UK REVIEW--Blue Toad Murder Files Episode One is a game that aims to mix puzzle-solving and party play in a story-driven murder mystery. In some areas, it succeeds; the game sports some stellar voice acting, an interesting story, and great puzzle design. However, with just an hour's play time, a relatively high price point, and next to no replayability, this game is ultimately just an expensive family treat.
Your journey starts as the Blue Toad Detective Agency visits the village of Little Riddle on vacation. It's here that you begin to interact with the locals, who you soon find are an eccentric bunch of British stereotypes with a penchant for murder. There's the never-ending chattiness of Mrs. Gossip, the rudeness of the Basil Fawlty-style hotel manager, and the thick west-country accent of The Miller. These characters star in a well-written story that is told via a series of cutscenes, which revolve around the sudden shooting of the village mayor.
It is your job--as a Blue Toad detective--to question suspects, solve puzzles, and ultimately choose the perpetrator at the end of the game. It can be played solo, but it's best when you bring in friends, and a total of four people can play locally. You can choose from one of four characters, including public schoolboy Dick Dickens, senior citizen Margery Maple, and the moustachioed Lambert Vanderbosh. The characters all have a unique look to them, with Dickens sporting some distinctly Harry Potter-esque glasses while Vanderbosh dresses as a stately gentleman complete with blazer and cravat. Each player takes a turn to investigate a different location via an animated overhead map. The game is extremely linear, so the order you select locations has no difference on the outcome of the story. Every location must be visited before the game allows you to finger the perpetrator.
Each location holds a different suspect for you to question, but the suspects will only help you provided you solve a puzzle for them first. There are a range of brainteasers on offer, including riddles, counting games, and memory tests. The puzzles are well designed and well laid out, asking for simple solutions before hitting you with more difficult--but never frustrating--challenges later. Completing a puzzle plays out a cutscene conversation, which gives you clues toward identifying the perpetrator. Unfortunately, there isn't a hint system, so if a puzzle is taxing your gray matter too much, your only option is to skip it entirely and progress with the story. However, there are incentives for attempting to solve the puzzles. The game counts the amount of time it takes you to get the solution, as well as the number of attempts, and awards you with a gold, silver, or bronze rosette.
You're also required to complete quick-fire rounds at numerous points throughout the game. These require each player to recall some of the recent facts he or she has learned on the case and answer a multiple-choice question. Once you've visited each location and questioned all the suspects, you have to identify the perpetrator. Each player picks from one of the four suspects onscreen, and your choice is hidden from the other players until the final answer is revealed. The number of rosettes is tallied up, along with the scores from the quick-fire rounds, giving each player a grand total at the end. Though it is fun to compete with friends for the highest score the first time you play through, answers to the puzzles, quick-fire questions, and the guilty suspect never change, which makes replayability almost nonexistent. Play time is also incredibly short at just under an hour. At £6.99 an episode, the price is steep, and with the game aiming for total of six episodes, you'll end up paying just over £40 if you buy them all separately (discounts are available for buying episodes in pairs, with episodes one and two available for £9.99 in the UK).
There's plenty to like about Blue Toad Murder Files Episode One. The game regularly pokes fun at you, from the narrator sarcastically asking things like, "Was the little puzzle too much for the poor detective?" to the shaming you get from being called a loser when you fail a quick-fire round. The game also has a unique art style that lends itself well to the story. The facial animation is particularly good, and often a character's expression is as funny as the dialogue. The voice acting is also worthy of note, even though every character is voiced by the same actor. Playing with friends is fun, especially when it gets competitive and you have to do things like hide your controller when you choose the perpetrator. However, the fun is severely lessened in single-player because the competiveness is missing.
It's difficult to recommend Blue Toad because of its short length, high price tag, and complete lack of replayability. The lack of a hint system is also a major omission, and the ability to skip through puzzles makes the game all too easy. With the right group of friends or family members, Blue Toad is definitely good for a few giggles--just be prepared for a short and expensive ride.