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Murder on the Titanic - 3DS Download Review

Game Info
Murder on the Titanic

3DS Download | Joindots | 1 Player | Out Now (North America) | $7.99
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Review
20th December 2012; By KnucklesSonic8

In the eyes of some, Hidden Object games are what could be described as immaterial forms of entertainment, seen as vein creations yet still having a bizarre, incomprehensible hold. I don't share that view, but I can be picky when it comes to how these games are designed. That said, ever since my time with Mystery Case Files: The Malgrave Incident last year, personal levels of tolerance for these games has gone up. Not that it was amazing or anything, but it had a sensible purpose and managed to do a good job of holding interest through such means. The premise of Joindots' contribution to the genre, Murder on the Titanic, appealed to me very much, not only for reasons just stated, but also because it's been a while since I've played anything investigative in design. Imagine the trouble facing a game like this, though, trying to invigorate a sense of suspense and craft amiable investigation through the Hidden Object model. What irks me most is, not that it's trying to strive for the improbable, but that a good game has been damaged by a host of conspicuous impediments.

    The position taken by the game is tied less to the dreadful outcome of the doomed vessel, suggesting there was (or is) a greater travesty afoot that may or may not have to do with a conspiracy. Professor Larsson is called in to investigate by the ship's Captain when a boiler room worker is found dead near his post. And by investigate, this does not mean probing each suspect in tense, motive-revealing discussions, but instead completing puzzle-based mini-games that, as referred to at the outset, largely boil down to Hidden Object scenes. Included in the batch are also slider puzzles and word scramblers, but we'll get to those later on. First, a note: this isn't actually a new creation, but rather a revised rendition of the PC game, Inspector Magnusson: Murder on the Titanic. I bring this out now instead of later on when evaluating how worthwhile the package is, because this detail does play into the design differences and concerns I intend to draw out.

    Now then, movement in this game isn't of an open nature, in that you're not able to conduct your search by physically journeying to the different locations, but are rather placed in relevant stations and rooms as the storyline advances. Adding to the linearity is the fact that no progress can be made until the puzzle in front of you has been cleared. These are points to keep in mind right from the get-go if you're hoping for an adventure-style game that grants ample opportunities for player influence. As you gallivant to different rooms in search of the killer, you'll notice triggers such as carts, doors, chests and containers that can be tapped with the stylus to prompt the commencement of the aforementioned puzzles.

    
Hidden Object events are arranged with individual scenes being projected on both the 3D and Touch Screen, the former presenting a slightly zoomed-out view for reference purposes. Without giving these any special identifiers to set them apart from all other objects, there are cases where one of the items on your list will be used out on the field to aid in your investigation, whether that be a bottle of oil to grease a stuck wheel, a weapon for clearing a blocked path, or tools to repair a broken mechanical device. Generally, items are hidden quite well, even being obscured by other parts of the environment (e.g., a paper fan that can be spotted only by looking through the holes on the back of a chair). Scenes also aren't flat, in the sense that there are elements such as drawers that can be tapped to prompt further inspection, and that's similarly great to see. Something that I find unacceptable, however, is that items not listed at the present time but will be at a later time, can still be counted.

    On occasion, you may have to perform brief side-tasks, either for yourself or someone else who has agreed to share what they know in exchange for your help. These include gathering envelopes and restoring parts to a radio, or moving luggage aside and wrapping ropes onto a hook. During these intervals, the Hidden Object concept takes on a slightly different form -- that of navigation -- as opposed to a strict collecting of items. Unfortunately, some of these elements aren't designed well, first from a functional standpoint and, secondly, the perspective of ambiguity.

    There are several instances throughout the game where you'll have to tap on a part of the environment a number of times just for your taps to be recognized. At one point I was asked to set down some blueprints, and it only worked when I tapped on the fireplace, rather than the actual table. At other points, it's a problem of an item being thin in form, like a necklace or a fishing rod, in which case it's a matter of trying to tap on the item from different ends. As far as the clarity aspect is concerned, some of the instructions on the top screen will tell you to tap on, for example, a particular table in a room full of them, a vague "collection of items", or to hit a sign before looking for the pieces you're asked to recover. The indecision and lack of intuitive setup is something that proves most irritating after just a short time, and for it to happen on a repeated basis simply isn't good design.

