Murder By Numbers is probably the most charming picross-based game I’ve ever played. Originally released back in 2020 by Mediatonic and The Irregular Company, it blends number logic puzzles and visual novel elements to great effect.
Solve the puzzles to solve the murders
The game stars TV actress Honor Mizrahi and her robot sidekick SCOUT as they become amateur detectives. When they inadvertently get dragged into a dark conspiracy, they must step up to solve some real-life murder cases. Both are written to be extremely charming, but SCOUT is absolutely the standout. Seeing him grow in confidence as the story unfolds is very satisfying. I never knew I could care so much about a sentient AI robot, but there we go. There are plenty of jokes and tongue-in-cheek moments.
Accompanying them on their adventures are a host of diverse larger-than-life Hollywood characters. A shady ex-husband. An eccentric film director. A flamboyant drag queen. A world-weary police detective. Each is a fun addition to the game, and nearly all are potential suspects. Which is to be expected. Hato Moa, (creator of Hatoful Boyfriend) designed them all.
SCOUT out the crime scene
During each investigation, SCOUT is used to search the crime scene. This is framed as a first-person view of a static background. Once a potential piece of evidence is found a picross puzzle must be solved. The in-universe reason is that SCOUT must visually process what he’s looking at. And it gets revealed piece-by-piece through reasoning and deduction. That’s why everything is divided into a grid and looks pixelated at first. It doesn’t really change the way the puzzles are solved, but I just think that’s a neat idea.
At the start of every chapter, the player is at Detective Rank F. The more accurately and proficiently a puzzle is solved, the more points the player is awarded. There are hints and help available but using them reduces the overall score. Each achieved rank unlocks more puzzles outside of the story, which I think are worthwhile rewards.
When an object is found, it can be used during the interrogation sections of the game. During each scenario, there are a host of people to talk to. By choosing from a set of questions, and from an inventory of found items, the player must find out who did it. To the best of my knowledge there is no way to fail, but getting the answers right on the first go is very satisfying.
A 90’s aesthetic
Being set in the 1990s, a few of the references and jokes in Murder By Numbers may fly over the heads of some younger players. A bit of mild swearing and the overall premise of the game (Murder!) may make some parents wary of buying this for their kids. It has a PEGI 12 rating thanks to the aforementioned things and a few others.
Visually, the game looks great. Strong designs and bold colours help make each character memorable. They are also surrounded by a bold white outline as they talk, which kinda makes it feel like they are cut out from paper. As with many visual novels, the designs could be pulled straight out of an anime. Despite the visual style, it lacks some of the more unsavoury anime tropes. There are no egregious “fan service” moments and everything is proportioned fairly realistically. All this makes for a very digestible game, suitable for most audiences.
The soundtrack is extremely energetic. Famed composer Masakazu Sugimori (Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, Ghost Trick and Viewtiful Joe) takes centre stage here. A highlight of the entire game is the absolute cheesy banger of an intro song. Combined with a wonderfully animated intro, I would be very shocked if it doesn’t immediately get lodged in the brain. And yes. Unsurprisingly, it is on Spotify, alongside the rest of the killer soundtrack. Just in case anyone needs to know.
A big heart in a little robot
As someone who has big love for picross puzzles, Murder By Numbers was a very enjoyable time. The combination of solving a puzzle pixel-by-pixel and questioning suspects really made me feel like I was solving murders. With a substantial story set over 4 chapters, it has enough content to keep people busy for around 20-30 hours. The additional puzzles are a nice bonus too. Overall, a fantastic little puzzle game with heaps of personality! As a result, this is a very easy recommendation from me. If you do want to buy this game, then please consider using my Humble Bundle Affiliate link!
If you want to watch a video version of this review, check it out below!