If you’re looking for a new game to fill your weekend (but don’t want to drop a ton of cash on Exoprimal or Pikmin 4), Epic Games Store’s latest freebie is a must-download. Welcome to the puzzling world of Murder By Numbers.
Developed by Fall Guys studio Mediatonic, Murder By Numbers is a unique blend of visual novel and traditional puzzle game. And all of that is wrapped up in a witty 90s murder mystery story full of colorful characters, talking robots, and absolute bops.
Set in 1996, the story centers around actress Honor Mizrahi, co-star of a popular detective show called Murder Miss Terri. Or at least she was. Honor gets kicked off the show right before its showrunner is mysteriously killed. Pretty suspicious! To prove her innocence and find the true killer, Honor sets out to deduce the truth through visual novel conversations and light investigation gameplay. The full package contains a handful of sharply written mysteries drenched in 90s nostalgia. The fashion alone is worth the (free) price of admission.
That’s not actually the core hook, though. Early on, Honor discovers a cute little robot named Scoot who agrees to help her, just like any good buddy detective show. Scout is able to analyze evidence, but to do so, players must complete picross puzzles. For the uninitiated, picross is a puzzle type that has players filling in squares on a grid by using number clues in each grid and column. The goal is to form a picture using puzzle logic and rules, making for particularly satisfying solutions.
Most picross games tend to just throw a collection of loose puzzles at players, which can get a bit stale after a while. Murder by Numbers‘ strength is that it instead weaves them into a narrative, turning each one into a clever evidence processing system. That framing makes me feel like I’m a detective dusting for fingerprints, even though I’m just doing a puzzle format I’ve done thousands of times before at this point. It’s the perfect puzzler for those who need a little more depth in their games.
Murder by Numbers also has a bit of a development dream team behind it. Released just months before Fall Guys in 2020, you can feel some similarities between the two games — even if they’re worlds apart. They both have a creative genre mash-up approach that makes them feel unlike anything in their respective genres. In addition to Mediatonic’s stamp, it also features an excellent soundtrack by Masakazu Sugimori, a composer known for his work on Pheonix Wright: Ace Attorney and the recently re-released Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective. And if you’re a fan of the pigeon dating game Hatoful Boyfriend, its creator, Hato Moa, designed the characters here.
Murder by Numbers is the kind of indie hidden gem that you’ll want to have in your backlog, so make sure to grab it while it’s free on Epic Games Store. The promotion lasts until July 27.
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