Now, this might just be me, but I've often found myself wondering what would happen if I suddenly got caught up in my very own murder mystery. Of course, I like to imagine I'd inexplicably discover I have the ability to astutely uncover the most obscure pieces of evidence - I'd say phrases like "most indubitably", and bystanders would watch in awe as I manage to pluck a single hair from a crime scene that leads me to finding the correct culprit. I would gather everyone involved in the case into one room and unmask the real murderer (à la Poirot or Miss Marple), and be heralded as the world's greatest new detective.
Okay… so I know that's absolutely not how it would play out in reality. I'm almost certain that if I ever did find myself in that kind of situation, I wouldn't be able to handle it with the same kind of finesse as great detectives like Sherlock Holmes. I guess that's why I've always been drawn to games that let me live out the fantasy of solving crimes and giving killers their just desserts from the safety and comfort of my own home. So you can imagine how sold I was when I first heard about the premise of Mediatonic's Murder by Numbers, where you play as a TV detective who winds getting involved in a real whodunit case.
As protagonist Honor Mizrahi, you find yourself implicated in the murder of your boss who turns up dead shortly after you get fired from your acting job. Set in 1996, Murder By Numbers is like a colourful blend of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney meets Professor Layton, except instead of lawyers and adorable characters in top hats, you're drawn into the wonderfully weird world of showbiz LA. Essentially it's like a detective puzzle game wrapped up in a 90s sitcom, and it's endlessly entertaining. From TV studios to drag clubs and award shows, you encounter a whole variety of characters that pack this murder mystery full of charm (and I also live for the 90s looks everyone serves up, complete with the colour palette of Saved by the Bell).
Scout-ing for clues
The characters are easily Murder By Numbers' biggest appeal, and that's thanks in large part how much personality they have. Outside of the nostalgic styles of the cast, each character is bursting with expressive designs and witty dialogue that really brings them to life - they practically pop out of my Switch screen. The look is a little reminiscent of the facial expressions and memorable designs in Ace Attorney, but Murder by Numbers very much has its own unique, distinctive style.
With characters like Becky, your co-star with her heart-shaped sunnies and big ego, or the hair makeup artist K.C. with his pink highlights and campy jokes, there's a whole host of characters that really make the cast line-up shine. And who could forget your overbearing, judgemental mother, and insufferable ex-husband? I mean, there are even drag queens, and an embittered old TV show host. Every character breathes life into the drama of the murder mystery, and every encounter I had throughout the four cases was an absolute treat.
But of course, every great detective needs a good sidekick, and Honor's going to need all the help she can get. Murder by Numbers introduces one of its most memorable characters early on - Scout, the adorable robot. Every time its little computerised face expresses a happy emotion, I can feel my heart melt - basically the robot needs to be protected at all costs. Outfitted with the latest in 90s technology, Scout plays a big role in Honor's ability to solve cases. You quickly learn that Scout needs Honor's help just as much as she needs it to solve their own personal mysteries, and together, they form one of the most charming detective duos I've seen in a long time.
Scout can help Honor by scanning different rooms to search for evidence throughout the four cases you work through. Searching for clues is a classic point-and-click affair that's similar to the way you move the magnifying glass-like cursor around in games like Root Letter or Professor Layton. Just as the cursor turns red in Root Letter to indicate you've stumbled on something, or the magnifying glass turns orange to highlight you've found a point of interest in Professor Layton, Murder by Numbers sees you using Scout's scanning capabilities to look for clues in a certain location. The scanner will beep and turn red when you're onto a clue, and you'll have to complete a picross puzzle to get your hands on the evidence you've located.
The picross puzzles get more and more advanced as you progress, and some are even timed, which really ups the challenge. As someone who was in it for the story more than the puzzles, I sometimes found them getting in the way of my overriding desire to see what happens next. I definitely get more of a kick out of questioning characters and seeing the events unfold. Still, as a total picross newbie, I can't deny how satisfying it was when I conquered a tricky puzzle.
Murder most fashionable
Murder by Numbers more than scratched my gumshoe itch. Dripping with style and personality, it really was pure entertainment from start to finish, and I could hardly wait to connect all the dots and get all the answers Honor and Scout were looking for. If you've got a penchant for a good murder mystery bursting with memorable characters, then this adventure truly will cross all your boxes.