top of which, because the challenges are always the same, it almost completely destroys the replay appeal. The only reason you could have to go through an episode again would be to get all gold medals, or something, and that’s not really a big enough incentive. Lastly, with each episode priced at $7.49 and each episode only coming in at about an hour’s worth of play, you get maybe 3 hours of play time for around $22.50. It’s a much better value when you buy the first three episodes at $14.99, but still…
This being said, I still think a lone gamer may really like playing through the Blue Toad Murder Files. I normally can’t play something for more than a few hours if I find it boring, poorly designed or paced, or seriously flawed in some way. But I enjoyed going through and solving the mysteries in each of the three episodes; I liked the puzzles that really did require a great variety of problem-solving ability, I appreciated the charming texture and pleasant gloss that coats the entire experience, and yes, I did smile quite a bit. It’s both challenging and mostly entertaining. However, the price doesn’t seem quite right and as a party/multiplayer game, it really falls flat. This unfortunately must affect the score but honestly, I think I liked what Relentless Software did here more than most other critics.
4/3/2010 Ben Dutka