Growing up, I had played - but never completed any - point and click adventure games at neighbors’ houses but we never seemed to have them around at home. I don’t share common touchstones such as The Curse of Monkey Island. So with little knowledge of the genre, I booted up Detective Case and Clown Robot in the Express Killer from the Portuguese dev team Nerd Monkeys.
At the behest of Detective Case’s friend Garcia, players set out to solve a murder case that occurred on the train from Lisbon to Porto. Gathering clues while aboard the train, you begin to unravel the case by interviewing a colorful cast of passengers. The investigation can follow whichever order the player fancies, but each passenger requires that you find one thing or another for them before they are willing to talk.
For the most part, players with sharp eyes should have little trouble finding all the necessary pieces of evidence. The only time this doesn’t hold up is when you have to help an old Mr. Duarte reassemble his dentures. I found 28 of the 29 teeth without much effort. But finding the last tooth was an exercise in pixel hunting pace killing frustration - leading me to wonder if Mr. Duarte really couldn’t speak without that last chomper.
I should note here that the game is very funny, as in I was actually chuckling and laughing out loud throughout. While Detective Case and Clown Robot doesn’t discuss who’s on first, many of the conversations felt almost like a running Abbott and Costello routine mixed with some of the absurdist elements of Albert Camus’ novel The Stranger. Some of the jokes do fall a little flat, but I could hardly fault the devs as writing puns outside your native tongue is capital “H” hard. That said, they hardly detract from the otherwise uproarious banter.
Detective Case doesn’t have the high fidelity pixel art compared to other similar titles, but it establishes a clear style evocative of the early adventure games that inspired it. Moreover, the lo-fi style and animations helps the humor shine. When you catch a passenger in a lie, they start to freak out. I loved that the burly, leg day skipping, ticket checker started to do bicep curls and pushups when he was nervous. As an unexpected treat, Detective Case goes on an 8-bit styled wine dream in the latter portion of the game for spoiler heavy reasons. And though a small contribution to the early portion of the game, Uriel Cordas - an artist on the dev team - interpreting early game classics as azulejo tile art made my part Portuguese self very happy.
If you couldn’t tell by this point, I definitely recommend you give this game a go. I left the narrative commentary light because much of the game’s joys come from hearing the jokes with fresh ears. Aside from a few frustrating pixel hunting moments, be it for teeth or a few other items, I had a great time. And while I had not yet played the first Detective Case game, I never found myself lost and plan on going back to rectify that omission soon.
Score: 4 out 5 (Recommended)
Detective Case and Clown Bot in: Murder in the Hotel Lisbon was developed by Nerd Monkeys. It is available on Steam for $5.99.