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  • Writer's pictureStephen Machuga

Review: The Case of the Golden Idol

I loved The Return of the Obra Dinn, a bizarre little monochrome throwback where you play an insurance adjuster that goes from the bow to the stern of the ship, using a magical device to play back the final seconds of any individuals who may have been there. Your goal is to find out and document the entire ship’s crew of something like 50+ crew members and each of their grisly ends…you know, for insurance purposes. It was a brilliant detective game that you really had to put your brain hat on and do some thinking.

The Case of the Golden Idol, while not made by Lucas Pope of Obra Dinn and Papers, Please fame, did not have a hand in the creation of the game, but you can tell the two brothers' team from Color Gray Games definitely borrowed heavily from the concept of Obra Dinn when they wrote their bizarre little detective game.

So, what is The Case of the Golden Idol? It is a series of dioramas, frozen in time for a few seconds, for you to pick apart and figure out what exactly has happened. Of course, most brain puzzles start out fairly easily, but there are 12 puzzles in total that you have to comb through to figure out. Generally, there is a dead body in the tableau somewhere, and most of the puzzles involve your trying to piece together how they died. However, as you go from simple to complex puzzles, the information required is much more involved and revolves around a cursed golden idol that passes from a variety of different hands as people are murdering one another for it throughout the game. By the end, you’re told a pretty spectacular story of the life of this little golden statue and all the lives it has ruined over the years.

The first thing everyone will notice about Golden Idol is much like Obra Dinn; it has a graphical style all its own. No one looking at screenshots from Golden Idol will ever mistake it for another game, primarily because the graphics are absolutely not pretty to look at. In a world where people are shooting for ray tracing and 240 frames per second realistic shooters, Case of the Golden Idol’s graphics are muddy and ugly…but it is done on purpose and to great effect. Even the “attractive” people in this strange Devo universe are malformed and strange to look at. However, as the gameplay was key for me, I wasn’t exactly bothered by the art.

So what is the “gameplay” in The Case of the Golden Idol? Well, there are two screens to interact with: you have your “exploring” scene to right-click adventure through, looking at the shinies and reading text looking at clues, while you also have a “thinking” screen, where you have to use the information that you are deducing to fill in the blanks of the series of events that has occurred in the scene. For instance, the first tutorial freeze frame shows a scene with two men, where one is clearly pushing the other one off a cliff, and then pulling up the “thinking” screen, it shows you a mad-lib style series of sentences that you have to fill in the blanks of. The words you fill in the blanks with are at the bottom of the screen, and you find them when you discover them in the frozen scene by clicking and reading. It’s then when you put on your detective hat and have to piece together the identities of the two men, where they are currently located based on a fictitious map, and the motivation as to why the one man is murdering the other one. As the puzzles progress, the requirements to move on get harder and more involved, with fewer clues to go off from.

Much like my time with Obra Dinn, as the puzzles got more difficult, there was a period where I was just switching words around in the “thinking” section with no information to go off of. I may have been presented the information, but I couldn’t piece together the entire answer, so I would switch words around in hopes of the game telling me that I was right. Technically, if you were a maniac AI, you could literally switch names, places, and items around until you managed to stumble onto the solution, as the game will let you know when you are getting close to a solution for certain parts of the puzzle. If you know without a shadow of a doubt that Bill killed Michael in the ballroom, but you aren’t sure what item was used to do the deed, you could switch out the murder weapon with a “dagger,” “sword,” “rapier,” ‘idol” or whatever nouns that you unlocked in your clicking around in the exploring scene until something sticks.

As difficult as a deduction puzzle that Golden Idol is, it does have a hint section that can help nudge you in the correct direction for the puzzles. It’s not a slam dunk that will show you exactly what words to fill in where, but it will give you hints as things to consider for the different puzzles that might help you fill in some of the blanks. I only gave up on one puzzle and used all the hints I had available as I just could NOT piece it all together. It does warn you before you use hints that you should make sure and take a step back, re-think all of your assumptions, and only use hints if absolutely necessary. The time I did use three of the four hints, it did get me to where I needed to be to unlock the next scenario without just putting all the words in the blanks for me, so it worked nicely without totally spoiling it for me.

Overall, had a blast with The Case of the Golden Idol, and if you love playing detective games, this one should not be missed. The weird tale it crafts in an alternate universe from ours is worth exploring, and you go from feeling like a complete moron at the start of a case to feeling like Sherlock Holmes himself when you get the “case complete” window to pop up after you solve the scene.

All totaled; I feel that Golden Idol took about 12 hours from start to finish. There were periods of me staring at the screen and then the ceiling trying to work things out in my head. Golden Idol’s ending left a little bit to be desired as it pops up a “thank you for playing our game” screen after it tells you you’ve completed the final scene. There is a nice epilogue that runs through the entire story (as all the scenes are connected in some way or another), but it’s a little bit anticlimactic ending for the story. But hey, can’t win them all. I had an amazing time and will be recommending Golden Idol in the same breath as I do with Obra Dinn for those folks who like working their brain juices out a bit more than your average game.

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