Point and Click enthusiasts behold as yet another mystery title has hit the Nintendo DS. Utilizing the many advantages of touch screen controllability, the mystery franchise has had big success on this portable player. But does Unsolved Crimes deviate from the well known formulas enough to make this game worth your time or is it just another rehash of mystery monotony?
Players take control of a rookie detective of the NY homicide division in the year 1976. Crime is rampant at this time and it’s up to you to solve a few murder cases to prove your worth to the chief. Your partner, Marcy Blake, is a bit rambunctious but has enough experience to help you along. However, a looming plot twist awaits as almost immediately into the game, Marcy’s aspiring model sister, Betsy, is kidnapped. It’s up to you to continue solving homicide cases as you also look for clues to the disappearance of the busty Betsy.
The first noticeable feature of the game is that the opening sequence is a nice sequence of artistic animation to set up the line of characters you’ll see through the game. However, after the nice sequence, the game begins with a little less appealing visuals (though still decent enough) and much less animation overall. Environments are depicted in a decent looking semi cel-shaded 3D graphical scheme but the overall appearance is just about average. As for sound effects, there is no voice acting in the game whatsoever, which heavily impacts the game’s overall aesthetics. Sure, the dialog does resemble some of the things you’d hear in a detective show such as CSI but the fact that voice acting was not taken advantage of reaps huge mark-offs in the game’s overall presentation. Also, the music is fitting for an edgy crime title but the instruments are out of a GBA title at best and the amount of music through your gameplay is minimal.
Gameplay begins immediately and puts players right into the crime office. With no ability to enter your name, this prevents the ability for multiple gamers to play the same game and have a high score chart. Players are given the option to embark on a tutorial case which is not as serious as the others and if you accept the case, you’ll be sent out to solve a misdemeanor involving graffiti in a back alley. It’s important to try out the tutorial if you want to get a hang of the gameplay as it gives you a full rundown of all the skills you’ll need to solve some of the later cases.
First of all, the key to solving any mystery is to search for and remember clues. Players will roam the site of the crime and move around by either using the D-Pad or by pressing a set of on screen arrows (not the better choice as the recognition is terrible for these). You can move the camera around by dragging the stylus across the screen and you can examine any item around the area by merely tapping it (not too original but this format seems to work well).
If you happen to come across important evidence, the game automatically allows you to pick it up (though the only evidence you can pick up is all relevant to the case, making this portion of the problem solving a bit easy). After obtaining evidence, you can zoom in on it and rotate it in order to find other key clues to help solve the mystery. For instance, on the tutorial you’ll find a planner book around the site of the crime. After examining closer, you can find a set of initials on the back that will help you narrow down your suspects.
Speaking of suspects, you begin each case with a full briefing of the crime including all known evidence, any tangible items, as well as bios and statements from each of the suspects. It will be your prerogative to utilize all available resources to move along the case. Thus, if you get a hunch to some clue or if you notice any inconsistencies in the testimonies of the suspects, it would be important to take note. In your inventory, there is a handy memo to allow you to write down information (though I rarely used it) as well as a map of each current crime scene for you to mark information (also a nifty addition but not really needed much).
Though hunting for clues is the major portion of the game, you will have a few gameplay deviations here or there to help keep the experience fresh. For instance, you may have to piece together scraps of paper or play minor Klotski-esque puzzles to find a clue. However, a few of these can be annoying at times with less than accurate gameplay: One gameplay aside that was particularly annoying was the cracking of a safe. Players have to rotate a dial on a safe according to a cryptic code. First of all, the recognition of the dial is very sluggish, making it difficult to move the dial exactly how far you would like without moving too far, but also, rather than zooming in to give you more accuracy with your stylus movements, the dial is only about twice the size of the A button the DS. This makes it even harder to turn it in the desired manner and I found myself moving the dial in the wrong direction at times.
And, to make matters worse, the clue involving the safe is cryptic in an extremely non-intuitive way that will throw you off even more. It doesn’t tell you how many times to turn the dial, or that you have to turn it all the way to the 12:00 position before you can attempt to open it, but rather, it just gives you a clue that still doesn’t make much sense in my head. Nonetheless, I spent nearly 20 minutes trying to solve the puzzle before finally using a hint and remaining puzzled at the connection between the clue and the action (and it’s not like I’m usually slow at puzzle-solving I’ve obtained undergraduate degrees in both Electrical Engineering and Mathematics and am currently pursuing a PHD in Math).
Questioning the Witness
The mysteries are actually moved along by completing a series of queries by your partner along the way. You begin each mystery with either one or two queries that you can attempt to answer and as you find more clues to the case and provide the information needed, your partner will provide even further questions. However, if you miss a question, you’re penalized by losing a notch off your “level of confidence” (essentially an HP meter). You have 3 points of confidence at the beginning of each mystery and can gain more by answering further queries but if you lose them, you’ll lose your credibility with the force and will have to start back either at the beginning of the case or at the beginning of the previous query.
Finally, after you’ve answered enough queries to reach a milestone in the case, you can submit a report to the chief. This is usually either a more difficult query session or a longer one but if you’ve remembered the progression of your thoughts, you should have no problem answering his questions (aside from a few ambiguous questions here or there). These reports signal major steps in the progression of each case and allow you to step away from the scene for a second.
This system is effective at moving the story along but at times some of the questions can be rather silly. For instance, if you manage to solve the case early on or think a few steps ahead, you’ll still have to answer a few obvious questions before moving on. And, a few of the questions feel very forced at times, where one answer is so obvious and the other three choices are just silly. Also, sometimes the questions can be a little vague or may have two right answers but one that’s “more correct” than the other (remember standardized testing?). However, in this case if you answer the one that’s “less correct,” you will not be penalized by losing a confidence point. You can also obtain hints to queries if they’re particularly nasty but in general, I found this feature unnecessary (and too helpful for hardly any penalty).
Each query is graded into three different categories including Intellectual, Inspiration, and Observation. Though I couldn’t really find the difference between any of these and the types of questions asked, each question is graded accordingly and tallied up at the end of the scenario. These individual stats along with the amount of hints used, the amount of mistakes and the amount of time taken all add up to a number score as well as a letter rank. This is really a useless feature though it gives you some level of scoring system for the game. Also, you’ll receive points for each different skill used to show you your more dominant skills in each of 5 categories (intellectual, inspiration, observation, physical, and decisiveness). These are depicted in a pentagonal graph like we’ve seen in both Big Brain Academy and Pokémon (used for grading the beauty contests) and in this game, they actually serve no purpose.
The cases are fairly well thought out to help you progress through the game but in the end, this game is a bit short for my own tastes. With only 8 cases in all, the game shouldn’t take longer than around 10 hours to complete (unless you lack any critical thinking skills). Once you finish the game, there are no extras to keep you playing and no deviations in the overall story if played a second time through. This makes for little replay value and at $29.99, a little less than average value. Still, if you do purchase the game, the cases are different enough to drive you to the finish.