I love a good genre mashup. When it works, it usually works really well. Puzzle Quest is one of the best examples, bringing Match-3 and RPGs together wonderfully. So what happens when you bring Picross and a Visual Novel together? You get Murder By Numbers.
So I suppose one thing needs to be confirmed before we even begin. How good a game of Picross does Murder By Numbers play? Because if that isn’t up to scratch the rest of the game really doesn’t matter one little jot.
I am happy to report that the Picross is absolutely fine. Developers Mediatonic haven’t tried to reinvent the wheel and have just played it sensible. Move around the board with the d-pad, fill with (A), mark an x with (B) and soft mark a space with (Y). Simple and to the point. There are no touch controls here, but honestly they are not needed.
The puzzles range from the super easy 5×5 boards up to larger ones. Something that is standard in Picross titles, no matter which ones you pick and play. So from a pure Picross point of view, this ticks all the right boxes.
One little issue I had, was the inability to skip the tutorial. I get why it is there, but it would have been nice to be able to play the super easy introductory puzzles without needing to be guided through. The story element added to this is a nice touch for new players, but being able to skip the in basic instructions would have been welcome.
It is a minor thing though and comes down to me nitpicking. The tutorial is over pretty quickly in the grand scheme of things.
So the Picross element is good, so why on earth do we need a story mixed in? I mean, Picross should sell itself right? Well yes, in theory it should. But as I said at the start, I do love a good genre mashup and this works rather well in that respect too.
Starting with a murder that happens on the set of popular detective show at the brilliantly names ‘Gridmoore Studios’ (get it?), you are tasked with solving the mystery using a mix of conversation, light detective work and solving Picross puzzles.
There isn’t just the one murder of course and Murder By Numbers soon branches out into numerous locations as the colourful cast of characters do everything than can to solve them.
There are some standout characters within the game and even those I though might get annoying have a certain charm about them. Whilst all are not loveable as such, they all feel right within their roles and that helps. Especially when it comes to a narrative driven game.
Scout may well get a lot of the attention, but Honor Mizrahi has become my favourite new character in games. She is witty and wonderfully written. Feels like the grounding between the many eccentric characters that surround her. A wonderful lead.
The mid-90s setting is great for adding some flair to the story. There are plenty of references to the era that will make you feel all nostalgic. These aren’t so plentiful that it becomes annoying, the writers showed a good level of restraint and it is all the better for it.
Murder By Numbers has a feel of an Ace Attorney lite. The branching narratives and scene searching don’t feel as deep as Capcom’s masterpiece. Yet at the same time it doesn’t feel like a cheapened version of that. It stands on its own two feet as something unique.
Everything about Murder By Numbers blends together to create a wonderful experience. One that caters to Picross veterans and newcomers alike. Whilst there may be a lack of immediate replay-ability, I am already going to start begging for DLC or a sequel. I think we have stumbled across something very special indeed.
You didn’t know you needed this in your life. But once you play it you’ll wonder why it wasn’t part of it sooner. A must own.