Murder by Numbers, from Mediatonic, is a genre-blending puzzle adventure that is out now for PC and Nintendo Switch. We reviewed the Switch version.
Bringing together some of the talent behind games like Hatoful Boyfriend, Swords of Ditto, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney and Ghost Trick, Murder by Numbers features a colorful cast of characters in a story that unfolds somewhere in the 1990s. An actress who plays a detective on TV by trade, you’re suddenly cast into the role of someone who actually has to try and solve a murder when your manager bites the dust shortly after firing you.
A mix of Picross/Pic-a-Pix puzzle and storytelling like in the Phoenix Wright and Professor Layton games, Murder by Numbers had you scouring scenes, interviewing characters and finding clues to uncover what really went down. The bulk of the gameplay, however, consists of Picross-type nonogram puzzles that require you to fill up a grid of pixels to uncover pictures – in this case, clues.
Your trusty robot pal Scout helps you along by assisting when you look for evidence and can also hack systems (which are time-sensitive puzzles) for you. Doing so will eventually expose people as having told a lie, because their story doesn’t match up with the clues you’ve uncovered. This is the main gameplay look, which lasts for four somewhat lengthy chapters. If you’re in a hurry there are hints you can use, but because this is a fairly casual puzzle experience I’d advise against doing so.
For Picross (or nonogram, or Pic-a-Pix) fans, the puzzles in Murder by Numbers will be on the easier side. While we’ve seen Picross go 3D and Pic-a-Pix use color – with both franchises offering bigger puzzle grids – Mediatonic’s adventure sticks to smaller puzzles and is thus (as far as its puzzles go) better geared towards newcomers. Veterans, on the other hand, will enjoy having a bit of entertaining story content to go with their puzzles. The narrative’s very entertaining, and helped by the vibrant and colorful art style of the game.
Of course, the narrative doesn’t stop a game like this from having a slightly repetitive gameplay loop for all but the most die-hard of Picross fans. As a result, I got the most enjoyment out of this game when I cut it up into bite-sized chunks and solved a few puzzles at a time. The narrative would always pull me back after a break, which is a great testament to how engaging the game’s story is. It’s silly, it’s got a great cast of characters and plenty of fun little references to pop culture and social issues.
Without a proper new Professor Layton game for the Switch, I really enjoyed Murder by Numbers as a fun take on the narrative puzzle adventure genre. A colorful presentation and engaging story lifts this above regular nonogram games, and if you’ve enjoyed similar games before, you’ll almost certainly enjoy this one as well.