‘Detective Grimoire’ review: so good you’ll hope for more murders soon (iOS/Android)

January 14, 2014
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It's really rare for me these days to complete a game and immediately starting wishing for a sequel. Maybe I'm jaded, though at 25 I doubt it. I think it's just that there are so many great games out there to play, and there's always something next up in my queue. Nevertheless, that very thing occurred the second I finished Detective Grimoire, and I already can't wait for the seemingly inevitable follow-up.

It helps that the ending is a shameless tease for more Grimoire games. But more importantly, SFB Games' faux-noir murder mystery adventure game hits so many sweet spots that it might as well be a swamp monster-themed confection sold at the mucky tourist attraction in which it's set.

The game takes place entirely in Boggy's Bog, a dank and fetid-looking swamp that's supposedly home to a mysterious swamp monster named—you guessed it—Boggy. Boggy is like Mickey Mouse in an alternate reality where slimy green amphibian creatures are more popular than adorable rodents. He stars in cartoons and feature films beloved by his legions of fans, whose walls and shelves are lined with Boggy memorabilia. But he's also the main suspect in a grizzly murder, and it's your job, as the eponymous Detective Grimoire, to discover the truth—including whether Boggy really exists at all.

The somewhat hapless detective also spends most of the game looking for his hat, which blows away the second he sets foot in Boggy's Bog. Grimoire is more than a little incompetent, but he always puts two and two together in the end—sometimes even reaching the conclusion of "four"—and that makes him endearing, too. The voice acting is surprisingly great, and it comes together with the beautiful hand-drawn backgrounds and charming character animations to make for a game that's like a storybook brought to life.

Adventure game fans will be familiar with the gameplay here, though there are some pleasant nuances as well. You'll spend the bulk of the game traveling around the swamp tapping here and there on anything that looks interesting (turn hints off if you want any challenge at all) and chatting with its residents and visitors. These include an environmentalist protestor, a famous filmmaker and his camera man, a studious scholar, the gift shop girl, and others. It's fairly standard, though far from unenjoyable. There are scattered environmental interactions, as well, though most of them are unfortunately too simple to actually be called "puzzles."

That's one downside, but Grimoire does put some lovely new spins on conversation. In echoes of Phoenix Wright, there are challenge topics for each suspect that, once unlocked, provide important insights. During these questioning sessions you'll have to present the right clues and even construct the detective's internal monologue from fragments of sentences and ideas. These thought puzzles, like the rest of the game, never get too challenging. But they and the other rudimentary puzzles and deviations at least provide plenty of variety in gameplay, with a good mix of familiar and new mechanics, so you won't get bored over the game's several hours of investigation and interrogation. Overall it's extremely tight;  the game is even kind enough to tell you, toward the adventure's end, when you have nothing left to learn from someone and should bark up other trees instead.

Like most detective games, Detective Grimoire is as much about speaking the game's language as it is about solving the mystery. Even when you can see the solution, you need to figure out how to get Grimoire himself to see it as well. As in most such games, that can be occasionally frustrating, especially when you can't figure out exactly what actions to take or clues to present to get Grimoire to see what's right in front of him. But the game's reasonable length and brisk pacing should keep most players from getting frustrated. And you can always inspect the detective's ever-growing and rather exhaustive collection of clues, notes and suspect profiles, which can truly be helpful when you're stuck.

Detective Grimoire is a tight and charming adventure game that kids and adults alike should be able to enjoy. It's engaing enough for the former, and just challenging enough to keep the latter interested through the end. That's extra important when it comes to tablet games, as tablets are often shared between familial generations. Plus its lack of microtransactions makes it easy to recommend to parents.

Either way, no matter how old you are, when the case is over you'll find yourself wanting nothing more than another murder to solve.

  • Detective Grimoire
  • Developer: SFB Games
  • Publisher: Armor Games
  • Platform: iOS (played), Android
  • In-app purchases: No
  • Price: $4.99


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