Murder by Numbers is a pixel or fiddle puzzle game, mixed with a little visual detective work in the style of a romance novel. The whole game can be summarized as follows: Take a big dose of Picross and mix it with some Phoenix Wright, and you have a brand new game.
Comparisons to Phoenix Wright begin and end in the visual novel category. There are no deep learning stages like in the Nonari or Phoenix Wright games. No complaints like Dunganronpa or Phoenix Wright. There are pixel puzzles and a story, and in many ways it’s very good.
The gameplay is simple. There’s a mystery that needs solving. You explore by scanning the scene (you have a radar-like mechanism that tells you where to go). When you find something, you are thrown into a pixel puzzle that you must solve, then you get the item. Rinse and repeat until all elements are found. Then interview everyone who is available. At this point, you start exploring more and asking more questions, until you get to the point where the game asks you what’s going on – for which you may have no consequences.
You’re presented with puzzles of pixels, whether you’re searching for objects or talking to people. They are not timed and can be easy (clicks are confirmed as good or bad) or difficult (pure pixel puzzle) with a hint system (error display and random insertion of cubes). The score is static for each puzzle, with small modifiers for difficulty and clues. At the end of the case, you will be given a grade ranging from F to S, which will unlock various bonus puzzles called SCOUT memory. If you play easily and find most of the clues, you usually get an A grade.
There are two parts of the game I want to discuss. The visual novelty and the pixel puzzles.
The visual aspects of the novel, this game is absolutely STELLAR and should be played alone. The story is very, very well written. The characters are authentic, have the right reactions, the motives for people’s actions are well explained, and there is almost no deus ex machina. Everything is well explained, the graphics and sound effects are great and draw you in.
Pixel puzzles are a different story. These are pixel puzzles that, if you like them, are great – they will definitely work for you. Otherwise, you can always read the story and have fun with these puzzles where you just scroll with your mouse and automatically fill in the picture. The user interface is great and the software turns gray when you progressively fill a column (so if it’s 2,3,2 and you place 2 pixels and select them, 2 turns gray).
My problem is that they get very annoying towards the end of the second chapter. After all, you’re just doing 15×15 puzzles, nothing more, and they follow one another to advance the story. The puzzles also require a lot of, at least for me, guesswork to find the right anchor point before you start building. The drawing at the end is not very good, and you rarely know what you are drawing until you are told.
The fatigue is also real because the puzzles aren’t revolutionary and there’s no rolling of dice in chapters 3 and 4. Columns and rows of 13 or more are rare, and the game doesn’t challenge other pixel puzzles in any way – there are no new features, no curve balls, nothing. It’s only a 15×15 puzzle.
It’s also hard to understand how this art is an important part of the game.
All this is of course compensated by an excellent story and an extensive system of clues that allow you to make the game as difficult or easy as you want. So if the pixel puzzles start to bore you or you want to lower the difficulty to solve them, you can do that. There’s no time limit except for the hacking segments, so it’s not that bad.
The only thing I want to warn consumers about is that this game is not fun if you don’t like Picross or have never tried pixel puzzles (look up the nonograms and give them a try) – even with the super cool story and retro 80s vibe. It’s based on a pixel puzzle, and that’s where the action is, Phoenix Wright’s detective work is secondary and not very deep.
There is also no replayability or risk of failure in the game, making it a very relaxing and soothing adventure with a great story – so if pixel puzzles are your thing, this is a must buy.
I played all four chapters and had a lot of fun – but then again, I love pixel puzzles. If so, give it a try. If not, see if you like puzzles before you buy the game.
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