Title: Murder by Numbers
Release Date: March 06, 2020
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: The Irregular Corporation
Given that Murder by Numbers is from the same designer as the pigeon dating visual novel, Hatoful Boyfriend, I was immediately drawn to this new title. You see, I’m a big fan of Hatoful Boyfriend, and I’m sure those who played it can relate since it’s much more than just a dating-sim. This time, however, the genre has shifted to detective adventure, which I won’t complain about. Now all that’s left is to slip on my detective cap and get to slothing.
Murder by Numbers takes place in Los Angeles in 1996. The protagonist, Honor Mizrahi, is an actress on a detective show until her boss, and friend at the same time, fires her. Honor is gloomy about it but happens to meet SCOUT, a robot that got thrown away and lost its memories. Things don’t seem to improve for her as her boss suddenly is found dead, and everyone who was in the building is considered a suspect. This leads to Honor getting locked up with several other people, but with the help of SCOUT, she tries to prove her innocence.
I found the premise interesting since Honor wasn’t a real detective, she just played one on a TV show. This way, it was easier to relate to her when she suddenly gets pulled into a murder case and attempts to deal with the situation. It creates a nice flow of events as she does her best to piece together all the clues. Nonetheless, SCOUT is a very helpful device that adds to the game’s charm. I mean, a robot with amnesia doesn’t sound normal, but this only made me more curious about his story.
Some of the characters in the story take a while to get used to. During the investigation portions of the game, Honor interacts with them, and you learn more about their personalities, which made them all grow on me a bit. Still, the relationship between SCOUT and Honor is the foundation for most of the standout scenes in the story. It was heartwarming to see them together, and I liked that SCOUT came off more human-like during dialogue. Even with his high intelligence, he makes mistakes and can’t always read the situation, but he sure is adorable.
Although the game has murder elements, the tone is kept somewhat comedic, but neither is overbearing on the reader. In the beginning, I found the comedic elements odd and a little bit over-the-top, but it finds its footing quickly and becomes the fuel for some of the more memorable scenes. The mixture of serious and comedic moments never made the story feel dry, which I appreciated in the later hours.
Murder by Numbers has some interesting features that make the investigating and interrogating portions of the game unique. Talking to people leads to finding clues and new dialogue options containing any learned information. It’s possible to use this knowledge to then solve the case or progress in the narrative.
Murder by Numbers is rather linear in that regard since the story only advances when the correct evidence is found. Players must visit and scan several rooms until they are able to move to the next area. I did end up enjoying how the writing made it seem like some pieces of evidence weren’t critical, but over time, their importance came to light.
The puzzles in Murder by Numbers are generally based around, you guessed it, numbers. During investigating, solving puzzles is essential to find or obtain an item. These puzzles remind me of sudoku, but it is essentially Picross. The numbers are already given by default, and you solve the puzzle by painting the right squares.
This might sound easy, but it turned out harder than I thought during the later puzzles. This was because there are several different options available, but the player has to find the right combination. Sure, it was quite frustrating when I couldn’t solve it, but it usually worked out fine when I took a break and got back to it later.
In some ways, the numbers already tell the reader how to solve the puzzle, but the tricky thing here is that there is no way to know what the right combination is other than by trying it out. For every column and row, there are numbers given. So, for instance, when there is a three, the player has to fill out three squares that are tied to each other within the column or row.
Multiple numbers are available as well, and there has to be at least one square left empty between the chosen ones. The good thing here is that the order of the numbers matches with the order of the column or row as well. That means that when two numbers are given, the first one has to be fulfilled before the second.
Murder by Numbers blends visual novel storytelling and unique puzzle design to create an excellent detective adventure. Getting through the steady increase of challenging puzzles was fueled by the desire to crack the case and learn more about the relationships within the story.
Detective fans will enjoy how much interaction there is with the game, but the linear story leaves little room for any real consequences. Although it has a slow start, Murder by Numbers picks up speed with the help of the charming relationship between Honor and SCOUT and their determination to solve this mystery.
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