In the bustling city of Los Angeles, it’s just another day on the studio lot for Honor Mizrahi, an actress who stars as one of the lead roles in the popular crime drama show, “Murder Miss Terri”. However, things take a quick turn for the worse when she is let go from the show by Blake, the studio head and her best friend. Mere moments later, Blake ends up dead. Then, a strange sentient robot shows up out of nowhere, asking for Honor’s guidance. Needless to say, Honor’s life is about to get a lot more puzzling!
Murder by Numbers Review – Robots, murder, and puzzles
- Available on: Nintendo Switch, PC (Steam, GOG, Epic)
- Version reviewed: PC
And with that begins the plot of Murder by Numbers, a game that I can only aptly describe as Capcom’s Phoenix Wright meets Nintendo’s Picross series. If that strangely specific genre mashup didn’t immediately confuse you, then strap in, because Murder by Numbers is a charming adventure that can satisfying your adventure/puzzle game itch.
Players take control of Honor Mizrahi, an actress who plays Detective Oates on Murder Miss Terri. After stumbling upon the dead body of her friend, she’ll have to play detective for real and prove her innocence by helping Detective Cross find the real murder, all the while figuring out where SCOUT, the mysterious robot, came from.
Part visual novel and part puzzle game, a typical Murder by Numbers case has players move around areas in a simple point-and-click fashion to talk to witnesses and investigate potential crime scenes. SCOUT, your friendly and mysterious robot buddy, is equipped with some fancy technology that can help you find suspicious items and evidence.
SCOUT can use his scanning optics, which brings up a green filter on that screen that is admittedly a little harsh on the eyes. You can move the scanner around the room, and anything interesting flashes red on the optics. Examining objects starts a puzzle, which brings us to the core of Murder by Numbers: Picross!
Picross, also known as nonograms, are logic puzzles that hide pictures within a web of numbers. In order to reveal the picture, you must fill in the correct spots by cross-referencing the numbers on each column and row. Don’t worry if you have never played with one of these kinds of brain-teasers before, as the game does a pretty good job of teaching you how to solve them.
Once you fill in all the correct tiles, the game reveals the item to you, and it’s added to Honor’s inventory as evidence. You can then present these items to witnesses around the scene to hopefully gain some more information and clues.
While these Picross puzzles can definitely be challenging depending on your familiarity with them, Murder by Numbers has plenty of options that can assist struggling players. You are docked points for using them however, so the game encourages you to try your best on your own. Your points are tallied after solving each puzzle, and more points means a higher Detective Rank, which unlocks optional puzzles for the die-hard Picross fans, like me!
Of course, if you just want to experience the adventure and mystery and don’t care about the extra puzzles, you can use as many assistance options as you want. Murder by Numbers, despite being a logic puzzle at its core, is only as challenging as you want it to be. You can always revisit completed cases to try for better scores.
To help kick-start your brain, Murder by Numbers features a ton of catchy tunes that play in the background during puzzles. To my surprise, I found out that the soundtrack was composed by veteran Phoenix Wright composer, Masakazu Sugimori, which explained a lot.
While acknowledging that the Picross puzzles are the real “meat” of the game, they do mess with the game’s pacing sometimes. A few times we found ourselves going back and forth between areas we already investigated, only to find new puzzles that weren’t there before. While more puzzles are usually a good thing, sometimes I just wanted to get on with the plot, especially when something juicy just happened.
When you’re not solving Picross puzzles, you’re talking to the characters involved in the case. All the characters in Murder by Numbers are presented as highly stylized personalities, designed after a vibrant and charming mashup of 90s fashion trends and anime character designs. All the character portraits sport a thick white outline, which makes them look like paper cutouts; it’s a simple but charming effect that really emphasizes the visual novel aspect.
Honor is a steadfast soul who takes up the mantle of becoming an actual investigator, but she’s still sort of sassy and isn’t afraid to snark when the time calls for it. K.C. is the token campy gay character, but he’s played realistically and charmingly, which made his character very endearing. It also helps that he’s one of the few characters that has Honor’s back from the get-go.
In fact, a lot of the characters are pretty harsh, and the first half of the game is Honor just dealing with them. The very first one you’ll encounter is the star of the show herself, Becky Call. She’s as bratty as they come, but she does get a little friendly as you progress through the story. Though, it doesn’t stop with her—every subsequent case has its own share of unpleasant people, including Honor’s ex-husband and her own mother. It’s a bit tiresome, especially when the game’s overall tone is pretty cheery and upbeat.
To be fair, this does highlight how nice it is to watch Honor and SCOUT’s friendship grow. The driving force of the plot eventually becomes SCOUT’s origins, the sentient floating robot computer that befriends Honor. SCOUT starts out as the typical clueless AI, but thanks to Honor’s quips and teachings, he quickly becomes a loveable little dude. Also, those expressions that he makes during cutscenes are priceless!
As a fan of adventure, puzzle, and visual novel games, Murder by Numbers felt like it was made for me. I feel like I don’t need to speak its praise, as if you’re into these kinds of games, you probably already own it. On the off chance you don’t, Murder by Numbers is definitely a must-play!
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