REVIEW: Murder By Numbers

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Murder By Numbers | cover
Title Murder By Numbers
Developer Mediatonic
Publisher The Irregular Corporation
Release Date March 5th, 2020
Genre Puzzle, Visual Novel
Platform PC, Nintendo Switch 
Age Rating T for Teen
Official Website

What we have here is a weird blend of murder, mystery, lies, drama, and …Picross? Murder By Numbers tries to blend all of this together in a unique package that on paper should appeal to fans of Picross, Ace Attorney, and just detective stories in general.

Murder By Numbers | Ryan

The story takes place in Los Angeles back in 1996. Honor Mizrahi is an actress on a popular TV detective mystery show. At the beginning of the game she is fired and then her boss is killed mere moments later. In a weird sense of irony, Honor finds herself stuck in a real murder mystery. Honor soon meets a robot named SCOUT who has the ability to scan and identify objects in the room, usually evidence. This robot is very mysterious and does not seem to remember much about his past however he agrees to help Honor out in exchange for her company and to help him learn about human emotions and the meaning of life. Who made this robot, what was he designed for and how he relates to the overall narrative are all additional mysteries for Honor to solve throughout the game.

Murder By Numbers | Honor

The story plays out across four separate cases that usually involve Honor somehow getting mixed up with a murder plot and her using her skills along with her sense of justice to figure out and apprehend the culprit. You can examine each area for evidence and when you find an object to examine, SCOUT has to “identify” it by way of Picross. Thankfully if you are unfamiliar with this style of logic puzzles, Murder By Numbers introduces a very helpful tutorial to ease you in and overall the puzzle solving is incredibly smooth. However, pixelated objects sometimes don’t exactly do a great job at representing what they are supposed to look like. Also these puzzles are sometimes integrated in a weird way. I can understand the idea is that SCOUT is analyzing the object, but it seems a bit overkill to be forced to “analyze” an object that a character is handing over to Honor when it’s really obvious what said object was. Moments like this make some of the Picross elements feel a lot cheaper and more tacked on then they should be.

For each puzzle you complete you will gain points based on the difficulty selected and whether or not you use the Hint/assist buttons. These points are tallied up into an overall score which can increase your Detective rank, unlocking bonus puzzles accessible via the main menu. The music by Masakazu Sugimori (Ace Attorney) is really nice and upbeat and honestly kept me motivated to continue solving these puzzles. The sound effects used when characters are speaking or when they are reacting are very reminiscent of Ace Attorney, to the point where for a second I almost felt like I was playing one of Phoenix Wright’s cases.

Murder By Numbers | puzzle

The character designs by Hato Moa, the creator of Hatoful Boyfriend, are very diverse. However it would have been nice to see more character expressions and animations especially after watching how well animated the intro was. If there’s a problem with the characters, it’s that they really aren’t all that memorable. Many have a specific quirk and their entire personality throughout the game exists only around that quirk with many jokes serving to only further remind us of that quirk. Sometimes even the villains are incredibly obvious to the point where discovering the answer to the question “Who did it?” did not feel very fulfilling.

Murder By Numbers wants you to take it seriously by introducing certain themes, yet at the same time goes out of its way to derail them. The third case, for instance, seemed to want to tell a story about homophobia and the nuances of gender identities. Both are pretty heavy topics that require a lot of time to truly describe, and unfortunately the characters in that case did not accomplish much to fully drive those themes and the overall message home in a realistic manner, outside of simply existing as a means to bring attention to those themes. To be fair, at the end of the day this game is just a Picross puzzle game, so it can only go so far with these themes. But it also makes me a bit disappointed that we don’t get a sense for how these real-world topics affect these characters since it’s being brought up. Heck some of those same topics are almost completely dropped by the next case, leaving me wondering – what were they really trying to accomplish with it?

Murder By Numbers | Bar

The execution of the game’s themes and character arcs is what really hurts Murder By Numbers overall narrative. Other plot threads like Honor’s ex-boyfriend’s shady business deals or K.C. dealing with the outcome of the third case felt like they ended too abruptly. The credits sequence does show illustrations for most of the characters serving as an “epilogue” of sorts but it’s just a small glimpse of what we could’ve had, especially considering how these cases appear to set these characters up for far more than what they actually ended up being. Murder By Numbers does end on a cliffhanger of sorts so it’s possible these characters can return and be given more time to develop in a sequel.

Murder By Numbers | Award

For $14.99 Murder By Numbers is a game I really hesitate to recommend. It is a relatively lengthy experience as it took me about 28 hours to complete, with a lot of that time spent solving the puzzles. It’s a competent Picross game that will give you a large amount of puzzles to solve, but the story really didn’t leave much of a lasting impression on me. It showed a lot of promise at first, but ultimately falls short of reaching its full potential. I think the developers really wanted to make Murder By Numbers something special and I would like to see them improve on the formula and expand on the narrative in a sequel.

Review Score

Review copy provided by the publisher

About Justin Guillou

Justin joined Operation Rainfall to share his passion and knowledge for some of the more obscure video games out there.