Perry Mason: The Case of the Mandarin Murders

Publisher: Audiogenic Software
Developer: Paisano
Year: 1985
Platform: DOS; Commodore 64; Apple II; MSX

Yes, there were good text adventures during the 80’s not made by Infocom. This is one fine example.

You play Perry Mason, of course, and must defend your client who has been charged with murder. The first part of the game is rather pointless, where you check out the crime scene looking for clues. The illustrations were poorly-drawn (and were in four colors, no less), which made this part of the game more or less ‘save’ and ‘restore’ until you got it right. The Apple II had slightly better graphics, while the Commodore was much better. However, the MSX version is gorgeous, with actual pre-rendered photos. If you can play that version somehow, do so.

Perry Mason: The Case of the Mandarin Murder DOS Della, your beautiful secretary

But the game really shines during cross-examination. There are about five or six key witnesses that both you and the prosecuting attorney will question.  When your adversary is up, you must object to improper lines of questioning to aid your case. When you’re up, you must probe each witness to elicit facts that puts holes in the D.A.’s case and exonerates your client. Logic truly dictates the outcome, and the ability of the game to remember past actions in determining the verdict was fairly impressive for the time.

The parser is rather limited, but with enough trial and error, Perry can get his point across.  However, the game’s most frustrating element has the D.A. objecting to your line of questioning. This would be fine if the D.A. objected to improper questions. However, he also objects to “guess the verb” issues. In other words, even if you are on the right track, the D.A. will object to your question if the game doesn’t understand your verbage. The result is the judge getting ticked off and your case going down the tubes.

Perry Mason: The Case of the Mandarin Murder DOS Questioning.

But for those with a little patience, the game can be very rewarding when you make progress.  There are at least three different endings, possibly more, ranging from life in prison for your client to complete acquittal. It’s a shame that there aren’t more games based from the courtroom, as the drama and fascination created by the justice system (or, perhaps more accurately, television shows) translates well onto the PC. Perry Mason, while good, is merely a drop in the bucket of that potential.

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