Title: Murder By Numbers
Publisher: The Irregular Corporation Limited
Genre: Puzzle Game, Visual Novel
Available On: PC and Switch
Official Site: mediatonicgames
Release Date: March 5th, 2020
Since being featured on our 10 Great Games in March Article and Video, we’ve had our eyes on Murder By Numbers, yet it still took me by surprise. I was expecting a Picross game; I was expecting a visual novel. I was expecting a detective game, and I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be so great.
What is Murder By Numbers?
In Murder By Numbers, you play as Honor Mizrahi, a TV actress-turned-detective who must use her on-screen skills to solve real-life murders. Luckily for both her and the player, this isn’t done alone. You do this alongside a sassy but caring hairstylist, an angry self-obsessed costar with surprising depth and most importantly, SCOUT, your personal robot friend with his own mystery. Murder By Numbers opens up with two central plotlines, Honor must find a way to absolve herself of guilt in the murder of a close friend and, more importantly, her boss and SCOUT must find out his true origin and why he exists in the first place. Of course, most characters have more to their story adding a layer of three-dimensionality but for the most part, this is all you need to know about Murder by Numbers before it whisks you away
Its gameplay loop is relatively simple for the most part. It’s one part Picross and two or three parts Phoenix Wright. If you don’t know what picross is, here’s a brief rundown. Usually, there’s a relatively symmetrical board made up of tiles. You may fill any tile with black or an x. Black indicating the tile has color, X indicating it does not. On the sides of the board are numbers. One indicates there is one tile colored together; two indicates two-colored together, etc. Where this gets hard is where that tile is. You have to use the contextual clues of other numbers and the easier tiles to color the board entirely. Once that board is completed, you see the entire picture with accurate colors. Where this basic mechanic shakes things up is its implementation to the Phoenix Wright style.
Will we be disappointed, or did it get it Phoenix, right?
In Phoenix Wright, you must talk to characters and potential criminals to collect data and evidence. You can do specific investigations with where you choose to search and may cross-reference that data through talking to characters. When the time is right, you may choose to reveal crucial pieces of data to show a conflicting narrative or to set your own narrative. Murder By Numbers has a very similar system. You may talk and cross-reference, but the investigation side involves searching in specific areas and revealing a clue which you have to solve in picross. If you want to make sense of clues, you must first solve them in picross, a fascinating twist on the formula. This does mean if you don’t solve it, you have no chance of progressing any further into the game, a scary prospect.
Luckily, Murder By Numbers is an incredibly forgiving experience. It comes with an easy mode and plenty of “hints,” which essentially give crucial information to the board. This leniency does come at a cost. Choosing easy mode and using hints effects your score earned from each solve. This, in turn, affects your ranking at the end of each chapter going from D up to S. This is mostly cosmetic, but you can find extra picross boards in “SCOUTS memories,” which leads you to more of the game. Essentially the more you play and the better you become, the more of the game you are able to see. In a sense, this is true from the very start as if you can’t get past the first puzzle; you don’t get to see any more of the game, however funny that experience may be.
How long will you spend on Murder By Numbers?
Speaking of the game length. Without spoilers or specifics, there are four central cases, all of which work as their own contained story but have an overarching narrative that’s both intriguing and fitting with the type of game you expect Murder By Numbers to be. Its style and tone hit you immediately upon booting up. The opening theme’s chorus sums it up pertinently. “Murder’s never far away, put our heads together and save the day” this cheesy earworm of a chorus works well for making you understand what exactly Murder By Numbers offers you. A quirky, camp, and, most importantly, delightful romp. The art and sound design are equally fitting, featuring cutesy anime-like visuals and a strange mix of jazz, pop, and electronica in the form of its soundtrack.
How does the narrative compare?
When it comes to games of this nature, the dialogue and story have to be good to justify the rather slow gameplay innate in its genre. Murder By Numbers delivers in this part. The dialogue and general narrative are intriguing, occasionally genuinely very funny and overall heartwarming. It feels like a game of its genre in wonderful ways. Where it does fall flat sometimes is its difficulty in getting that story. To put it bluntly, the detective and question side of the game is a bit too easy.
You can essentially click every combination of items until you win. Unfortunately, this is hard to balance as players shouldn’t get locked out entirely after making a choice, but it has been done well in titles such as the impeccable and stylized Hotel Dusk: Room 215. It would have been nice to see the detective side fleshed out more but its understandable given the type of game and price point. Probably as a result of these sides being a little one dimensional, Murder By Numbers starts to feel repetitive relatively quickly, but this doesn’t stop it from being delightful
Murder By Numbers is a game that can be played with one hand, and its central mechanics are reading and math, yet it’s still an absolute delight to play. Making those things this fun is undoubtedly a hard task, but Mediatonic has accomplished it with style. While the gameplay can be repetitive and its detective gameplay could benefit from being fleshed out, I left this experience wanting much more from Murder By Numbers. As far as criticism goes, this is a pretty nice one to have. I hope to see Honor, SCOUT and the crew again in the future
- Interesting narrative
- Strong sound and art design
- Charming cast
- Detective gameplay not very fleshed out
- Somewhat repetitive design