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Agatha Christie The ABC Murders (Nintendo DS) Review

Review for Agatha Christie The ABC Murders on Nintendo DS - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

There is such a wealth of source material to work with when creating products based around the numerous Agatha Christie novels that it must be difficult for developers to choose exactly which ones will work best and just how they should be adapted for the general gamer. So far we have seen And Then There Were None and Evil Under the Sun ported from PC to Wii by AWE Games, but now it is time for the Nintendo DS to get in on the action. Since the portable platform is nowhere near as powerful as the Wii, the development team this time, Black Lantern Studios, has taken a slightly different route. Whether it pays off or not is a very important question, though.

For those (like me) that are unaware of Agatha Christie's The ABC Murders, it is a mystery novel originally published in 1936 in which Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot must hunt down a serial murderer who is obsessed with killing innocent people in an alphabetical order, based on the first letter of their forename, surname and place of residence (for example, Alice Ascher from Andover). All Poirot and the local police force are provided with is a simple letter from the dastardly deviant fiend sharing the location and date (although in this DS game the date must be figured out as part of the puzzle-based nature of the gameplay) of where the next crime is set to take place, only for them to turn up a moment too late, finding that a new copy of a train timetable (the ABC Railway Guide in the story) has been left by the victim's lifeless body as a calling card. The yarn is spun from two different viewpoints, sticking as closely as possible to the original text to ensure authenticity for long-term admirers of Christie's works, meaning that The ABC Murders unfolds in both the first-person and third-person perspectives, with Captain Arthur Hastings, Poirot's colleague and trustworthy companion, acting as narrator.

The game takes the source material and breaks it down into bite-sized chunks for gamers to easily digest. A letter will be received from the unknown culprit and the player must decipher the conundrum within the writing that alludes to the date of the next murder. Poirot and Hastings will head to each crime location and interrogate friends, family and anyone that may shed light on the case in hand via directing numerous questions at them in order to gain clues. For the most part, The ABC Murders plays out like an interactive novel, which some will no doubt find exceedingly tedious. However, Black Lantern Studios has learned lessons from Level-5 and included a collection of brain teasing challenges to stimulate minds after what may seem like an endless barrage of text. These range from a plentiful selection of categories, inclusive of Logic, Riddles, Letter and Number Recognition and Matching Games, as well as many others. Unfortunately, there are times when The ABC Murders falls into the same trap the first Professor Layton game, The Curious Village, did in that a handful of puzzles have no real relation to the adventure at all, merely being crammed in so as to attempt to engage the player on a more frequent basis. However, the majority of the time the developer has indeed integrated everything sufficiently and the plot runs along nice and smoothly.

Screenshot for Agatha Christie The ABC Murders on Nintendo DS - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

A fantastic little addition is how at every location visited there is the opportunity to take a little time out to search the environment with your trusty magnifying glass. As well as general comments about particular objects, there are pens and bowler hats to uncover - pens revealing little snippets of history and background information pertaining to Agatha Christie's work, whilst the bowler hats offer up famous quotes from Christie's characters. Any mystery enthusiasts will certainly get a buzz from this much-welcomed aside to the main adventure. Equally as pleasing are the sudden moments of speech that accompany the reams of text. Every now-and-then a character will blurt out a nice clear, well-voiced line to break up the rather mundane soundtrack that plays repeatedly on a very truncated loop in the background. Unfortunately, the same praise aimed at the voice snippets cannot be heaped upon the visuals, with simplistic 2D slides of characters appearing when it is their turn to converse with one another. Yet whatever the game lacks in visual presentation, it more than makes up for in the ability to not merely work through the 'Classic Story Mode,' but attempt the 'Free Story Mode,' where testimonies and motives are mixed up so each new game presents gamers with a new murderer to apprehend. This aspect adds considerably to the game's longevity and will keep people coming back for more.

There are definitely a few missed opportunities in The ABC Murders, though, that prevent from bringing it up to the same standard set by Level-5's Professor Layton games, for instance, the lack of an in-game notepad to write on. Given how many of the brain-teasing puzzles require things to be written down and solved logically, it would have been much easier to let players do that using the DS touch-screen rather than having to obtain an actual notepad and pen. Also, when a particular conversation thread has been explored with a witness or suspect, it does not disappear from the choices, meaning that it can get somewhat confusing what has and has not been asked when there are many questions available. Perhaps at least highlighting the ones that had been followed-through on would have been ideal. Yet on the whole, given the constraints of sticking so closely to the original book, the developer has crafted a thoroughly pleasing puzzle adventure that will definitely have some appeal to those that enjoy the Professor Layton series so much.

Screenshot for Agatha Christie The ABC Murders on Nintendo DS - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

Gameplay

Taking its lead from the Professor Layton series pays off, with a clever mix of brain-teasing logic puzzles and the standard interrogation fare seen in many adventure games.

Graphics

Quite basic 2D representations of characters that slide on and off the screen when various people are talking. Nothing overly fancy, yet extremely inoffensive at the same time.

Sound

Dreary tunes that replay constantly on a short loop are the order of the day, but there are a couple of decent tracks, plus there is the welcomed addition of some snippets of voice work for characters.

Value

Whilst never set to cause any undue frustration, thanks to no penalties for giving incorrect answers, nevertheless the puzzles included do take more than a little brain power to crack and working through Agatha Christie’s classic tale is still as enjoyable as ever.

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Good - Bronze Award

About this score
Rated 7 out of 10

It was certainly a brave move to mimic the might of Level-5 and its Professor Layton series, but Black Lantern Studios has done a sterling job of taking a legendary authoress' prose and wrapping it around numerous logic-based puzzles and brain-teasers. The ABC Murders may lack the attention to detail and high levels of presentation found in the Layton titles, yet it should definitely appeal to the same market sector thirsty for more puzzle solving.

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30.12.2009

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Developer

Black Lantern

Publisher

The Adventure Company

Genre

Adventure

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date TBA   Japan release date TBA   Australian release date TBA   

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Staff Member

Hmm, always enjoy a good mystery game, might put this on my radar. Superb review Adam old boy. Smilie


Senior ModeratorStaff Member

Cheers mate Smilie I was really surprised. I started playing it, saw the graphics and thought 'Uh-oh' - but my doubts were washed away so much that I did indeed rummage around to find a notepad and pen to work out the solutions to puzzles (rather than try every possible answer knowing I wouldn't get penalised for doing so).

I've seen this hovering around the UK DS Top 40 since its release a few weeks ago, so it's already looking like it's done better than both Wii Agatha Christie titles, which never even dented the Wii Top 40.

Adam Riley < Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited >
Word of Adam | Voice123 Profile | AdamC3 on Twitter

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