By Marty Mulrooney
Blue Toad Murder Files is a new downloadable episodic gaming series from Relentless Software, perhaps most well known for their hugely popular ‘Buzz!’ series of video games.
Much like the ‘Buzz!’ games, Blue Toad Murder Files has a focus on accessibility, fun and group gaming. The first two episodes have just been released separately and also in a bundle on the PSN (for PS3)… so how do they measure up?
Well, the first thing you notice when you load Blue Toad Murder Files are the high production values. The graphics are rock solid (and so they should be, considering you never actually directly control your chosen character) with music that constantly evokes classic Hitchcockian scores.
The town of Little Riddle is wonderfully designed, with an overhead map showing the beautiful sunny lanes and village greens, as well as all major areas of interest. Each episode is fairly linear, yet the map does offer some sense of faux-freedom which is welcome… it is nice to visit areas in the order you choose, even if there are only a couple at a time to pick from. It really is a cool place to explore.
Yet, much in the style of the recent British comedy film Hot Fuzz, not all is as it seems in the quiet little town of Little Riddle. Oh no… for there is a murderer on the loose (said with so much emphasis the word could break at any moment) and the Blue Toad detectives need to catch the villain!
Up to four players can play, although this is a turn based multiplayer game, meaning that with four players you can often be left waiting a while for your turn. Gameplay takes the form of various puzzles, including maths based head-scratchers (presented in a fun way, before you run a mile!) and logic based puzzles such as moving grain sacks to access a hidden photograph underneath.
Luckily, the decidedly British humour and unravelling mysteries are genuinely engaging and enjoyable, making the sometimes hands-off approach of the episodes work fairly well. I often had just as much fun just sitting back and watching as I did trying to quickly solve a puzzle.
There are also Case Review sections where you are asked questions to see how much you have been playing attention… I loved these bits! (Probably because I am very observational and always did well!) Controls are as easy as using X to select something and the arrow keys to move the cursor (for both puzzling and case reviewing). Simple!
All four non-player characters are very well animated (in fact, the whole game is), with players able to choose between a young male, a young female, an older gentleman and an older lady. (Granny!)
The game is very clever actually because non of these 4 character ever speak (indeed, you may chose to play solo, meaning only one detective is acknowledged) yet a hammed-up narrator does speak for you, as the sound lowers down and your chosen character’s lips move soundlessly underneath.
The narrator is pretty hilarious, and I was amazed to discover that one man actually did all of the voices himself. This is pretty amazing, because the voicework is some of the best I have ever heard in a game, never mind a small downloadable episodic one!
From a snooty Basil Faulty type character at the local hotel, to a bumbling police officer and the snooty Lady Snobbish… Tom Dussek does an amazing job of voicing the entire game. I am thoroughly impressed!
I did play the first two episodes mostly alone for this review and I am happy to say I enjoyed myself plenty. The faster you do a puzzle, the better a medal you will achieve, which could be pretty fun in a group when it all tallies at the end!
My only real problem is that the main mystery culprits (for example, a murderer in the first episode and a thief in the second) are always the same. This will somewhat water down repeat playing (each episode lasts about an hour) and the same goes for the puzzles: although really well done, the answers are always the same.
You can replay scenes and puzzles once done to grab some extra medals (and trophies for you achievement hounds!) so in that sense, reply value does exist. And I did find some puzzles, especially in the second episode, to be a real challenge; it was always funny to hear the narrator congratulate or berate me after a completed challenge as well.
Overall, I really liked both episodes, although £6.29 for a single episode that lasts only an hour seems a bit steep. £9.99 for the first two bundled together is better value, yet it all depends where you stand I guess! Being brutally honest, these first two episodes are not going to last you a lifetime. Yet for the few hours they do offer, you will be grinning from ear to ear and most likely have a blast. With friends, the deal will be even sweeter still. Recommended… just a shame about the replay value. Roll on episodes 3 & 4!
7.5 OUT OF 10
Please Note: Episode 2 apparently had some problems loading a new game initially, although it now turns out that this was actually a problem on Sony’s end. Episode 2 is quite small anyway (it reuses assets from episode 1) so a quick re-download should sort out any problems!