Lord Winklebottom Investigates review: a dapper murder mystery with not enough detective work
The game is ahoof
Hear me out a minute. Imagine Sherlock Holmes, but instead of a pompous eccentric, he’s a well-mannered, top hat-wearing... giraffe. And in replacement of his partner John Watson, there was instead a plump hippo in a dapper suit who is constantly quaffing tea. No, you've not accidentally picked up the famous detective’s opium huffing habit, these two curious characters are Sherlock and Watson’s animal counterparts in zoological adventure Lord Winklebottom Investigates.
The plucky duo, gentleman giraffe Lord Winklebottom and Doctor Frumple the hippo, have been invited to a mysterious island to sit in on a special announcement only to arrive and, by George! There’s been a bleeding murder! It’s a point-and-click affair where you use Talk/Use/Look actions to interact with the environment while also dragging and dropping things from your inventory bar into the world to use them. It’s classic point-and-click through and through.
The setup is straight out of an Agatha Christie detective tale and feels like an ITV4 Miss Marple special smushed together with an episode of David Attenborough's Planet Earth. The honorable axolotl Admiral Aristotle Gilfrey has invited a group of animals to his mansion for a secret announcement but was found dead as a doornail in his water tank before he could reveal a peep about his news. As Lord Winklebottom arrives on the scene, the island becomes surrounded by a terrible storm, trapping everyone - including the murderer - on the island. Gasp!
I love this kind of setup. Give me a Poirot boxset and a packet of hobnobs and I’m in heaven. Lord Winklebottom Investigates has so many enjoyable nods to British detective dramas that I couldn’t help but feel completely charmed. Lord Winklebottom and Frumple’s banter is incredibly dry with lots of over-the-top Britishisms like “old chap,” “old boy,” “well I say” and all the rest. There are ridiculously named characters like Dame Celia Wellington-Boot, the highly-strung pelican whose an ex-stage actress, and Reverend Archibald Peabody who is both a seal and a priest. There's also Salty Walters the booze-soaked sailor who also happens to be a grumpy pug. The animal archetypes keep things fun in a genre that can be pretty stuffy, like when Winklebottom can't help but have a chomp on some very important, but very tasty, evidence.
Every animal is fully voiced acted with the cast having a colourful array of accents from all corners of the British Isles (a quick shout out to Pumphrey the slug gardener whose booming Welsh accent, from one Welshie to another, was spot on). Together with the painterly character art and rich backdrops, it all accumulates in a particularly lavish game that's incredibly fitting for a 1920s murder mystery.
It all accumulates in a particularly lavish game that's incredibly fitting for a 1920s murder mystery.
With the stage set, my deer stalker sitting tightly on my head and notebook firmly in hand, I was ready for a twisty detective tale. But Lord Winklebottom Investigates never quite picks its feet up, and what could have been a galloping tale of foul play and misdirection is instead a casual trot. It simply boils down to the fact that I didn't feel like I was doing any sort of detective work, which is a big miss in a detective game.
The main culprit for Winklebottom's lacklustre detective antics are the puzzles. The classic point-and-click design of dragging and dropping items into a scene quickly becomes frustrating when it's easy to misunderstand the logic behind the puzzles. I spent a hefty amount of time trying to work out what do to with a wire coat hanger, for example, which seemed totally out of place until eventually I realised (and mild puzzle spoilers ahead) I needed to cut it up with a pair of pliers and fix a busted telephone cable with the snippets. But of course, you might say, only to me it felt like quite a reach and almost verged on Lucas Arts-levels of obscurity. There were often circumstances where I would resort to clicking on every inch of the screen in case I missed something, and I started dragging and dropping items onto anything I could to move the story forward - which worked out for me on more than one occasion.
Aside from a couple of those Lucas Arts brain stumpers, though, the rest of the puzzles felt like child's play. Most of the time you'll be either trying to open locked doors or sealed boxes with a hodgepodge of items. It never felt like I was gathering clues or evidence, but rather just nicking a bunch of tat that I hoped would somehow help me. I felt this way about many of the objects that rattled inside Winklebottom’s infinite pockets. A small bottle, an 18th-century axe, a kitchen knife, and an empty envelope don't make much sense at all on their own, but who knows, it might come in handy down the line. There’s not really a moment where you piece everything together in a rush of drama and detective work and that was something that was majorly missing.
If you’re looking for a detective tale to sink your teeth into, you won’t find that here. Instead, I'd suggest one of Frogwares' actual Sherlock Holmes games. But if you're more of a Sherlockian vibes kind of person who just wants to enjoy a jolly good romp, then there's still plenty to admire here. Lord Winklebottom Investigates is a delightfully light snack with a sweet crunch, something that many players will be more than satisfied with. You’ll never feel like you’re solving an actual mystery, but it will certainly chuckle and charm the heck outta you, old boy.