    As I pointed out before, there are additional...not "diversions" per se, but activities that are integrated in the same way as the Hidden Object scenes, even though they're not used to the same frequency or consistency as far as how far the quest extends. Some of these are fun change-ups from the normal pace of how things are done: Coin puzzles task you with arranging two types in an alternating fashion; steam puzzles involve shutting off the right set of valves; and grid-based puzzles have you moving plastic ships to make room for a sailboat to reach the exit. Even the slider puzzles, which I personally have a dislike for, aren't bad. Other mini-games, though, are prone to induce headaches by the way they're designed.

    
There are at least two occasions where you have to put scrap pieces of paper or a photograph together, but the small field you have to work with is cumbersome to manage, and furthermore, they aren't flexible and force you to lock pieces into specific spots, thus feeling a lot like guesswork. On that note, the word puzzles in Murder on the Titanic, which involve deciphering an anagram, are practically a shot in the dark. While Hidden Object scenes have a good hint system put in place should you ever get stuck, this is the place where the provision of clues would've been very, very much appreciated. Instead what you get is a hint equivalent to what you sometimes have read aloud in the board game Cranium -- what good is it to know you're trying to work out the identity of a "thing"? With there being any number of options available for determining the true answer to these puzzles, it's just plain aggravating when these come along, especially in light of the fact that, as I mentioned before, these absolutely must be solved before you can go any further.

    One last mini-game that got on my nerves, personally, was a lock puzzle that took more than 45 minutes to figure out (not all at once, but on separate occasions), again having a useless instruction that left me stuck in the methodology I had tried to use, coming up short by one or two even with slight variations. It may sound like spite, but in all sincerity, these three areas throw the balance off and are bound to tick a person off.

    Murder on the Titanic is a game that hassles and puts up a struggle for pitiful reasons, and it's a real shame too, because at its core, flawed as it is, the adventure is quite good. Of course I don't think it was for the best that the entire component of exploration was stripped down so heavily, but it's up for debate as to whether or not that can be ignored. With it lasting between three and four hours in length, it's priced adequately for the value it offers. There is a scoring system present, but I can't see anyone wanting to go through it a second time for the purpose of superficial improvement. It's good, but not that good.

    
On the subject of presentation, there aren't too many positives to report. The game does a bad job in the audio department with a lack of variety being the killer (no pun intended), 3D implementation is completely pointless, there are a few signs of compression or a lack of polish (e.g., a light box around the moon in one scene), and there's even one laughable case where a character has simply been rotated to give the impression that he's on the floor. But at least the look of the game is decent and cohesive for what it is, and I not once felt the game was terrible in this regard.

    It's not a stretch to say Murder on the Titanic has some redeeming qualities, but to see it have such a deficiency in its design is inhibiting to the enthusiasm you may otherwise feel as a result of those positives. It really does bother me because while there are some enjoyable spurts and I won't encourage interested persons avoid it entirely, there are enough flaws here for me to advise that one should exercise caution. Be aware that the sources of frustration stemming from the flawed design will sway you negatively, as they bring about an insensitivity that's tough to overlook. And while there is cause for some praise, these virtues are sadly less distinct by comparison.


17/30 - Okay/Average

Gameplay 5/10 - Scenes are usually good in creation, hint system not present when needed, good mix of puzzles, cases of bad design, recognition issues
Presentation 6/10 - Relatively consistent, makes use of suitable elements for its theme, lack of polish in a number of areas, weak effort with the audio
Enjoyment 4/5 - Moments of enjoyment to be had for sure, game is fun at its core, design can be greatly frustrating at times 
Extra Content 2/5 - High-scores present for those who wish to perform better on a second run, good value for what it is

Equivalent to a score of 57% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System


Review by KnucklesSonic8



Murder on the Titanic
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