Review #346


Blue Toad Murder Files: Episodes 1-3 Bundle
Developer: Relentless Software
Publisher: Sony
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 03/25/2010

We’re big fans of the old point and click Adventure game genre here at Diehard GameFAN and I have personally waited YEARS for something like this to come out for the Playstation 3. Before now, the closest we had was the video game version of LOST, and that was merely okay. For the past few months, I’ve been sitting here muttering as England has received multiple episodes of Blue Toad Murder Files at £6.29 each. I’ve been tempted to snag them via my Euro PSN account, but at ten bucks a pop, it put the full game at $60, or twice what the average adventure game costs on PC. So I waited. Finally a few days ago, I was rewarded not only with the release of the first episode of BTMF, but we were immediately brought up to speed as all three episodes that have been released are now here in the US, with a bundle price of $14.99 for all three. $30 for all six episodes was more like it (plus I wouldn’t have to use my old UK bank account that has set without a withdrawal for about seven years), so here we are with the review.

The three big issues surrounding this game are:

1) Is there an audience for Adventure games on the North American PS3 since they tend to be a PC mainstay (although the DS and Wii have slowly been getting some) and it tends to be more of a European thing, to the point where most games in this genre are developed by small European companies like Darkling Room, White Birds or the like?

2) Can the gameplay of an Adventure game translate well onto the PS3? I found the port of the Wallace and Grommit serial Adventure games to the 360 to have pretty crappy controls, and the few Wii Adventure games I have played haven’t fared too well either.

3) Is it any good? After all, Relentless Software has only done the Buzz! games up until now.

So are the Blue Toad Murder Files worth investing your hard earned money in or is this second foray (Siren: Blood Curse was the first.) into PS3 episodic content a flop?

Let’s Review

1. Story

Each of the three episodes in this bundle release have the same fairly basic plot. You choose one of four playable characters that are riffs off of famous characters like Henry Higgins, Miss Marple, a Hannah Montana/Nancy Drew composite and an the old British man seems like either Dr. Watson or David Jason in the “A Touch of Frost” series. You’ve been sent on vacation to the quaint English hamlet of Little Riddle, which is supposed to be the safest and most peaceful village around. So of course the MURDERS START. Your character then goes through the motions of trying to solve the mystery. This is done through story sections of the game that culminate in a puzzle that is tied into the actual story of the game rather than being just thrown in there without rhyme or reason like you see in the Professor Layton series. There are also a few recap quizzes and then you end the game choosing who you think the murder is. End and repeat three times.

Now this may sound a bit dull, and on paper it is. However the game’s manages to succeed because of how each story is told, the differences between them when they are fleshed out and how wildly different the puzzles are from episode to episode. The characters are also very diverse and a lot of fun, with the narrator constantly stealing the show. There are also numerous references to bits of British Pop Culture. For example in Episode One, you’ll have to spend a night at a hotel where the innkeep is obviously meant to be Basil Fawlty. Now a lot of these references and homages will be lost on people who are neither Anglophiles nor ex residents of the UK (both of which I suppose I count as), which will probably cut down on the overall enjoyment of the game somewhat. Still, it’s a very funny and family friendly game and I found each episode to be amusing and adorable…as well as make me wish I could get a quality pasty like the ones I used to get at West Cornwall Pasty in Guildford. Sorry, cheap plug.

Overall, I loved my time with Blue Toad Murder Files although I can’t deny that this is VERY British and as such non-Britons may not find this as amusing or quaint as I did. Still, the PS3 needs more light hearted titles as well as Adventure games, and this gives you both in one. If you’re a fan of either, you’ll be a fan of each of these hour long scenarios.

Story Rating: 6.5/10

2. Graphics

You can tell Blue Toad Murder Files is a relentless software title just from looking at it, as it features the same unique graphic style that can be seen in the Buzz! titles. Each character in this game feels like it could easily be a toned down model for those quiz games. At the same time they are more realistic in design and appearance and I rather enjoyed the wide variety of townsfolk and the various nod and winks to British stereotypes they are meant to be.

