IGN Review of Touch Detective
With games like Trauma Center: Under the Knife and Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, the Nintendo DS has become a system that's not only accessible to all ages, but also an amazingly niche platform to work with, offering some of the oddest and most entertaining game designs in a very long time. There's something about the unique interface, the touch interaction, and the two-screened presentation that spawns creativity, so it was no surprise to us when a little game by the name of Touch Detective showed up, delivering a delightful style, awesome attitude, and captivating - or so it seemed - gameplay. Unfortunately, it takes only a few hours with the game before players will start to realize that despite its quirky style, Touch Detective just doesn't hold up to the unique standards of the DS platform.
On a system full of arcade surgery games, court-room dramas, and simulated puppies, a game like Touch Detective should feel right at home. For starters, the game's presentation is spot on, delivering an amazingly stylistic feel to the adventure, and teaming that style with an interesting gameplay hook. You play as Mackenzie, a young detective girl that's out to prove herself as one of the worlds top detectives. The game offers four cases to solve, with the promise of more mini-missions once the core game is completed. To solve these mysteries, you'll have to guide Mackenzie through the world using the stylus for 100% of the game's controls, whether it's interrogating possible suspects, questioning witnesses, gathering and inspecting clues via touch, or spotting on-screen items that could be detrimental to the case.
The design sounds accessible and downright intriguing on paper, and the game's premise alone was enough to send gamers (us included) into a frenzy, instantly assuming that the publisher that brought us Trauma Center was now taking on the Phoenix Wright license, trying its hand an engaging detective drama. Unfortunately, Touch Detective is constantly hanging the player out to dry, offering no helpful hints when Mackenzie is in a jam, and putting players in situations that, quite frankly, don't make sense. There were countless times in the game where we couldn't tell exactly what we were looking for, as the style of cases in the game are totally obscure. This is fine if the story guided players, but the way it was executed it simply doesn't work.
At the risk of spoiling too much, it really takes a few examples to show off exactly how Touch Detective's puzzle design can frustrate players to new heights. As one of the opening plots, Mackenzie is out to catch a robber that's stealing one of her friend's dreams. In order to get into the dream world to catch the thief, however, she'll need to gather supplies and use some magical hocus-pocus to get it done. The final step requires the use of "fire", however, which Mackenzie is too young to use. The reference of fire is used constantly, but it turns out that in the darkest corner of one of the many rooms to explore, there's a tiny piece of art (seemingly part of the background) that depicts a microwave. Players have to seek out that microwave, make the connection that fire = heat, rather than needing the actual fire the game is constantly referencing, and combine their mixture with the small appliance. This wouldn't be a problem if there were more direct clues given, or if the on-screen item looked like it was clickable, but situations like these will have players later clicking anything and everything on-screen in an attempt to blindly find the needed item.
An even better example of the puzzle mechanic can be found when dealing with how to put townspeople to sleep in order to interrogate them in the dream world. When talking to one of the main characters, it's brought up that only the Sandman can put the town to sleep, bringing his sleeping dust to the town. The solution: Catch a butterfly with a net and rub the butterfly on everyone's face. No joke, that's actually the correct answer. The dust from the butterfly's wings simulates what Sandman were to do if he was in fact real, of course the game's story is so out there, that there's no way of knowing the Sandman wasn't an actual character in the game. Confused yet?
We can get behind a game that has challenging puzzles or entirely odd storylines, that's fine. The problem with Touch Detective is that there's no fall-back plan. The game's puzzles are very confusing at times, and the amount of player interaction with the townspeople just isn't there. Certain characters have one thing they say over and over, and their script won't change. On that same note, key characters will talk in circles if you try to press them for more information, answering the same question with the same answer, prompting no clear objective or resolution at times. Games like Phoenix Wright have you faced with a problem and attempting to find a solution. In Touch Detective, players will constantly wander the town, feeling entirely out of the loop before happening upon the solution by either getting lucky, or clicking every inch of every room. The final nail in the coffin comes when you realize the game is entirely linear, and that rather than truly exploring a crime scene or solving a puzzle, you're simply moving from point to point for hours on end.
©2006-10-24, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved