Here's something we don't see much of, a murder-mystery game. Cast in the traditional ‘cosy' style, right down to the quaint English village, stately homes and snooping old-lady sleuths. Essentially, it boils down to a single or hotseat multiplayer party game, a series of timed puzzles that rely on lateral thinking, logic and memory. At the end of each chapter, the criminal is unmasked, and bonus points are awarded if you managed to follow the hints and finger the felon.
But hold on a minute. Lateral thinking... memory and logic... comprehension...
Egads! They're trying to EDUCATE me!
Now, this isn't necessarily such an awful thing. But each of the puzzles feels like the kind of thing you'd normally come across in a school package. While they're not all really easy, the kind of puzzles (straightforward maths; towers of Hanoi, tile puzzles and so on) feel like they're aimed at kids aged about 10-14 or so. If I was an eleven year old schoolboy who had the option of playing this game instead of doing my homework, I'd be absolutely laughing. However, playing it as a party game with other adults just made me feel sort of embarrassed.
Which is not at all to suggest that there's nothing her to be enjoyed by those of us old enough to drink. The Agatha Christie-esque detective story is gently lampooned throughout, and some of the characters are memorable and entertaining (such as the obnoxious hotel owner and the local vicar who secretly worships Lovecraftian horrors). The detectives themselves are mute, their conversation described by an eloquent narrator with a rich, buttery voice as good as any in a videogame, but all of the other characters are well voiced... by that same guy. I hope he got a fair whack of the budget, because he's a hard worker for sure. Plus, he adds a lot to the feel of the thing.
The graphics are lacklustre, as if the light-hearted style of the piece somehow meant that decent, textured graphics were not needed. Or, perhaps, the whole thing was made on a tight budget. I suppose I've got to reluctantly accept that it's true, the quality of the graphics isn't really a critical point, but it would have been nice to see something more in this area. It's similar to many of the Telltale Games episodic adventures in this area. Funny, really, when you think about how much hard work went into the graphics in adventure games before everything had to be 3D.
The mysteries themselves are pretty straightforward affairs, and few are really tricky to solve. Most hinge on noticing a particular clue which may or may not be particularly logical, but so long as you're paying attention they're generally pretty easy to sort out. I found that the difficulty could be upped by drinking a couple of bottles of cheap wine while playing, but that's me.
On my first time through, I have to say I found myself enjoying Blue Toad Murder Files. It's undemanding and lightweight without being a pushover; the characters range between forgettably mundane and risibly insane. It's a fairly unique approach to a murder mystery, although the traditionally complex interweaving of characters, motives, backgrounds and plots-within-plots is conspicuously absent. The blue toad murder files system requirements are as gentle as the humour; you could pretty easily run this on a laptop to keep the kids happy on a long flight or car journey.
There's not really a lot of replay value, nor is there, in my opinion, a lot of room for a sequel. Of course, there are all manner of other settings and archetypes that this type of game could exploit, but unless the actual ‘series of puzzles' approach was changed, it'd get yawn-worthy quick fast.
If you're looking for an in-depth murder mystery that'll tax your little grey cells to their limit and engross you in a twisting, treacherous plot - this ain't it. However, if you're in the market for a straightforward puzzle game cast against a twee, comical and - dare I say slightly childish backdrop, Blue Toad Murder Files: The Mysteries of Little Riddle might give you something to grapple with for a couple of days.