Developer: HitherYon Games
Despite the tantalizing and highly suggestive title, murder is just game on in this point-and-click mystery. And yet it is indeed game over soon enough, not only for the victim but also for the player in what turns out to be a highly abbreviated experience. The murder occurs in the prologue as we learn that a rich video game designer has been offed shortly after a tense board meeting and a confrontation with protesters. What follows is a classic whodunit with eight suspects, a detective, and his clue-sniffing canine. Clocking in at just over an hour, its ease of play and charm may satisfy those looking for a casual diversion, but it’s not nearly deep or difficult enough for those looking for a more substantial game.
The gameplay begins on the front lawn of the designer’s mansion as you control the detective charged with solving the crime. At your side is your trusted dog who will help you find clues. Also present are two officers who will provide a tutorial on how to move around, use your pup, interrogate others, and examine evidence. Initially I was excited to learn that my canine sidekick was necessary for investigating, but as it turns out, no deduction is needed as to when to unleash the hound. Using the dog is as simple as toggling characters with a keystroke, and then suddenly all clues become instantly visible on the screen. In other words, there are no conspicuous areas you need to search; the game does the searching for you.
There’s no way to increase the challenge by refusing to switch characters, as the hotspots are inaccessible to the detective so you’ll need the dog’s help to progress. In fact, the only reason to toggle back to the detective is to talk with the suspects, who are scattered throughout the grounds and the mansion. There is no deduction to be done in conversation either, as you simply exhaust every option with no choices to make. Every once in a while, you need to interrogate a suspect again after discovering a clue, but the game directly guides you to them at the appropriate moments. And if you should happen to get stuck even with all this hand-holding, you can access hints that tell you directly where to go next.
The only interruptions in the connect-the-dots gameplay are a side quest to locate an optional treasure and another to find a slew of dog treats strewn about. While neither is difficult, they were actually my favorite parts of the game. My daughter popped in the room and joyfully helped me discover all the dog treats, which are found by just continuing to use the dog as the game’s living hotspot highlighter. The treasure hunt is in the form of “riddles” that involve simply following pretty explicit instructions, but at least it’s a reason to take a break from the mindless conversation.
Once all the clues have been found, the classic climactic accusation scene is played out in the mansion. At this point the game finally asks you to analyze the evidence and deduce the culprit. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to review the clues at this time, so unless you took good notes or already deduced the murder beforehand, you’ll be making some educated guesses from memory. Not that there are consequences for guessing incorrectly; the game will simply inform you that you’re wrong and allow you to keep guessing until you get it right. Ergo, there is no tension to this scene, or much motivation to bear down and think critically. Different endings based on who you accused would have given some gravity to the decision. That said, at least there is an epilogue that details the fate of each character, with slight changes based on whether or not you found the optional treasure or doggie treats.
The mystery itself is somewhat more complex, with plenty of red herrings to make everyone a potential suspect. Yet the guilty party is still fairly obvious if you’re paying attention, especially since there is only one possible murder weapon that is easily tied to the perpetrator. Lest I sound arrogant, I’ll point out that the game itself doesn’t believe the answer is difficult as the perp is rightfully lambasted for the obvious mistakes they made, including leaving the murder weapon at the scene.
Designed in RPG Maker, Murder Is Game Over has the look and feel of early 16-bit JRPGs. While you can use the mouse to move around and interact, you can also use the keyboard. Blissfully, you can make the walking speed very fast to get around the map briskly. Menus are easily accessible, including a map to help you remember the layout of the area. Visually the game is attractive, but there is a lot of empty space and repetition with background art. The locations you’ll visit, including a cemetery, a pond, and of course the mansion, are sharp and colorful if a bit unimaginative. There are no animations or cutscenes, not even one of the adorable puppy barking. The synthesized music and sound effects are generally upbeat and occasionally whimsical, though I had to turn off the text-scrolling sounds which were metallic and harsh.
The character sprites are nicely drawn, but the characters themselves aren’t nearly as memorable. If they had been more distinct and been given more robust dialogue, I would not have minded the simplicity of the investigation. However, the text-only conversations are very short and a few of the personalities blend together as a result. I also found one glaring grammatical error.
While a mildly pleasant diversion, it is hard to recommend Murder Is Game Over given the shallow characterizations and paint-by-numbers investigation. Those who really fancy whodunit mysteries and don’t mind an easy narrative puzzle might enjoy themselves, and it could work as an introduction to the genre for children who are mature enough to handle the subject matter. A retro-RPG-style murder mystery is certainly an intriguing concept and one I hope to see expanded on in the future, but this one just doesn’t offer enough to challenge the player or spark the imagination even for the very short time it lasts.