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Review #358


Blue Toad Murder Files Episodes 4-6 Bundle
Developer: Relentless Software
Publisher: Sony
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 04/28/2010

You’re probably wondering why I’m reviewing a game a little over two months after its release date. Well, the simple answer is that we didn’t get the review code until May 28th, so here we are.

I reviewed the first episode bundle back on April first, and found it to be a pretty fun downloadable title, especially in the dearth of quality adventure games in the first quarter of the year. Three months later, we’ve seen some fun point and click titles hit the market like, Disgaea Infinite, Secret Files: Tunguska, and Hotel. Does Blue Toad Murder Files still hold up, or is the second first not as good as the first?

Let’s Review

1. Story

In the first three episodes, you solved two murders and a burglary. This time around you are solving the murder that happened at the end of chapter three, another murder that happens in chapter four, the case of who muddied up a carpet, and finally stopping the evil mastermind behind the all the murders. I will say that the quality of the storyline is nowhere as good as the first three games. The mastermind is telegraphed from the beginning of chapter three on and you’d have to be a right sot not to get it. As well, chapter five is basically padding between four and six, and six not only ends extremely anti-climatically, but the epilogue after the credits roll is a middle finger to everyone who sat through all six episodes. You saw the heel turn coming with this character episodes in advance and the fact they do it after the credits is not only unfulfilling, but they way they do it makes your character look like an absolute arsehead for not seeing this coming. I honestly said out loud, “Six episodes and THIS is what I get?” So yes, annoyed and disappointed are two adjectives that could easily be used to describe my feeling towards chapter six and especially the ending.

As well, the comedy was nowhere as fresh or fun as the first three chapters. Take the Vicar for example. In the first three chapters, he was obviously worshipping the Great Old Ones of the Cthulhu Mythos. I loved this and found it hilarious. In this new set of chapters, it was alluded to only twice and he was otherwise dull and boring. Then there are other characters who have a catch phrase like “Sharpish!” or “SCUM!” In the first three chapters is was amusing and fun. Now it was just repetitive and annoying. The same is true for the hotel owner. In the first bundle he was obviously meant to be Basil Fawlty from Fawlty Towers. Here he was just lifeless and whiny. It’s almost as if Relentless Software ran out of ideas in the first set and half assed the last half of the game. It’s pretty disappointing.

With the first bundle, I laughed at had a lot of fun. Here it was merely serviceable.

Story Rating: 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. My only problem was that characters lacked the personality they had in the first bundle and some voices were reused. For example Mrs. Gossip has the same voice as the Postman. That was annoying. As well, some voices just didn’t work. The Baker for example was just not well done at all.

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. It’s a half step down from the first bundle but it is still the shining point of the game.

Sound Rating: 7/10

4. Control and Gameplay

The entire game plays like a PC Adventure game, which means you have to use your controller like a mouse. The D-pad and buttons don’t work as well as a mouse would here, and there were times when the lack of precision from the D-pad 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.

One other annoying thing is that you are unable to speed conversations or skip through them like you would in any other adventure game. This annoyed me slightly in the first bundle, but greatly vexed me here, especially when I accidentally quit a puzzle by hitting the wrong button and had to go through a five minute dialogue scene all over again, which wasn’t funny the FIRST time I heard it. Why this option is beyond me and it really slowed the game down to a crawl at times. It would also be a boon to gamers who care about trophies and have to replay episodes to get them. Forcing story and voice acting on people who have already played the adventure just isn’t cool.

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: 6/10

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. This 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 these episodes, or the game as a whole any time soon. 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.
In this second bundle, I found that some puzzles overlapped, and one even had the same exact solution as in the first bundle! What’s up with that? That pretty much confirmed for me that the last three episodes lacked the same quality and care as the first three.

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.

Balance Rating: 7/10

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

With the story taking a definite nose dive from funny to lame and the characters changing from well-written to two-dimensional, my desire to play through this second bundle faltered greatly. I also hated that you couldn’t speed through things, even the basic opening and closings for a puzzle. You had to sit through everything, no matter how slow it was. The inability to go through a cut scene I had already watched damn near drove me nuts. I described the first bundle as “high quality” where this set just felt, mediocre. I was really disappointed to see the story go out the window and also at the eventual resolution of the game. I was even more disappointed to see puzzles repeat themselves in both style and solution.

This time around, I was playing just to beat the game rather than really enjoying what I was doing. Episode five especially disturbed me for being nothing but padding and extra money to be spent. It’s a shame too, because the first bundle showed a lot of promise.

Addictiveness Rating: 5/10

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.

Appeal Factor: 4.5/10

10. Miscellaneous

Each chapter alone costs $7.49, which is about fifty percent more than each one should, especially for how short they are and the overall quality of the episodes. You can get the episode 4-6 bundle for only $15, or $5 an episode, which is more like it. If you haven’t purchased any of BTMF yet, it is $27 if you buy the full set bundle, or $4.50 per episode. You can also buy just the first episode for only $1.49. So you have a lot of pricing options running the gambit from “Wow, that’s a rip-off” to, “That’s a really good deal.” At the same time, you can get most adventure games for 19-29 dollars a title these days, including the ones I mentioned in the preamble that are all superior to Blue Toad Murder Files. I appreciate the options, but you might as well go for one of the Telltale titles available on PSN instead of this. Sam and Max for example is a little less in cost and only five episodes to BTMF six, but it’s funnier and a better choice by far.

Miscellaneous Rating: 5/10

The Scores
Story: 5/10
Graphics: 6.5/10
Sound: 7/10
Control and Gameplay: 6/10
Replayability: 4/10
Balance: 7/10
Originality: 5/10
Addictiveness: 5/10
Appeal Factor: 4.5/10
Miscellaneous: 5/10
Total Score: 55
FINAL SCORE: 5.5 (ENJOYABLE GAME!)

Short Attention Span Summary
Blue Toad Murder Files: Episodes 4-6 are a noticeable drop in quality from the first three. The story ends with an unsatisfactory conclusion, characters lose a lot of personality, puzzles begin to repeat themselves and most of all, a lot of the charm and humour are lost. You’re only paying about $5 per episode if you buy them in the bundle, so you’re getting a high definition point and click title with a definite British flair for a nice price point. My advice would be to just download episode one, as it is only $1.49 right now, and if you like it, do the upgrade bundle. That way you’re only paying $4.50 an episode. No matter what you decide, know that the Telltale adventure games on PSN are a better way to spend your hard earned cash, but if you’re an adventure junkie that wants to play on a console for some reason, this is a decent way to go after you’ve finished Monkey Island or Sam and Max.

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