Do you like Picross games but want a bit more than solving random puzzles one after the other? Do you like Ace Attorney but wish it had a bit more puzzle-solving action? If you answered yes to either of these questions, Mediatonic has an answer for you in the form of Murder by Numbers. While it’s missing a few notable features compared to other games in its respective genres, Murder by Numbers is a brilliant experience all around.
Murder by Numbers follows 29-year-old Honor Mizrahi, an actress on a popular detective show. After being fired from the production, you run into a run-down robot named SCOUT that asks you to help him regain his memory. Meanwhile, your former boss winds up dead and you find yourself thrust into the investigation as the prime suspect. This chain of events kicks off an adventure for the mischievous duo that will change both Honor and SCOUT’s lives as they know them.
If you’ve ever played an Ace Attorney game, you’ll largely know what to expect. Murder by Numbers ditches the trial phase of Ace Attorney‘s cases, instead focusing on the investigation sections. SCOUT will scan the area for potential clues, at which point you have to solve a Picross puzzle to acquire it. This evidence can then be presented to those involved with the case in order to press them for more information, until the case is eventually solved. The cases presented do a good job of standing on their own merit, but they also tie together quite nicely to form the overarching narrative.
As Murder by Numbers is largely a visual novel, what really stands out is the game’s style. Given the mid-1990s Hollywood setting, there’s plenty of it. Graphically, the game reminds me of a comic book — characters (designed by Hatoful Boyfriend creator Hato Moa) are visually distinct from the background and have limited animation frames, lending well to this feel. Murder by Numbers also borrows heavily from the Ace Attorney style of humor, as jokes and pop culture references can be found in spades throughout. Lastly, the game’s soundtrack sounds like a slightly more modern version of Ace Attorney‘s track list, largely because Phoenix Wright composer Masakazu Sugimori lent his talents here.
My only real complaint with Murder by Numbers is that it lacks some major quality-of-life features that are considered standard both for visual novels and for puzzle games. On the visual novel side of things, there’s no text log, and while much of the game’s text is repeatable, just as much is not. If you aren’t careful, you’ll miss a few lines here or there. It’s not enough to have a large impact on the story, but it’d still be nice to see what you missed. Furthermore, there’s no option to skip text you’ve already seen. This would largely be helpful when replaying a case to get a higher rank, as there are bonus puzzles locked behind this mechanic.
On the puzzle side of things, the missing components are a lot more noticeable and have more of an impact. Firstly, there’s no undo button. If you play carefully, this shouldn’t be too much of a problem, but a number of times, I found myself making an accidental error, only to not realize where the mistake took place. Having an undo button would’ve been perfect for these situations so I wouldn’t have had to hunt down the offending squares. In this vein, there’s also no reset button. At times, my puzzles were so messed up that it was easier for me to start from scratch than try to fix it. Unfortunately, there’s no quick way to do this, so I had to manually erase every square. I’ve played countless Picross games over the years, and I’ve never known one to be lacking these features, so it baffles me how this went overlooked.
Despite these missing features, Murder by Numbers is still a delightful twist on a classic puzzle game. Fans of Ace Attorney or Picross will not want to let this one fly under their radar. Everything about the game’s style is on point, from the graphics to the music. Though I probably won’t revisit it anytime soon, since I’ve completed everything the game offers, I adored every second I spent with Murder by Numbers, and I hope I’ll get to dive back into the universe soon through an eventual sequel.
This game was personally purchased by me for purposes of this review.