Review: The Lost Cases of Sherlock Holmes (PC)

The Lost Cases of Sherlock Holmes
Genre: Puzzle
Developer: Legacy Interactive
Publisher: Legacy Interactive
Release Date: 05/23/08 (retail boxed version)
Minimum System Requirements: OS: Windows Vista/XP/2000/98/Me (Retail Version also supports Macintosh), Processor: 800Mhz Pentium 3 or better, Memory: 256MB or more, Video Card: Any Direct3D 7.0 compatible or better.
Buy it Here: The Lost Cases of Sherlock Holmes

So, I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting this.

I wasn’t expecting to review the game in the first place; I literally woke up one morning to an IM from Alex asking me if I wanted to review this game out of the blue, but I figured it’d be a game worth playing, so I accepted. I mean, hey, it’s Sherlock Holmes; even with the less than stellar Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis to contend with, Mr. Holmes has a decent track record for adventure gaming; between the old-school amusement of Consulting Detective and the completely awesome The Awakened, I’m generally down for some Holmes adventure gaming. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the character is generally, you know, the greatest detective in the world (I’m sorry, but if Holmes had all the technological doodads Batman has he’d be kicking the Bat up and down the block with his awesome deductive reasoning), and that the character has been influencing the detective genre for decades. So, yeah, I was all set for this game.

And… it’s a puzzle game.

I was totally not expecting that… and, more importantly, I wasn’t expecting it to be pretty good, too.

The storyline here is actually pretty solid: you are presented with sixteen “lost” cases of Sherlock Holmes (a man who has, at this point, solved so many of the dang things that one has to believe that there was, maybe, one Tuesday sometime in 1891 where he actually got to sit down and not do anything at all… which probably drove him nuts), fifteen of which are presented as their own entity, with the sixteenth case neatly referring back to eight of the prior cases… for a specific reason, of course. Generally speaking, the overall writing of the game is quite faithful to the Sherlock Holmes character and universe; Watson is generally Holmes’ sounding board but occasionally shows that he is also a brilliant medical doctor in his own right, the various other characters from the Holmes universe who pop up are generally written either as their characters dictate (Mycroft, for instance, is shown to be incredibly well informed and basically full of every single piece of knowledge one could think of, and of course one of Holmes’ old “friends” shows up later and is written as expected) or as people of the time period would act and talk, and Holmes himself is of course deductively brilliant and completely sure of himself, especially when advising people that he cannot take on cases because Watson has insisted he go on vacation, even though Watson is wrong (and, of course, STANDING RIGHT THERE) or, in one instance, when he completely unravels a client’s case before her eyes, proves that she is the actual criminal, and follows up by advising her that the authorities are on their way, so “You can start confessing now.”

Sherlock Holmes is the biggest prat on Earth, and it is absolutely awesome.

The individual cases, while they don’t generally lend themselves to being followed (since one is most often occupied with the puzzles moreso than deductive reasoning) do seem to make perfect sense upon completion, though a few (most notably the one about the disappearing actress) seem a bit contrived at their completion, and the last case, well, isn’t really much of a case at all as much as one big game of cat and mouse… though it is pretty engaging. All in all, the writing is fun, accurate to the characters, and enjoyable, which is more than was expected from a budget game, so thumbs up to the folks at Legacy for doing their homework.

Visually, TLCSH is generally artistically interesting, if not always great. The game alternates between showing large drawings of case environments (which look good, but often times clues stick out in them depending on the case), individual puzzles (which are well drawn but don’t animate much) and talking head cinematics that introduce and end missions, and occasionally pop up in-between puzzles (which are generally done in an acceptable artistic style, though the idea of Mycroft Holmes looking like a double-chinned balding Tom Hanks or Dr. Watson being both large and looking like Ambrose Burnside is just… odd, somehow). The game has decent visual production values, overall, but it’s nothing special. The in-game music is generally populated with soothing classical music that, while it tends to repeat constantly, is generally not at all bothersome or disagreeable, and chances are good that you might well not even notice the repetition depending on how casually you play the game. The voice acting is also rather good overall; Holmes and Watson are quite convincing, and the various other voice actors who pop up here and there as the cases dictate are very good at best and acceptable at worst, which is also quite surprising. There are the odd sound effects here and there to indicate when you’ve located a clue or solved a puzzle, which are acceptable and do what is expected of them, so no harm no foul.