There really isn’t a lot in the way of backgrounds, but what’s here is nicely detailed and looks like it has been ripped straight out of a picture of a generic English hamlet and then cartooned up a bit. If you’re used to Adventure Games then you’re probably used to static backgrounds. Well you’ll be happy to know that that isn’t the case here. You’ll be getting characters and items moving in the background , but don’t be too excited as all story bits in this game are more or less cut scenes that string the dozen plus puzzles in each episode together.

So the game looks quite nice for a downloadable title, but it also doesn’t come close to pushing the PS3’s visuals. The game could easily be done on a PC or PSP, but the visuals fit the light hearted feel of the game quite nicely.

Graphics Rating: 6.5/10

3. Sound

I personally loved the voice acting in the game as it was actual Britons making fun of the slew of British accents you can find throughout the United Kingdom. There’s even an American accent or two tossed in for good measure. I can see some North American gamers not getting the comedy here in the same way they won’t get snippets of the story, but the various voices never failed to bring a smile to MY face and I’m the reviewer so nyah, nyah, nyah. Seriously though, unless you are utterly lacking a sense of humour, you’ll love the voice acting, especially the narrator who reminds of Jeff Bennett doing his Earthworm Jim narrator voice, albeit with a British accent.

There aren’t a lot of sound effects in the game but when they do show up they are done brilliantly. Let’s take another example from Episode One, where you have to solve a puzzle involving doors and stairs simply by listening to the sound effects. At first I was worried about a puzzle like this and how good the effects would be, especially how mum the game had been with them up to this point, but this ended up being one of my favourite puzzles in the game. It was very well done indeed. The musical cues are great and it makes the game feel more like a TV show than a video game.

Overall, the audio is one area where Blue Toad Murder Files truly excels and gamers should really be able to appreciate the level of quality here.

Sound Rating: 7.5/10

4. Control and Gameplay

This is the one and only area where I think the game feels flawed, but that’s not Relentless Software’s fault. The entire game plays like a PC Adventure game, which means you have to use your controller like a mouse. The analog sticks and buttons don’t work as well as a mouse would here, and there were times when the lack of precision from the analogs had me going slower on the puzzles than I would with a mouse. I really wish this series offered USB mouse support, as it would have improved things a lot. That being said, only PC point and click gamers like myself will even notice or bitch about this and the vast majority of PS3 gamers will neither notice nor care.

There really isn’t a lot of gameplay per say. You watch the story unfold and at the end of each section there is a puzzle or recap quiz for you to do. With the quizzes, you just move the cursor to the correct answer and press a button to select it. With the puzzles however, you’ll have so many different types that there is no feasible way that I can list them all here. Some puzzles require listening to a speaker and choosing the right answer from a list based on their comments. Some might be word or math puzzles while others might involve putting a picture together or navigating a maze. It’s a nice diverse mix of puzzles and you’ll never get the same type twice in an episode, keeping things fresh and interesting.

Again, the game definitely feels like it was meant for a PC rather than a PS3, but the game is certainly playable on the PS3 and unless you are an avid adventure gamer purchasing everything that Dreamcatcher or Microids puts out, you won’t notice any issues with the gameplay. Blue Toad Murder Files is a solid game from episode to episode and it’s great to see this genre finally make it onto the PS3 besides Heavy Rain, which is a cinematic adventure game rather than a puzzle adventure game anyway.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 7/10

5. Replayability

Adventure games tend to have little to no replay value due to the linear nature of how they unfold as well as the fact all their puzzles have but a single solutions. This means they unfold exactly the same way every time, leaving the story to be the ultimate (only) reason to replay one of these games. The problem with Blue Toad is that there are only a dozen or so puzzles per chapter and as they have only a single answer, there is no real value to picking up an episode a second time. The stories are so short that you won’t need to replay them (even though the game lets you replay a scene but not skip ahead in dialogue for some reason), and as cute as I found each episode, it is definitely a “one and done” sort of situation.

