Review: Unsolved Crimes (Nintendo DS)

Unsolved Crimes
Developer: Now Production
Publisher: Empire Interactive
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 09/30/2008

Any time something comes out and becomes an unlikely hit, you’ll get a slew of copycats that will try to capitalize on its’ success. In this instance the Ace Attorney series and Hotel Dusk have spawned several knock-offs that have been hitting stores recently.

That’s not to say that every adventure or detective game that comes out is automatically a cheap knock off. The other side of this ugly reality is that a developer might be able to get funding to create a game based on a similar game’s success.

So the question remains: Will Unsolved Crimes be a great new title for the adventure genre or it will be the difference between Dr. Pepper and Mr. Pibb?

Story

Despite what the manual, the case, the previews, and even the little pamphlet Empire sent me with the game, there is no story to this title whatsoever. Oh sure, your partner’s sister gets kidnapped and every once in a while you’ll play a mission that deals with this, but there’s no reason to give a damn about her,or any of the victims you come across. Not a single character is given more than a few lines of meaningful text, and that only serves to give the illusion of an overall story.

First off, your character is not only nameless, but also never says a word. This means that in ninety percent of the game ,the only people you see are Captain Abbot and Marcy, your partner. The captain just tells you where to go and congratulates you on a good job. Marcy is practically schizophrenic. During cases she’ll only sit around and ask you to do all of the legwork and thinking. Between cases, she’ll just talk about her sister and how much she wants to see her again. Truth be told, the entire missing sister story would barely take up a single page if all the dialogue was typed up.

You’ll have about seven or so real cases where your job is to figure out who the murder is. These cases consist of you exploring the crime scene to find new evidence and looking through preexisting evidence to answer several small “queries” that Marcy has. You literally just click on stuff until she has a question which you then answer to bring up more questions based on your findings. Eventually you’ll have to make a report to Abbot, but this consists of his asking you a question that Marcy has already asked and then sending you right back to the crime scene. There, you’ll answer a few MORE questions before heading back to make another report. This process will repeat until you get to make a final report which will then end the case and give you a score.

You never once get to talk to a witness. The suspects will have a few lines of testimony in your evidence file and that’s it. Occasionally, Abbot will ask them a question to get some new testimony, but you don’t get to watch this or participate. He’ll just inform you there is some new text to read. Since you never talk to anyone but Abbot and Marcy, there’s no reason to care even the slightest amount about any victim or any suspect. You never see them.

The whole overarching story of the kidnapping is such a sham. Not once during a single real case was it ever mentioned. Everything relating to the main plot happens in-between missions which lasts all of two minutes per scene, and that’s being generous. Again, a page of text is all you’ll find here. Otherwise, none of the cases have anything to do with one another. There’s nothing to link them together.

This is the laziest story for an adventure game I’ve ever seen. There are no interesting characters and hell, there are barely any characters at all. Therefore, nothing that happens is of any consequence. It just exists for the sake of existing. There was nothing to enjoy here.

Graphics

Oh my god.

This game is the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen. It looks like somebody took their mother’s watercolor paintings and then left them out in the rain. Everything looks smeared and nothing is detailed. You’ll spend most of your time looking at static screens of Marcy and she is one ugly bitch. I can see nearly every pixel. You know how most DS games have compression artifacts galore and look choppy? Every single screen has this effect, even if nothing is moving.

The only time this game looks halfway decent is during the investigation sequences. You’re given a small 3D room to look through and it is the only time you get a change of scenery. Even here the graphics are crude and full of rough edges. You can examine evidence in a 3D environment, but all the detail here can’t hide how poor it looks on your screens.

I don’t know how the developers managed this. I think they were going for some sort of weird art style. Instead, they created the worst looking game I’ve played on the DS.

Audio

This is the best part of the game, but don’t let that confuse you into thinking this is any good. It just isn’t actively bad.

The music is the standard crime dram stuff we’ve gotten on every TV cop drama or video game for the last decade. It’s barely even noticeable because we hear it so much. The score kept on mixing with Hotel Dusk and Jake Hunter in my head. I can’t remember a single track from the game off the top of my head though. I would have to start playing again and look away from the screen even to notice it.

