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Detective Grimoire: Secret of the Swamp Review: Bogging Down Crime

Platform: Windows PC
Developer: SFB Games
Publisher: Armor Games
Release Date: 1/2/2014

 

I love adventure games and visual novels, but I always feel like I’m interacting with somebody else’s story: Phoenix Wright is the one giving the convoluted explanations in the Ace Attorney series, I’m just trying to keep up, and in even the best LucasArts’ adventure games I’ll sometimes feel as though I’m being led by the nose. What I most appreciate about Detective Grimoire: Secret of the Swamp is that I’m the one talking the character through the mystery. Every new piece of information or strange leap of logic is earned, either through a simple minigames or through a clever deduction system.

Detective Grimoire: Secret of the Swamp follows police detective Grimoire, this time investigating a privately run park in a swamp. The swamp is famous due to an urban legend: it the supposed hunting grounds of a swamp monster that served as the inspiration for a popular cartoon character. When the park’s director is murdered with a claw-like weapon, Grimoire finds that the creature itself may be his most likely suspect, and begins investigating. The screen-by-screen navigation is quick and intuitive, with a map serving as a clever fast-travel system, while vital hotspots optionally twinkle, fully eliminating the need for pixel-hunting. A running tally of how many notes Grimoire has taken rewards players who want to fully comb each area, while a number of useless-but-fun features, like the ability to mark specific facts about suspects as suspicious, further play up the detective angle.

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Conversation is a simple matter of asking some stock questions (two at the start, with another opening up every chapter) and presenting evidence or suspect profiles. Additionally, each character has one Challenge, where Grimoire attempts to cause the suspect to open up by finding contradictions in their alibi (think Ace Attorney’s Psych Locks). Challenges are usually unlocked using the deduction system, which involves combining ideas and assumptions into evidence. It’s extremely simple, but again feels active in a way most adventure game conversations do not, and since these deductions can appear during both exploration and conversation, the gameplay and the mystery feel fluid.

Secret of the Swamp is a commercial sequel to a 2007 browser adventure. The original game feels rough, with pixelated text and clunky dialogue, but Secret of the Swamp looks and sounds great, with a wonderfully streamlined interface, beautifully stylized art and a campy-eerie soundtrack. A handful of simply but effectively animated cutscenes highlight some of the more dramatic moments, and never feel distracting or unwelcome.

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As charmed as I was by the presentation and gameplay, the story itself is rather weak. I never cared about the swamp’s hidden past, and even these revelations felt weirdly laid-back, like Grimoire was uncovering facts that characters lazily forgot to mention instead of deeply hidden secrets. Save for one character, a seemingly omniscient little girl who returns from the first game, no character stood out to me.

Though the content itself is unremarkable, the characters are fun enough to have around, and the mechanics drew me in enough to actually care about the paper-thin story. Secret of the Swamp does not try to be anything more than a forgettable time waster. It’s extremely easy, constantly charming and enjoyable for the two-three hours it lasts, with some truly great ideas at work. That’s all I want and more from a game as light and breezy as this one.


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