Now Blue Toad Murder Files DOES give you a few replay options. After beating each episode you can play just the puzzles as often as you like and in any order. You can also watch each cut scene on their own without having to play the game. There are also trophies you can earn in story mode, so if you miss one and you obsess over trophies, that’s another reason to return to the game. Just remember that you’ll have to replay the entire game and there’s no forwarding through scenes to the puzzles, so be prepared to watch the ENTIRE GAME over.

The big replay option is that you can play the game as a multiplayer party game, with up to four gamers trying to solve puzzles. This is cute, but if one gamer has already beaten the episode, they have such a tremendous advantage that it’s not fair to let them join in. Basically the game serves as something for a bunch of friends to play together or for a single person to play through, but not both. Still, at least the option was there and you can tell the Buzz! team was behind this game with how it is implemented.

I can’t see myself going back to any of the three episodes in this game any time soon, but I am looking forward to the next three. Like most Adventure games, the replay value here is mostly in the toilet, but at least there are a few things here in Blue Toad that can make you come back to it which are missing from most PC point and click titles.

Replayability Rating: 4/10

6. Balance

Eighty percent of each episode is watching story unfold, with the other twenty percent focusing on solving the puzzles in the game. Now none of these puzzles are particularly hard, but you DO need to be concentrating while doing them or you’ll end up making sloppy mistakes. As well, time is a factor for each puzzle if you’re looking to get a gold medal on each one. If you get all twelve gold medals, you net yourself a silver trophy and if you don’t get it, you’ll have to replay the entire episode from beginning to end to achieve it. You can’t get it in the puzzle selection mode post game.

I found most of the puzzles to be pretty easy, but there was always one or two per episode that gave me a slight pause. Again, I’ve been playing this particular genre since I was a little kid with games like Maniac Mansion or King’s Quest so I’m used to hideously cruel puzzles compared to these. For people new to adventure games, or casual gamers in general, they’ll find the Blue Toad Murder Files puzzles to offer up the right amount of difficulty to be challenging but not profanity inducing or frustrating. It is meant to be a family friendly multi-player experience after all.

Sure, most of each adventure is story rather than actually playing a game, and each puzzle should take a minute or less to solve, but there are some very fun puzzles here and the overall episodic experience is a nice change of pace from the majority of PS3 exclusives.

Balance Rating: 8/10

7. Originality

Well, Adventure games have been around since before the Atari 2600. Anyone else remember when Adventure was a text based game, or am I showing my page here? As well, episodic adventure games have become a trademark of sorts for developer/publisher Telltale games who has given us this exact layout with franchises like Homestar Runner, Wallace and Grommit, Sam and Max, and the Monkey Island cast and crew. Some of these have even made it to the Wii and/or Xbox 360, and as usual the PS3 is the last to make it to the dance, but at least it is with a high quality exclusive series. Yes it lacks the “star power” of Telltale’s episodic titles, but it’s also far less bug ridden (I only had one occur during the beer tap puzzle where the game froze) than those titles and it’s an entirely new and original piece of work instead of relying on pop culture characters or old LucasArts ones.

So aside from the new characters and plots, there is nothing in Blue Toad Murder Files that we haven’t seen in countless other adventure games. Thankfully the witty and quirky nature of those two things really helps the series to stand out a bit from the pack.

Originality Rating: 5/10

8. Addictiveness

To be honest, there aren’t a lot of high quality adventure games hitting North American shores in 2010. We’ve had Heavy Rain a crappy remake of MYST, a mediocre horror title in Calling and a less than stellar game in Crime Scene. What’s off about this is that all of those mentioned are console titles. The PC adventure scene, which is usually where 95% of Adventure games end up, has been dead this year. Now there are some hopefully entertaining titles like The Filmaker, Darkness Within 2 and Grey Matter coming out this year, but so far when it comes to Adventure Games in 2010, console is king, even if almost all of those games have been crappy as well.

