I downloaded Blue Toad Murder Files back in January 2013, which is fortuitously when I got my PlayStation 3 and began filling it up with PlayStation Plus downloads, as well as whatever freebies I found in the online store. Nearly four years later, I launched the game to discover it is technically only the first episode of an episodic murder mystery set in a quaint if quirky British countryside with puzzles blocking your progress to fingering the culprit. There are things to like, and things to not like. Allow me to dig deeper and put my thoughts into perfectly sectioned-off paragraphs.
First, the story. Because when it comes to a murder mystery, story is key. Don’t believe me? Check out some Midsomer Murders or whatever Professor Layton is up to these days. Episode one “Little Riddle’s Deadly Dilemma” begins with the narrator explaining how you, which is one of four possible detectives, ended up on vacation. Mother, the head of The Blue Toad Agency, sent you to Little Riddle, a village described to you as peaceful and comfortable, perfect for some rest and recuperation. Shortly after arriving, you head off to the town hall to meet the Mayor and introduce yourself. Unfortunately, halfway through the conversation, the Mayor is shot dead, leaving you with no time for R&R. Alas, with only one episode to go on, the story is fairly predictable and uninteresting, following a linear path to find out who did it with no shortcuts allowed even if you know who did it long before the time comes around for the big reveal. It ends on a cliffhanger, which is fine for an episodic thing, but I’m probably only playing this first one, and so everything feels unresolved and wasted.
Over the years, I’ve played a number of foreign murder mystery games heavy on obscure puzzles and strange accents. Want me to name a few? What, and not just default to the Professor Layton series? Okay, I’ll play. There’s the recent nightmare of myself going through Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments, the lackluster caper in The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief, the better-but-not-great Detective Grimoire, and while I can’t remember exactly if anyone bites the big one in those Puzzle Agent adventures we’ll count them here because they contain the necessary attributes: colorful, kooky, and full of conundrums. I’m sure I could come up with more, but that should satisfy y’all for now. Point is, this is surprisingly familiar stomping ground.
With that said, Blue Toad Murder Files is extremely straightforward, resulting in a yawn of an adventure. There’s one point where you can start interviewing the four suspects and can do them in any order, but the end result is the same, so the illusion of choice is just that. The flow of the game is this: meet a character, listen to some upbeat, alliteration-heavy dialogue, solve a timed puzzle, move on to the next person of interest. Our cheerful and inquisitive narrator steps into the mix three times during the first episode to see if you’ve been paying attention with a number of inane questions. No, really. They remind me of the ones from Scene It? Seinfeld, where you’d watch a three- to four-minute scene and then they’d ask you how many boxes of cereal are on Jerry’s back shelf. By the way, I got the very first one wrong here asking about the color of the train (hint: it’s green).
It is both commendable that all the voicework in Blue Toad Murder Files is done by one single person, specifically Tom Dussek–but it is also exhausting. Dussek’s range is…okay, but much like all the games from MouseCity (looking directly at you, Smells Like Art), every woman’s voice sounds terribly forced, and it just becomes more of a distraction than a novelty. I understand that, for a smaller game, a cast full of different voices would probably be a bit pricey and a major effort to undertake. In this instance, I’d have prefer some Simlish and subtitles. In my head, I can make anyone’s voice sound amazing.
The actual puzzles range from deciphering a doctor’s scribbly handwriting to doing some math in relation to currency exchange to listening for audio clues, such as an old woman describing her luggage or how somebody entered a building. None are terribly difficult, but all are timed, which just ups the ante for making silly mistakes and rushing your thinking. You are rated in gold, silver, or bronze medals after each puzzle, and to get gold you must answer within a certain amount of time. You can make a mistake and try again, but this will naturally affect what medal you get. I got mostly gold medals for episode one, but did flub a question or two, settling for bronzes. A small part of me thought about replaying the game, since the questions and answers don’t change, to run through it perfectly and get those “play it perfectly” Trophies, but I stomped that thought flat surprisingly quickly. Maybe I’m beginning to outgrow my completionist tendencies (editor’s note: unlikely).
Still, as a place, Little Riddle seems neat. Cozy and full of character (not to be confused with full of characters). From the camera zooming over it and bouncing to and fro, I get the sense it is a bit like wherever the place is that Wallace and Gromit live in Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures. I’m sure it has a name, but I can’t seem to recall it. Anyways, in that one, you moved from hotspot to hotspot, like Wallace’s home to the local market, waving and wondering at the range of charming people you’d pass by along the way. I do wish I could have taken a stroll through Blue Toad Murder Files‘s Little Riddle, to at least appreciate the green hills, blue skies, and thatched cottages as I moved from one murder suspect’s home to another. Shame, as I won’t be returning for a long while.