Now, as noted, TLCSH defies expectations by being a puzzle game, but for those who may perhaps find this a bit questionable, don’t: the puzzles presented in the game generally work in context well enough that they make sense for a Sherlock Holmes experience. Generally, at the beginning of every case, Holmes will be approached to take on a case by whoever needs helping at the time, and will then proceed to engage in various events until case completion. While several of the various puzzles vary from case to case, and while the final case generally plays by its own rules, the other fifteen tend to work with the same styles of puzzles from one to the next, as follows:

1.) a “Spot the Differences” puzzle which will present two pictures: one of the location prior to whatever crime has occurred, and one after. At this point, it is your job to find the various differences between the two pictures by clicking on them, whereupon they will be added to evidence. The game tells you how many of these sorts of clues you’re expected to find, but doesn’t tell what they are, so you’re tasked to find them on your own.

2.) a “Find the Hidden Objects” puzzle which will present one picture and a list of things hidden within it that you will have to dig up on your own. In this instance, the game will tell you exactly what it is you’re looking for; it’s your job to find these things, most often in the middle of very cluttered images.

3.) Sorting the suspects: as you discover clues, various suspects of the crime will be presented (some as legitimate suspects, others as red herrings with little bearing to the actual crime itself), and after all of the evidence has been catalogued, you will be asked to sort the suspects into paired categories, like MARKSMAN and GREEN CLOTHES, or EMPLOYEE and BOW TIE, or whatever. In early cases these will be obvious, but in later cases suspects will fit into multiple categories and there will be more suspects AND categories, thus making the decisions harder.

4.) A “Spot the Change” puzzle; basically, each of the suspects will be presented, each with the item that ties them to the case; then, the suspects will fade out and back in, only one will have their “evidence” switched with something else. You, of course, are tasked to figure out what item has been switched, which then starts the process over again until you are left with one suspect, who will then be revealed as the perpetrator of the crime.

As you play through these games, you’ll also be presented with other mini-puzzles to solve as you go; some will adhere to the above styles of play, but most will be simple puzzles of all different kinds; one puzzle has you assembling pieces of jewels to fit into a collar, others play like Memory or involve anagrams, a couple work like Simon, and of course, there are many more. Overall, TLCSH feels kind-of sort-of like a cross between a collection of flash games and a PC version of Professor Layton, and should more than scratch the itch of the casual puzzle gamer. The games are all generally very easy to play and often pretty fun, and it gives you a sense of accomplishment to plow your way through the game without any sort of a guide to work off of, as the game isn’t TOO challenging by the by.

Of course, the game does a few other little neat things to help you out and keep you going aside from the random mini-puzzles. First off, on the off chance you are having some sort of a problem with one of the various puzzles (IE figuring out where a specific object is hidden, which happens more than a few times) the game offers you a “hint” system in the form of Holmes’ trusty pipe: by clicking on the pipe, a clue is revealed to help you along in whatever puzzle you’re playing. You’re given five pipes to start with in each story, and more are hidden throughout the various scenes (and they tend to stick out just enough to be noticeable over everything else). Also, by default, you’re provided a small magnifying glass to click on clues with, but by simply clicking on the magnifying glass on the left side of the screen you’re given an actual magnified view of whatever you’re looking at; this is actually VERY useful as it not only expands the area you’re looking at, but also the area your click affects (which means you might well “discover” something you weren’t even aware of), and I used it constantly. Of course, in theory one need only spam-click on the various pictures to uncover everything; in practice, however, the various stories are timed (generously, though; most offer twenty to thirty minutes to complete them, which is more than an ample amount of time even if you’re a particularly methodical player), and randomly clicking around the picture ends up deducting time from the timer, thus forcing you to play the game properly. Also, the game offers two reason to replay it multiple times: first, each mission is scored on a number of factors (speed of finding clues, time left in the mission, etc), and by returning to the game one can attempt to achieve a higher score if one is interested; and second, each story contains a hidden Sherlock Holmes cap, and finding all sixteen unlocks a little bonus game that you’ve probably played before in some fashion; basically, it’s Mastermind with colored test tubes, where you try to figure out what four colored liquids make the solution provided in the least amount of moves possible; it’s cute and fun to play with and as extras go, it’s not bad.

