Picture the scene: a Pride float, with a gigantic crimson stiletto on top, juts out from the side of the gay bar it has crashed into, the toe of the stiletto now submerged in the wall. Drag queens and bar patrons are all around, adding to the chaos. And underneath it all, the morbid image of a body lying among the rubble. So begins the third case in Murder By Numbers, a cute and campy game recently released for Nintendo Switch and Windows.
The game follows Honor Mizrahi as she struggles to maintain control of her acting career in mid 1990’s Los Angeles. Starring as a detective in a TV drama, Honor’s life is upended when the studio boss is murdered just shortly after he’s fired her from the job.
With that suspect timing, Honor naturally becomes embroiled in the investigation and quickly shifts to investigating real crimes rather than fictional ones. Her key companion in this is Scout, a small flying robot who has lost all of its memories, and they quickly become a duo of sleuths.
Where Murder By Numbers shines is in its character design and writing. No matter how little time a character gets on-screen, each has their unique quirks, and the whole cast is gilded with a layer of understanding and pathos that is rarely seen in similar smaller-scale games. Honor’s recently divorced ex-husband begins as a thorn in her side, but becomes a sadder figure as the game progresses.
This also applies to the numerous queer members of the cast. KC, a makeup artist for the show Honor appears in, could easily have become a gay stereotype, but instead his dialogue and humour portrays a level of empathy by the writers. When the drag queens appear in the third case, a section of conversation is given to a discussion about gender pronouns within the queer community.
None of the subject matter is groundbreaking, but even so, such conversations feel rare, and given the short length of the game it’s even more significant that time is made for them.
Murder By Numbers marries several genres together — the investigative point and click elements of the Ace Attorney series, the logic number puzzles of the Picross series, and the exaggerated and silly nature of ’90s police procedural TV shows — and does so with relative success.
This might be partly due to the pedigree of designers who contributed, including character design from Hato Mao- whose work includes avian dating sim (yes, really, that’s not a typo) Hatoful Boyfriend, and the original composer for the aforementioned Ace Attorney series, Masakazu Sugimori.
Murder By Numbers leans into the ’90s pastiche that it sets itself within, and, as a result, elevates itself above the standard interactive novel games that we are used to. The result is a charming game, fuelled by a quirky cast, funny dialogue, and a sense of heart that many other games could only dream of.
Murder by Numbers is available to download from the Nintendo Switch eShop and the Steam Store on Windows.
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