Picross puzzling and quirky murder investigations – sounds like the perfect combination, right? Well, that’s what Murder by Numbers, the new release from Hatoful Boyfriend developer Mediatonic, is all about, with its charmingly suspenseful tales of murder complimented by addictively brilliant clue-finding via the solving of picross puzzles.
Murder by Numbers tells the story of Honor, an actress in a 90s detective show, and S.C.O.U.T., an amnesiac robot that has been looking for the help of a detective to regain his memory. He sees a picture of Honor on a billboard promoting her show and figures she’d be the perfect detective to help him out – silly robot. When Honor’s boss is murdered though, she quickly finds her life turned upside-down as she looks to not only prove her own innocence but also figure out who exactly murdered him. This eventually leads into more murder mysteries that somehow tie into both Honor’s life and the origin of S.C.O.U.T. through the various twist-and-turns in the game’s overarching plot. It’s entertaining stuff.
Between its eclectic cast and bizarre murder cases, Murder by Numbers’ narrative really makes for something special. Whilst there’s no denying that the characters you encounter throughout the game are made up of typical clichés, they’re all presented in such an entertaining manner that it’s hard not to find yourself totally engrossed by every encounter with them.
Best of all, each murder will keep you guessing right until the very end. Nothing is EVER straightforward in Murder by Numbers, and whilst you may be convinced that you’ve finally figured out who the murderer is, most of the time you’ll be completely wrong. It never feels like it throws twists-and-turns out of nowhere for the sake of it though, with every case having a logical conclusion that feels satisfying to see unfold. It certainly nails its storytelling, which when combined with the addictive picross puzzling makes for a whole lot of fun.
Whilst a lot of your time in Murder by Numbers will be spent interacting with characters in the visual novel setup, the core gameplay mechanic is based around solving picross puzzles to uncover clues. Don’t know what picross puzzles are? They’re grid-based logic puzzles that see you filling in spaces based upon both vertical and horizontal numbers that are placed on the grid. Once filled in, a picture is revealed that acts as a clue in-game. Yeah, I haven’t done a good job explaining it there, but there’s an in-game tutorial that tells you how to solve them in great depth so players will certainly feel comfortable tackling them. Just know that they’re a lot of fun to solve and also VERY addictive.
Even if your puzzle-solving skills aren’t up to much, there are plenty of different hints in-game that can help you out – it comes at the expense of your score at the end of the puzzle, but it at least allows players to get better at the game. The puzzles do become progressively larger and in turn more difficult as you progress, but as long as you’ve got a grasp of how they work there shouldn’t be anything that causes players too many problems. They’re just a little time-consuming, but since they’re so satisfying to solve you won’t mind seeing the minutes slip away as you find the right spot for each darn pixel…
Once you’ve solved a picross puzzle you unlock a clue, which can then be used when questioning the suspects in each murder case. This was actually one area of Murder by Numbers that I do wish was a bit more fleshed out, with the process being as simple as just using every clue you have on each suspect until they reveal something that progresses the story. The game normally makes it pretty clear as to who you need to question and there aren’t many different areas for you to explore in each case, so it’s not as if there’s any form of deduction that needs figuring out on the player’s behalf. It’s not a big flaw by any means and it didn’t ruin my fun with the game, but it is something I would have liked to have seen have a bit more depth.
When you eventually clear a case (which should typically take around three hours or so), you get a grade based upon how many puzzles you’ve solved and whether or not you used any hints. Depending on your grade, you’ll unlock additional puzzles outside of the story which when completed can unlock extra story sequences that flesh out S.C.O.U.T.’s backstory. It’s a neat little addition that gives players something extra to work for once they’ve cleared the main game, though you should be warned: some of the S-rank puzzles are tough!
With its brilliant blend of addictive picross puzzles and its genuinely funny narrative, Murder by Numbers stands out as one of the best puzzlers on the Nintendo Switch. Whilst I’ll admit that I do wish that the investigative elements of the game were a bit more fleshed out, they didn’t stop me from having a blast as I unravelled each case and become the picross-king of the detective world. Puzzle fans won’t want to miss out on this one!
Publisher: The Irregular Corporation
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PC