The bright spot of Unsolved Crimes are the sound effects. You mostly get the familiar cackle of text scrolls, but when you click on an item during exploration, it will make a noise. Every single item gets its own sound and they are all appropriate. This might not sound like much, but so few games even try that it is worth a ton of praise. I congratulate the developers on getting at least this right.

That’s all there is. There’s no voice acting whatsoever which makes me glad. I can’t imagine having to hear Marcy whine and complain every few seconds.

Gameplay

The game tries to incorporate both the buttons and the stylus to form an FPS-like control scheme for the 3D levels. It doesn’t work. You’ll use the directional buttons to either move forward, backward, or strafe side to side. The stylus is used to rotate the angle of the camera. Furthermore, you can use the stylus to slide your view to a higher or lower elevation by using a sliding bar on the right side of the screen. If this sounds convoluted, it’s because it is. It never feels right and you’ll spend a good deal of time struggling to get the view you need to click on that one tiny piece of paper under the desk.

That’s another thing. The smaller the object, the more impossible it is to be accurate when trying to click on it. I spent well over five minutes trying to turn the dial on a safe. The controls were so finicky that it would always go past where I wanted it to stop, causing me no end of frustration. There was another case where there was a small object on top of a desk. The game continually thought I was clicking on the desk when I was hitting the object. It took forever to get it right.

After you’ve clicked on an item of interest, it will more than likely be added to your evidence file, where you can spin it around in a 3D world not unlike that of Apollo Justice. The controls for this work just as weird here as they do in that game.

After you’ve clicked on enough things, Marcy will ask you a question which will open up the query option. If you go in here, you’ll be asked a question or two about what the evidence means or how the witnesses’ testimonies contradict each other. Once you’ve answered enough questions, you’ll go to make a report. You’ll provide your findings to the chief who will send you back the crime scene to dig up some more information. Here comes the most annoying aspect of the game.

By now you’ve probably already clicked on everything on your first run. This means your boss is sending you back to the crime scene with a new query or two. You’ll answer a question that you could have answered at the police station with the evidence you already had! Then you have to go BACK to make another report only for Abbot to send you right back the crime scene! This whole game reeks of redundancy. Sure, there are a few moments where the query will require you to point out an object that is in the crime scene, but this just exacerbates the problem. If the gouges in the floor were so important, than why didn’t they get placed in the evidence file at all?

The game tries to break up this monotony by providing a few other game types during the missions about the kidnapped sister. You’ll turn the wheel either left or right to avoid trash cans by using the stylus in a car chase in an alleyway. It basically amounts to just swerving from left to right to left to right ect. It is truly boring. There’s another moment where you’ll be in a shootout. This might sound exciting, but all of the enemies are just gray silhouettes (furthering my disdain for the graphics) that you can just tap on the head to kill instantly. You’ll have to tap on the reload icon to reload and that’s about it. Finally, there is a scene towards the end where you’ll have to navigate a building in order to find someone. The building will be crumbling during this, and the map you have is no help seeing as you can’t see where you are in relation to anything. Also, the building was designed by monkeys as it is basically a parking garage with more corners than you could ever imagine considering most are just concrete spirals.

Despite these extremely brief distractions, most of your time will be spent answering simple questions about the evidence you have. The leaps of logic required to guess the right piece can be deterring on more than one occasion, but for the most part the game is boring with lackluster controls no real interactivity.

Replayability

There are few good things to say about the game here. You can play through each chapter at will after the first play though. You can jump to your favorite case and play through it in about half an hour. Once you know all the secrets, it takes a lot less time. I wish more adventure games would do this so people could replay their favorite parts. You do get a score for how well you answered all of the questions and how fast you moved through the game. You also have an overall score. The second time through, you’ll know all the tricks and be able to max out your score in no time.

Even still, the game is hardly worth playing again. The story isn’t interesting and you’ll be running through the motions. None of the cases run more than an hour and most were under half an hour even on the first play through. All together, you’re probably going to spend around seven hours for the whole game if you really take your time. If this were an action game, this might be acceptable, but for an adventure game, this is atrocious. You’re far more likely to replay an action game or an RPG, so the first time you play an adventure game should give you your money’s worth. Unsolved Crimes does not do that at all.

