Murder by numbers
Publisher: The Irregular Corporation
Genre: Puzzle (Picross), Adventure
Age Rating: PEGI 12
Release Date: 05/03/2020
A code was provided for review purposes.
90’s fashions! Upbeat jams! Sass dialled up to 100! Questionable jokes! Drag queens! All that and more awaits… in Murder by Numbers!
According to my investigation on the game, the website set the bar high. What you just read was not only the start of my review for the Picross puzzle adventure game from Mediatonic but also a quote of the official website.
Despite that… I was not exactly sure what to expect. Since I am a fan of Ace Attorney from day 1, I couldn’t pass on that title as there are some similarities… But more on that later. That hybrid between a picross puzzle game and a visual novel is a pairing you do not come across very often. It piqued my desire to try it out even more, so here we are.
Did I make a mistake by touching that title or was it a combination working out for me? Let’s solve that riddle shortly – keep reading!
I’ll protect your Honor if you be my Scout
Los Angeles – 1996
A dashing woman appears on the screen and she wears flashy colours that scream 90’s fashion style. Bright, full of pattern and unique, that beauty introduces herself as Honor Mizrahi and is up to solve mysterious murder cases. She is the heroine in Murder by Numbers – and my favourite from the beginning. Her sidekick SCOUT, unfortunately, and as many tragic heroes before him, lost his precious memories, he is even more unique since he is a… robot. A flying, very charming and cute one that resembles a TV with little rockets as feet, too!
Soon you find out that Honor is not a real detective – more on a TV series called “Murder Miss Terri”. After that pun settled down, I had to witness that – unfortunately – that fiction quickly turns into reality… Not so surprising when you take a glance at the games’ title to be fair.
One case after another and we’re fully in the universe of the game that made me have high interest from the beginning: Ace Attorney.
Not only because the title isn’t exactly suitable for lazy readers, just as in Ace Attorney you solve crimes by gathering evidence.
Murder’s never far away
That sentence is not only mentioned in the vocal version of the “I’ll haunt you through your whole day, that’s how catchy I am”-intro song, but also basically throughout the entire game. Will you find the truth together with your companions and get behind the past of little SCOUT?
Like highlighted before, investigating Ace Attorney style by finding clues and ask people around you, the way how you obtain some items slightly varies from the series I’m getting on your nerves with. You see an object and click on it… but then a puzzle appears.
Not just a random one – a picross puzzle.
Myself being familiar with, but not too good at it, I tried out the picross fun. The game was quite fair – it started rather easy, but it increased in difficulty. If you solve those Nonogram puzzles as a hobby, it might bore you through the whole first case; don’t fret, Murder by Numbers balances out the challenge as you play along and veteran picross fans will be rewarded in later chapters.
Use your CPU
But what are those Nonogram puzzles exactly? Happy you wondered about that, here is my summary of that in case you don’t know too much about it:
In a grid of various sizes, you must colour some blocks out or leave them blank to reveal a sort of binary shape. Numbers at the side of the grid give you hints where you have to colour something out – or not. In Murder by Numbers, you’ll find evidence by filling out that grid that you can present to the people around you.
In case my explanation did not make any sense at all, no worries. Murder by numbers has an exceptionally good tutorial for you if I failed here.
By the way, fun fact: Picross puzzles were invented in Japan by two people individually (Non Ishida and Tetsuya Nishio) come with many names, such as Pic-a-pix, Picross, Pixel Puzzles or … Paint by numbers. Do you need a hint, or did we solve the mystery behind the games’ title now?
Make the right connections
For people like me either having their weak moments in life by being not too logic all the time combined with being very miserable at math, you can also ask for assistance in form of hints. They do not give you away from the answer away for free – and certainly lets you not go off the hook. Every hint you take and every move you make… The game will be watching you. The result after each puzzle gives you a score – scoring high will give you overall ranks. Starting from F you can climb your way up to the best score: the often seen in other titles and legendary S-rank.
That reward is worth it as well: When getting a perfect S-rank throughout the entire game by not missing a puzzle you’ll get additional bonus ones to solve. Every chapter of the four those await in total, the player finishes with an S rank will also get extra footage from SCOUT’s past on top.
I’ll be generous here and give you a hint: Be very very careful throughout chapter 3. There is a puzzle that is extremely easy to overlook.
When searching for clues and puzzles alike, solving one will unlock new ones. So if you need a break from reading, you can always search for more puzzles with SCOUT on your side to unlock more evidence.
Together we will work it out
The story around Honor is straight forward but surprises you here and there with an unexpected twist. Every character you encounter is distinctive in every aspect: character design, overall behaviour and placement in the whole storyline.
Designed by Hato Moa, the manga artist that presents all of her designed characters in a fun way – almost as she took some inspiration out of the Phoenix Wright universe and slapped that 1990’s feel on it. I loved the whole sticker or cut out vibe the character gave away in the game. It felt retro and fitting to the whole theme.
Nostalgic was the whole theme of the game for me. Especially since the first keynote hit for the rich and overall cheerful soundtrack. Masakazu Sugimori is responsible for the musical entourage in Murder by Numbers. Bear with me when I am, once again, mention this series probably more often than the actual games’ title, Ace Attorney. Sugimori composed the soundtrack for the long-running series from Capcom around lawyers and spiritual mediums, as well as Viewtiful Joe and the absolutely underrated gem on the Nintendo DS Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective.
We might not know what the future holds…
His work back and today has that destinctive similarity without being repetitive. Always unique, but also staying loyal to its roots. That is how I’d like to describe it and quite a difficult task to pull up. The absolute best choice for Murder by Numbers’ music, since it always hits right in every scene. May it be in a little slapstick situation, or deep in thoughts about a tragedy that mystery is left to be lifted.
One of my quirks is to sometimes give recommendations of my favourite tracks, so here we go:
Detective Cross ~ Justice Takes Time
Honor’s Theme – with and without vocals
The Price of Justice
The Only Way is Forward
(Honestly, though, all of them are top-notch and worth enjoying in a YouTube video game music loop!)
Sound effects are on point and fitting, adding another layer of depth to the very well composed atmosphere between music and visuals.
Judge, the verdict!
The court is in session; the final verdict is close. Can I recommend Murder by Numbers?
I absolutely can.
The story is cleverly written and fun, the overall design is very much self-aware in its charming craziness at the right time. Yet never borderline over the top until the slapstick hits you wrong. The picross puzzles are fun for beginner and long-time player alike.
The puns throughout the storyline are clever and have the perfect timing. Lots of references to tv shows and popular movies as Die Hard, Casablanca, Scooby-Doo and Sesame Street that you’ll enjoy with or without proper knowledge of the source. Knowing them helps without saying, though.
If you haven’t already purchased Murder by Numbers, may I suggest you check out the physical version on Playasia? You can pre-order it as a Playasia exclusive here. I already double dipped and placed my order for the Limited Edition. What are you waiting for?
The game is… highly recommended, your Honor!
By the way, listen closely to the theme song and compare the headings… Hope it made you smile and was at least a little bit fitting to the paragraphs!