Wot I Think: Detective Grimoire

By John Walker on August 19th, 2014 at 5:00 pm.

Detective Grimoire, after a successful 2012 Kickstarter, two years’ delay, and an iOS/Android release in February, has finally made it to PC. Using my top-notch investigative skills, I’ve divulged exactly Wot I Think:

Oh what a muddle. I cannot put my finger on Detective Grimoire. Which is in a large part the problem in what amounts to a very dismissive PC port. But also because it just doesn’t seem to know what it’s meant to be.

Grimoire is a police detective, called in to investigate the murder of the owner of a swamp-based tourist attraction. The prime suspect is a cryptozoological creature known as Boggy – a beast supposed to live in the swamp that no one has actually seen in sixty years. Grimoire’s job is to interrogate the eight suspects who frequent the park, and eventually solve which is responsible for the murder.

Except, I cannot work out for whom this game is intended. It is at once a cluttered confusion of methods of interaction, and a massively over-simplistic concept. It’s a game with puzzles seemingly aimed at an audience of young children, and yet it’s a game about a pretty icky murder. There’s almost no challenge, but rather mostly just a process of clicking through all available options and moving on. But its eventual solution is meandering and left deliberately vague.

It’s also gorgeous-looking, with some absolutely stunning voice acting. The writing is fun, silly, and just serious enough to give it an edge. The characters are well-realised, seem to have some depth and background, and their limited animations are lovely.

So yes, a muddle. Not least the utter madness of its interface. Buttons everywhere, almost all doing the same thing, but the game springing different methods of interacting at you all the time, usually then only used once or twice. Drawing in your notebook by dragging clues for, um, some reason. A colour-combining minigame that you’re required to play about six times, despite the gag being that the incredibly simple solution is always the same – with instructions each time you go through it. And the game’s best feature – a system where you combine clues and link sentences to create a useful piece of insight – being used dismissively, seemingly at random, and often to literally restate what your character just said in the previous scene.

Despite every fault I’ve listed being an issue, I didn’t hate playing the game at all. I just never really enjoyed it either. It never felt like it was comfortable with itself. The few puzzles that are in there, perhaps four total, are bizarrely easy. They took literally seconds to solve, my first attempts working each time, leaving me wondering if they were broken rather than simple enough for toddlers to complete. To illustrate, not only is there a torn photo puzzle, but even a “which line is the fish on” test. Then the conversations with people were about secret societies, murderous intents, murder weapons, and so on – clearly not for toddlers.

And it needs to be said, despite the high-res images, that this is not an adequate port from the touch-screen version. The game is left filled with instructions to “touch” various things, and the interface is clearly designed for fingers, not mice. In fact, the game doesn’t even have a custom cursor. Instead, using the default Windows cursor, it’s far too small for the bulky interface, and non-reactive to passing over interactive objects.

I’m aware this reads as a kicking, and I’m disappointed that I’m okay with that. As I’ve said, the voice acting is fantastic – some of the best I’ve heard in years – and the music is extremely impressive. I love the art style, and I feel like if it had only set itself free from a cluster of gimmicks, it could have relaxed into being a pleasant adventure game. Instead it’s mostly a process of talking to everyone about everything, and then concluding who the murderer is. Overly prescribed, massively over-simplified, and yet a muddled presentation, buries some nice ideas and some lovely writing and delivery. Case closed.

You can get Detective Grimoire on mobile devices for £2.40, and now on PC via their Humble widget for $4.90 or on Steam for £3.50. Those prices go up at the end of the week.

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15 Comments »

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  1. johnkillzyou says:

    Wasn’t this originally a flash game? I remember enjoying it quite some time ago.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Lars Westergren says:

    Unlike John, I actually did enjoy it somewhat when playing it on my phone (Kickstarter backer here). Music and voice acting great, agreed. But I also reacted against the strange disconnect between the plot and the puzzle difficulties when playing it. Did the writer(s) and designers not talk to each other during development?

    On mobile, it is better than most games since it isn’t full of microtransactions. Fairly amusing timewaster if you are on the train, hope they can do something more memorable next time.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Given it’s cheaper on mobile devices and better fits their user interface conventions, the impression I get from this article is that (words! words in his mouth!) it would be more positive were John reviewing that version, rather than the PC release.

  3. gritz says:

    How does this compare with Puzzle Agent? It looks like Puzzle Agent.

    • Premium User Badge

      Lars Westergren says:

      Rather similar now that you mention it. They both have character and atmosphere but somewhat disappointing gameplay, at least for adventure game veterans. Puzzle Agent had more puzzles with greater difficulty

    • John Walker says:

      It’s also not nearly as irritating and smug as Puzzle Agent.

      • gritz says:

        Puzzle Agent was a few things, but “smug” is definitely not one of them in any way I can remember.

        • JFS says:

          Neither can I. It was a strange game, irritating, yes, but in a good way. One of the few games I ever actually finished.

  4. SFB Games Adam says:

    Hey, thanks for the review!

    (I’m Adam Vian, the artist/designer for Detective Grimoire!)

    One thing I’d like to mention – a lot of the “puzzles” aren’t really meant to be seen as puzzles at all, they’re more like little interactions to make you feel more involved/endear you to the characters and world.
    We added some of them fairly late-on in development and they replace just having more text/talking in place of them.

    I understand how they can be disappointing though, if you were expecting a challenging puzzle at that moment!

    Thanks for the article! :)
    -Adam Vian
    @SFBDim

    • Premium User Badge

      Lars Westergren says:

      One positive I forgot above: I really liked your dialogue system. Thinking and paying attention when interviewing suspects paid off.

      I liked this enough to buy your next adventure game, if you make one.

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      maicus says:

      I’m glad this game finally came out, I’ve been looking forward to it for years!

      Your decline videos started coming out when I was about 14, and amongst my high school friends we used to quote it about as much as the simpsons. I’m glad you’re still making stuff you love ten years on, it’s a real inspiration!

  5. BehindYou!!! says:

    Talking with everyone about everything to conclude who is murderer? Is it a game or a graphic novel? Gonna pass on this one for sure.

  6. mecreant says:

    It definitely falls into the casual game category, but it has a lot of charm. It’s the kind of game I enjoy playing between bigger games as a sort of palate cleanser between main courses. I quite enjoyed this.