Video games have taken puzzles in some fascinating directions. From Limbo and Little Nightmares to Portal and The Talos Principle, puzzling constantly adapts and evolves across many platforms.
One of the most intriguing developments is how modern video games combine logic/deduction puzzles with visual mystery stories for the player to unravel.
After seeing our writeup of Return of the Obra Dinn, the team at Color Gray Games reached out to us with a puzzly investigation demo to try out, intriguingly named The Case of the Golden Idol.
Naturally, we couldn’t resist an offer like that. To put the game through its paces, we recruited friend of the blog Laura — puzzler, gamer, cat (and Cats) enthusiast, and former Tabletop Tournament Champion — to accept the case and give us a comprehensive review.
So, without further ado, let’s turn things over to Laura for her thoughts on the demo of The Case of the Golden Idol.
In a cozy 18th-century inn, a crew of people whiles away the evening playing cards round a table. Upstairs, a man lies murdered in his room. Who was he? Why was he killed? Whodunit? And how?
These are the questions you’ll answer in the Steam demo for The Case of the Golden Idol, a pixel art detective game from two-person Latvian studio Color Gray Games. Cast in the role of crime-solver, your job is to investigate several cases and put the pieces together, a phrase that Color Gray Games takes quite literally.
The investigation element of Golden Idol — its “exploring” tab — will feel familiar to those who have played point-and-click adventures before. As you scrutinize each frame, you can click on points of interest to learn more information. As you do so, you’ll gather clues in the form of words — names, locations, objects, etc. — that populate the bottom of your screen, ready to be used in the game’s “thinking” tab.
There, you’ll drag-and-drop your collected words to match names with faces and reconstruct the events of the case in a fill-in-the-blank format.
Golden Idol’s demo offers four cases in total. The first is simple enough to be solved in a matter of minutes, and the second is only marginally more difficult. Taken together, they feel more like a tutorial than anything else, giving you a grasp of the mechanics without taxing your mind very heavily.
Thankfully, the latter two cases beef up the complexity. They offer deeper mysteries that the player can sink their teeth into, and it’s here where the demo truly shines. At its best, The Case of the Golden Idol’s demo plays like an engaging, interactive logic problem. These cases serve you a platter of multiple suspects, all with motives and means, as well as red herrings to potentially lead you astray.
There’s little room for getting truly stuck, though. In each environment, the “hotspots” for clues are easy to spot. The art, while not as eye-poppingly pretty as other pixel games, is never muddy or unclear, and in each case, I found the clues with no frustration. Still, the demo offers a toggle that shows all hotspots with a bright visual cue, a great option for visually impaired players, or someone who just needs a bit of help finding that last missing word.
Golden Idol’s drag-and-drop nature does leave itself vulnerable to brute-forcing, however, especially as your solving nears its end. Each area of its “thinking” tab, once entirely filled in, will tell you if you’re right or wrong, and there’s no punishment for an incorrect guess. So if you’ve correctly identified your key players, for example, but don’t know the culprit, you could easily test your suspects one by one until you found the right answer. None of these cases has so many moving pieces that this is unreasonable.
But doing this would sap the fun out of it, and if logic problems and murder mysteries are your cup of tea, Golden Idol is just that: a fun flex of your deductive skills, played solo or with a partner at your side to discuss theories with. Crack all of the demo’s cases and you’ll even see the threads (and the titular golden idol) connecting them.
How satisfying that overarching story will be, and how far Color Gray Games can go with their established mechanics, is yet to be determined. As a proof of concept, though, The Case of the Golden Idol’s demo certainly does enough to intrigue.
Ratings for The Case of the Golden Idol demo:
- Enjoyability: 4/5 — Golden Idol isn’t for everyone, but if this is your niche, you’ll likely enjoy it. Its replayability is low, but such is the nature of mystery games.
- How well puzzles are incorporated: 5/5 — The game is the puzzle; the puzzle is the game.
- Graphics: 3.5/5 — Indie games have flooded with pixel art in recent years, and competition is fierce. I’ve seen art, particularly character art, that wowed more, but Golden Idol‘s lighting and colors still create a distinct atmosphere.
- Gameplay: 4/5 — Golden Idol’s demo is mechanically accessible and easy to learn, and the loop of gathering & piecing together clues is satisfying, particularly in the more complex cases.
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