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Casual games part 2: Inbento and Murder by Numbers

One of my favorite genres of games is the casual puzzle variety and I’ve played two such games recently on the Nintendo Switch, which I would like to discuss.

The first one is Inbento developed by 7levels, creators of Golf Peaks – a game I really liked about using specific moves to move a ball in the hole. Inbento is quite similar and different simultaneously; you are a chef (probably) that is trying to replicate a dish. The catch is that you have a fixed number of moves/ingredients and you have to overlap certain parts, use some first in order to cancel out the bits that you don’t want, etc; it’s a grid-based puzzle game about arranging and re-arranging tiles, so it’s all part of the course (no pun intended). But, just like with Golf Peaks, 7levels actually manage to introduce several new mechanics and elements into the fold and keep things varied and interesting; for example some levels give you too many tiles and the challenge comes from figuring out the order you use your moves with, rather than the placement. Although this creates an addictive loop of finishing groups of levels to get to the next one with a new mechanic, some of the problems of Golf Peaks come back to haunt Inbento in a more disruptive way; the visual variety is basically non-existent as each screen roughly looks the same with the ingredients being the only switch in colors and shapes, which unfortunately makes each puzzle seem the same and there isn’t a visual distinction between the earlier and later levels. However, the big problem is, once again, the pacing; early levels are a breeze and usually will be solved immediately and the closer you get towards the final levels the challenge steadily progresses until you will need a few attempts to complete the puzzles. The final levels though are a sudden spike of challenge that comes out of nowhere and hurt the game substantially; I literally went from spending 5 minutes top with each level to a minimum of 20 minutes for the latter ones, and the big issue here is that the solution ends up feeling needlessly complicated. The first levels have a simplicity that helps tutorialize certain aspects of the game and the mindset it requires, while latter levels have a “cunningness” that I deeply appreciated, but the final stages require a level of complexity that looking up those few that pushed me to resort to a walkthrough, made me genuinely wonder how I was supposed to figure out the complicated steps to get the solution – instead of what usually happens, where I feel bad for looking up a solution that was straightforward and decide that I need to take a break and come back with a fresh mind later. Inbento is not a bad game but if you haven’t played it and Golf Peaks, then you should definitely get Golf Peaks and then Inbento.

Lastly, Murder by Numbers is a game that is in no way related to any of the 4 movies by the same name (I only saw the one with Sandra Bullock and it was pretty bad), but is instead the easiest game to describe; quite simply, it is Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney but, instead of being an attorney and building/making your case in court, you are a “detective” and you solve Picross puzzles. If you’ve read my stuff in the past, you should know that as soon as I got to the “solve Picross puzzles” part I was immediately sold and got the game, but how is it? As an overall package I think its great, but as a critique of both primary elements there are some serious problems with it. As an Ace Attorney-esque mystery it works overall, but in the moment it is way too clunky, awkward and uneventful to be even near the quality of Phoenix Wright; the paper cutout art style and vibrant color are delightful, but the actual story and characterization of the cast is seriously lacking in charm and substance. The game will try to bring up sensitive issues and delve into some controversial topics, but the overall goofy/young adult tone makes those segments predictably awkward and unwanted diversions; beyond these moments, the story is just easily digestible, cliched, cheesy fun that actually manages to endear itself on the player and provide occasional moments of laughter. Similarly, the Picross side of the game is, in general, good enough but take its elements on a case by case critique and you will get a few “cardinal” sins and a few neat ideas that work surprisingly well. Obviously, if you like Picross puzzles, this game will provide you with more Picross puzzles to solve and that’s good enough, but it also adds a few unique twists; a timed sequence of 5×5 puzzles that don’t allow use of blank squares or marking potential squares, as well as scoring puzzles with a number, which allows players of all skill to go through the story, but incentivizing “no assists” playthroughs to unlock extra puzzles and getting the highest grade possible on each case, are the most notable changes. On the other hand, you get rookie mistakes like removing potential marks also removes any other filled or blank square as well (that is very annoying) and the completed image not looking like the thing it’s supposed to be; possibly because the rest of the game has this unique and beautiful art style, but the Picross images are in pixel form. Moreover, because this game has two distinct elements, Picross feels kind of separate from the game, which doesn’t make for the most consistent experience. As a Picross game, it fills that ever present void in my life for Picross, and as a Phoenix Wright-esque game it does well enough, but as a complete package I was surprisingly addicted to it; I spent somewhere around 30 hours completing everything available to me and if there was a sequel out tomorrow I would spent 30 more without blinking an eye. For me, this is the definition of a game that is more than the sum of its parts.

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