Originally written for www.7outof10.co.uk
Having spent most of their development life producing the quiz game Buzz, you can probably imagine the relief on the production staff’s faces when they were told they were going to create something other than a strong-jawed question master. A situation that should not be underestimated in development terms for, as the old saying goes, a change is as good as a break.
What Relentless Software decided to focus on instead was the quaint village of Little Riddle; an area lost deep in the heart of the English countryside and seemingly dreamt up by a mind that had seen great quantities of both The Railway Children and Midsomer Murders. And, just as in the case of the latter, evil stalks the picturesque lanes for the Mayor has been shot and a killer is on the prowl. The villagers need not fret, however, for you, being a member of the internationally renowned detective agency Blue Toad, just so happen to be holidaying in the village. Unable to keep your professional instincts from interfering with your R&R, you can’t help but stick you nose in and begin investigating this unfortunate case.
What unfolds is a game full of larger than life characters, almost in the same way most Wallace and Gromit episodes are. There’s the snotty doctor, the self-important station master, the American, and several others that all do their best (more impressively still through a single voice actor) to add drama, humour and intrigue to proceedings as you go from location to location within the village questioning all those linked to the crime. The aim appears to be to make Blue Toad as interesting to watch as it is to play.
Once a particular suspect has been interviewed a puzzle is presented to the player. Some vaguely stick with the theme of a murder investigation, helping draw attention to certain aspects of the case, but most are just an excuse to put you in a pub and get you to sort out their mangled pipe work.
The quality of the puzzles does vary but generally improves as your investigation continues. Relentless even include a nice touch in that after every few puzzles/interviews you are given a short quiz to make sure you’ve been paying attention to the facts that you’ve been presented with.
The one negative point I wish to level at Blue Toad is that its puzzles are timed, with medals allocated depending how quickly they are solved. Whilst this may not initially sound problematic you just have to play a couple of their brain teasers to find yourself feeling pressured into making quick decisions. Part of the enjoyment of Professor Layton, to whose audience Blue Toad must be naturally aimed, is that you had the time to mull over the problem at hand and come up with the right answer, unrushed by the man in the tall hat. Here, however, it becomes all to easy to churn through the very meat of the game; taking quick guesses as opposed to considered opinions just to earn a shinier bauble. This may not have been such an issue if, over the course of an hour’s play, I had tackled more than the twelve puzzles that Episode 1 contains.
On the positive side, the game does present you with the option of playing through this who-dunnit with up to four players, passing the pad between puzzles and interviews; but this in itself does not make up for the brevity of the package. It may be episodic but at £6.29 for a single instalment (or £9.99 for two) it doesn’t work out favourably on the pound-per-hour or pound-per-puzzle ratio.
I do believe that price should never be a factor in a review score but value is another matter. Look at what either of Professor Layton’s puzzle-laden adventures offer in comparison and you’ll find greater breadth and depth, so Blue Toad can only be recommended to those who have completed both The Curious Village and Pandorra’s Box and crave yet more mental stimulation.
Edit: please note that only hours after this was posted we received word that Episode 3 of Blue Toad Murder Files would be offered up for free as of 25th February. For more details check out the Blue Toad website.