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cover-The Case of the Golden Idol

Tuesday, July 11, 2023 3:55:30 PM

The Case of the Golden Idol Review (alyssa-black)

Fun and pleasantly challenging deduction-based adventure. Sort of a less grand and less smooth Obra Dinn’s younger brother that is still entertaining and can hold its own at the family reunion. Also, Obra Dinn got the looks in the family. Golden Idol, though, got “interesting features” (or whatever it is they say about ugly children), so it makes up for it with abundant charm and charisma.
This game is a series of vignettes, post-crime, where you get to look at the aftermath and untangle a surprisingly complex, soap opera-like ball of yarn where siblings backstab, secret societies lurk and power-hungry villains scheme, all of which frequently culminates in bizarre murder scenes with lots of bodies, but really – when thigs are this fun – who’s counting? The plot is overarching and covers all the vignettes (11 of them plus epilogue) with a recurring cast of characters that establishes itself by mid-game. There’s no narration to speak of besides notes/letters/cards hidden in people’s pockets and a summary of the crime you’ll get after solving it, which adds additional details to the scene you had to work with. And yet, the story is twisted and layered and doesn’t shy away from crossing into “over-the-top” territory on more than one occasion (which speaks loads about the talent behind this game) but also adds a few complexities to the gameplay because of that.
First, gameplay itself – in the “exploring” mode you look at the scene of the crime and collect clues (can be highlighted or not, depending on your preference) that are, in this case, words. After that, you will switch into “thinking” mode, where various tricky questions about what just happened will be presented as scrolls with blank spaces. Your goal is to fill these scrolls with correct words using deduction and logic, extracting info from all the clues you have seen. In its basic form – this is a very fun and rather challenging gameplay, not unlike Obra Dinn at its heart. However, going back to few complexities mentioned above, it isn’t without a few drawbacks. One of them is that the complex plot makes it a difficult game to pick up even after a break of a few days. The game relies heavily on the previous cases to understand the next one, and number of characters and details that you need to keep in mind is pretty high – there can be people who were wearing disguise a few cases back or a specific pocket item that suddenly pops up again – all those small, numerous details escape you after a few days off, making it unnecessarily difficult to get back into it or, alternatively, miss a myriad of references that could help solve the case.
Another drawback that could bring an occasional frustration is “fit the right word into a slot” busywork, where you spend more time finding what this game wants you to put in the scroll, even after getting a good idea of what happened, because several words can fit the bill, but the game will only allow that precise one it wants, of course. With all that being said, this is still a highly entertaining game that will make you put your thinking cap on, and if you’re a fan of logic and observation-based puzzles, this will fill the void left in our hearts by Return of the Obra Dinn’s completion and unexplainably low number of purely deduction-focused games.
Graphics… Well… This element grows on you. While I have found it to be unique and full of understated indie charm and great use of lighting, many people I have spoken with about this game found the visuals plainly unappealing. I get that, so if you’re looking at the screenshots and thinking “what the hell”, you’re in good company. I, however, think that unpolished, a bit jarring look with a dash of caricature in it can win you over if not right away, then at least as you progress through the game and find yourself enjoying it. While this component is very subjective, points for originality can safely be added to Golden Idol’s arsenal of points – this is no copy-cat of trendy styles, and the artists blazed their own way, which will always be a plus in my book.
The ominous instrumental music is neither all that memorable nor too mundane (besides the DLC- there’s an exotic notable track there that was really cool). It serves as a decent background to lots of thinking you’ll be doing without distracting too much. It can get a bit repetitive eventually, but this is a solid work that aims to support, not to outshine. No voiceover here which is just fine, as we have only a few sentences to read in each case. Add occasional sound effects for ambience, and you’ll get rather minimal but well-implemented soundscape that won’t get you to “ooh and ah” but will get you through the game with no complaints.
This indie adventure managed to get an impressive number of reviews (overwhelmingly positive, by the way) which is quite the feat for a small, unique game like this and, at least in this particular case, a good indicator that there’s lots of entertainment value of brain-teasing variety to be found. Golden Idol is, by no means, perfect, but if you’re even remotely into the core gameplay of deduction/logic - this is certainly a game not to miss. Also maybe, just maybe, the amount of praise and positive feedback games like Obra Dinn and Golden Idol are getting shows an overall lack of them in the adventure gaming space, and that people jump on the opportunity to work that gray matter the second it presents itself. With the market being oversaturated with mediocre titles of “pick your favorite trope” variety, I remain hopeful that we’ll get more interesting, engaging games like this.
Now I’m off to take in yet another scene with 5 dead people and various sharp objects sticking out of them - a typical day in the Golden Idol universe, where murder is a natural way of getting things you want. I mean… it works, right?