Thankfully Blue Toad Murder Files proved to be a high quality experience that was hard to put down. I played through each adventure from beginning to end without stopping. The only break was between each episode. Part of it was that the titles were that fun, while the other part was that the quiz parts of the game required you to retain obscure knowledge on occasion, so walking away and coming back to the game could easily hurt you thanks to things leaving your short-term memory. Besides, each chapter is only an hour long. It’s not like I was playing an RPG from beginning to end, right?

I really loved my time with BTMF and it’s going to be a looooong month or so until episodes four through six hit US shores. Right now the PS3 has the two best Adventure games of 2010 in Heavy Rain and Blue Toad Murder Files. Who the hell would have ever thought that could happen?

Addictiveness Rating: 7/10

9. Appeal Factor

Although Blue Toad Murder Files is a high quality Adventure game, it would definitely be more successful on the PC. Most Adventure game oriented websites like Gameboomers, Just Adventure, or Adventure Gamers haven’t even touched this series, which is a huge lost opportunity for both those sites and this game as they are a perfect match for each other. There also isn’t a lot of crossover as Adventure game fans are primarily PC only gamers, and your typical PS3 gamer is NOT really part of the adventure gaming demographic.

Still, Heavy Rain has proven there is an audience for point and click titles with the proper marketing and attention. Heavy Rain is a very dark title with realistic characters and visuals, while Blue Toad Murder Files is a cartoonish comedy game, so again, there probably isn’t a lot of cross over there.

There are a LOT of disadvantages to Blue Toad Murder Files being a PS3 exclusive title, chief of which is being cut off from a vast majority of its should be target audience. I’m hoping the game will be enough of a success that Relentless Software does more titles like these, as the PS3 sorely needs them, but I just can’t see there being too much of a call, or an audience, for PS3 point and click titles. Tis a shame really.

Appeal Factor Rating: 4.5/10

10. Miscellaneous

Big kudos to both Sony and Relentless Software for going outside both their comfort zone and the usual home for point and click titles. Also, it’s great to see the bundle price. Buying the first three episodes in a bundle makes them cost roughly five dollars per episode, which is the perfect price. It’s also what each of the five Heavy Rain Chronicles titles will be going for. We’re also getting these for less than England paid for them, which is probably because of how cheap PC adventure games for in the States. Still, it’s a bonus to know we’re getting each episode for half of what Europe paid. Nyah nyah nyah.

Overall, Blue Toad Murder Files has been the best console point and click title I have played since 2008’s Theresia and before that it was Still Life on the Xbox. It’s funny, fresh, keeps you focused on the game and story at hand and it’s so different from anything else on the PS3 that I hope and pray it succeeds like a Mortimer Beckett casual game does on the PC. It’s too good of a title not too, niche genre be damned.

Miscellaneous Rating: 8/10

The Scores
Story: 6.5/10
Graphics: 6.5/10
Sound: 7.5/10
Control and Gameplay: 7/10
Replayability: 4/10
Balance: 8/10
Originality: 5/10
Addictiveness: 7/10
Appeal Factor: 4.5/10
Miscellaneous: 8/10
Total Score: 64
FINAL SCORE: 6.5 (ENJOYABLE GAME!)

Short Attention Span Summary
Blue Toad Murder Files is an excellent addition to the PS3 library of exclusives. It’s funny, it’s clever and it’s unabashedly British. The puzzles are quite diverse and are actually tied into the story of the game, which helps to make each episode flow as a single cohesive unit. The only real problems with the series is that there is little to no replay value in each episode and that the vast majority of point and click Adventure gamers are exclusively PC gamers, so a by being a PS3 exclusive title, it will have a hard time finding its target audience, or an audience in general. Blue Toad Murder Files is definitely part of a niche genre, but for those of you looking for a puzzle or story driven game, each episode of this series will be just what you are looking for. Just remember each one is only an hour long, so it’s a quick fix rather than a normal length point and click experience.

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