Now, TLCSH is a surprisingly well-presented and engaging product at budget price (only $20), but one thing it isn’t is particularly long. The sixteen cases, as noted, range in time frames, but even if we timed out each case at twenty minutes, the long-term expectation of the game would be about five hours. The trouble is, you can pretty much blow through the game in about two or three hours, cutscenes and all, and while it’s amusing to go back to later, it’s probably not going to have you coming back to it immediately. This is mitigated somewhat, however, by the fact that you probably won’t want to play “spot the difference” and “find the hidden object” puzzles for more than an hour at a time unless you want your eyes to go crossed, which extends the experience slightly, but less in the “legitimate game length” sense and more in the “if I have to find one more hidden playing card I’m going to scream” sense.

It also bears noting that, while the various mini-games in the different cases are cute and original, the fact that you literally end up playing a game where you look for things in pictures something like fifty or sixty times might not be everyone’s cup of tea; most of the later cases have you doing this sort of thing three or four times, between digging up evidence as normal and placing these sorts of puzzles in the game as mini-games. This becomes very tedious if taken in large doses, which basically sums up the biggest problem with the game: if you play it too much, you find the game to be tedious and repetitive, but if you play one or two cases in a sitting, you’re only getting half an hour of gameplay at a time, which feels vaguely unfulfilling. In other words: it might have been a good idea to throw in some additional mini-games here and there to spice things up a bit and keep the game feeling fresh throughout instead of basically making every case somewhat identical with the exception of one or two small puzzles here and there.

Still, though, for $20, The Lost Cases of Sherlock Holmes is pretty amusing and satisfying; it’s got enough content to justify its budget price, and if you’re a fan of mystery stories in general (or Sherlock Holmes in specific) it’s right up your alley. The puzzles are easy to play and solvable for most people, hints are readily available in case you’re having a problem, and the game is generally pretty amusing… and usually, if a game feels short, that’s because you enjoyed your time with it. It’s certainly not going to please everyone; someone looking to BE Sherlock Holmes instead of READ ABOUT Sherlock Holmes will find this game to be a bit off-putting, and the fact that the game really repeats variations of the same puzzle over and over might be annoying after a while, but taken in small doses it’s generally a fun, amusing, and not very intensive experience that’s fun and well-written throughout.

The Scores:
Story: GREAT
Graphics: GOOD
Sound: GOOD
Control/Gameplay: GREAT
Replayability: MEDIOCRE
Balance: GREAT
Originality: MEDIOCRE
Addictiveness: ABOVE AVERAGE
Appeal: GOOD
Miscellaneous: GOOD

Final Score: GOOD.

Short Attention Span Summary:
The Lost Cases of Sherlock Holmes is easily recommendable to fans of mysteries, Sherlock Holmes, and puzzle games; the writing is strong, the cases are generally interesting, and the puzzles are easy without being childish and challenging enough to give you a little bit of a sweat. The game is really meant to be taken in small sittings; it’s short and repeats itself, and as such doesn’t lend itself well to long play sessions, sadly. If you’re looking for a small diversion, though, this certainly is worth a look; it’s inexpensive, fun, allows short bursts of play that challenge your brain sufficiently, and presents sixteen generally strongly-written Sherlock Holmes tales that are actually pretty amusing to experience.

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