Balance

At the beginning of each case, you’re given three stars. Each time you give a wrong answer during a query, a star is taken away. If you lose all of your stars, Marcy literally calls you a schmuck and fires you. (I’ll get back to that)

As annoying as it is to lose, there is no consequence. You’ll be able to start back up from the last query, so you can start answering the question again until you finally get it right. The most you’ll have to put up with is a few repeat questions.

Even still, there are some weird discrepancies. For one, almost every question in the game is easy to get the first time. Every multiple choice question has one or two answers that are so goofy that no one would choose them. It’s also amazingly clear what piece of evidence to show Marcy during her endless questioning.

There are a few cases where it isn’t clear, and these result in the clichéd “click on everything until something happens” tactics that adventure games are notorious for. Once you’ve found it, you’ll get some inane logic behind the choice that won’t make any sense.

The game is either way too easy or annoyingly vague. There’s no balance here.

Originality

Take the investigation sections from Phoenix Wright. Now remove any and all character interaction. Throw in a couple of pop quizzes and you have the game in a nut shell. It does nothing to separate itself from the pack.

Addictiveness

The real hook of any adventure game are the story and the puzzles. Since there are no fleshed out characters in Unsolved Crimes, you won’t feel any desire to press on for their sake. Also, the puzzles are always fairly simple, like opening a safe, and don’t require much thought. So basically, any feeling you might have to keep going is sucked from you piece by piece by the monotony of the game. I was just playing to finish for the sake of finishing it.

If you’re looking for an engrossing game that will suck you in, prepare to be disappointed.

Appeal Factor

There’s a growing audience for adventure games on the DS. I’m sure a lot of people will pick this game up simply because of the joys they’ve had with games like Hotel Dusk. At thirty dollars, it straddles a nice line between budget and full priced that should help it fit neatly into people’s budgets.

I’m sure the game will do reasonably well, even if the game isn’t any fun to play.

Miscellaneous

You know how I mentioned you get called a schmuck when you run out of stars? This is my biggest pet peeve of the game. Marcy never does anything herself. She relies on you to do all of the digging for clues and problem solving. During the missions where you’re on the lookout for clues to her sister’s kidnapping, you’ll be the one driving the car in the high speed chase, taking the shots in a shootout, and guiding her through a maze of a building. During cases, you’ll do all of the work, but if you screw up one tiny bit, she insults you and fires you. I don’t know how your PARTNER got the authority to fire you, but the fact that she fires you for not being able to figure out something that she herself doesn’t know is ridiculous. If she somehow took you off the case, I could be a lot more understanding, but I guess getting fired by a lazy blonde with no intelligence and who steals all the credit for your work is the only thing they could come up with.

Also, the name Unsolved Crimes is incredibly misleading. I hear that title and think of shows like Cold Case where they dig up old cases and find new evidence to finally get an arrest on file. Here, you get to the crime scene mere hours after the murder. The chief already has a full list of suspects (and one them is always the killer) and has them all in custody with full reports on the victim, time of death, and even an autopsy report. Then you spend what appears to be little more than a few hours to piece together a boatload of evidence and testimonies in order to solve the crime. I don’t know what world the writers lived in, but if real murder cases were solved this fast, OJ Simpson would have been locked away years ago.

The Scores

Story: Bad
Graphics: Worthless
Audio: Above Average
Gameplay: Pretty Poor
Replayability: Mediocre
Balance: Poor
Originality: Worthless
Addictiveness: Dreadful
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Miscellaneous: Worthless
Final Score: Bad Game!

Short Attention Span Summary
Congratulations, Unsolved Crimes. You’ve managed to garner the worst review I’ve ever given a game. The laziness thoughout this game is astounding. There was never a moment where it was fun to play, and there are so many things missing from the core game mechanics that it manages to feel like nothing more than a hackneyed attempt at making a buck. This game is ugly to the core and no one should ever have to pay money for this. This is one crime that can not be forgiven.

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