Need to Know
What is it? A fun mystery visual novel with lots and lots of picross
Expect to pay $16 / £12
Publisher The Irregular Corporation
Reviewed on i5-2500K, 8GB RAM, GTX 670
Link Official website
Part crime drama, part picross anthology, Murder By Numbers is a surprise coming together of mystery visual novel and grid-based puzzle solving. Mediatonic's detective adventure features a flourish of sharply dressed characters, garbage ex-husbands, prickly detectives, glitzy award shows, and cute robots. Plus at one point a giant stiletto crashes into the side of a drag bar. It's fun, flashy, and has decent puzzles. Think Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney but with more murder and maths.
You play as Honor Mizrahi, an actress who stars in the mystery TV series, Murder: Miss Terri. Just moments after she gets sacked from her job, Honor's boss is murdered and she decides to take her acting gig off-screen and become an amateur detective. An adorable robot called Scout helps by scanning crime scenes and hacking computers. After the two solve their first case together, they begin a detective business that will impact their personal lives for better and for worse.
The story in Murder by Numbers is split into four different cases and each one introduces a cast of bright and bubbly characters. Not only does the cast qualify for being the best-dressed group in games right now, but they are also a diverse bunch. A brilliant highlight is the one case involving the previously mentioned stiletto float crash into the side of an LGBT drag bar where a drag queen screams, "I'll make 'em wish they'd never left their momma's pouch!"
Picross for beginners
If you're not familiar with picross, they take the form of puzzle grids where you need to figure out how to correctly fill in the right number of squares. Working similarly to sudoku puzzles, the numbers along the top and side indicate how many filled-in squares are in that specific row and column.
The cases themselves are pretty linear and play out similarly to the Ace Attorney games. To find the truth behind the crime you need to talk to witnesses, search crime scenes, and show evidence to suspects. There's no deducing or finger-pointing, instead you follow a linear story, occasionally picking the right answer to a question and presenting evidence at the right time. There are some twists and turns, but the four cases feel more in-line with a 'murder of the week' TV show—nothing jaw-dropping, but fun nonetheless.
Since Honor and Scout are carrying the heavy detective work, you get to save your brainpower for the picross puzzles. Puzzles spring up when Scout is scanning a crime scene for evidence and an object will grab their attention. Solving the picross reveals what the object is and it's then added to your inventory.
The puzzles can range from a simple 5x5 grid to an intimidating 15x15, but thankfully there is a very forgiving assist system. The hint feature fills in five random squares to give you that little push you need. There's also a 'check for errors' option that displays which boxes have been filled out incorrectly, and a feature that highlights solvable rows and columns.
Although the Murder By Numbers' title implies that I should meet my end by being pummeled to death by number puzzles, the picross grids are surprisingly tame. If you're a picross veteran then you'll feel comfortable with the level of difficulty and as someone who is completely new to picross, I never felt frustrated with the puzzles themselves, but they do interrupt the pacing of the game's story.
The picross grids are, unsurprisingly, everywhere in Murder by Numbers and in certain cases colouring in the little squares for twenty minutes was a real slog. Getting slapped with a 15x15 grid just as you're about to find out whodunnit brings the case to a screeching halt.
Murder by Numbers does try to shake things up with timed picross puzzles where you have to complete a sequence of 5x5 grids in a short amount fo time. I really enjoyed these moments of frenzied box-ticking more than the twenty-minute grind of some of the bigger grids.
If you're super into picross and mystery visual novels then Murder by Numbers is the perfect game for you since there is nothing else like it. The story and characters are brilliantly campy and because of its forgiving hint system, I would still recommend it to those who just want to experience the story and don't mind a few brain teasers along the way. It's not managed to completely convert me to a picross lover, but because of its story and cast, I wouldn't say no to more.