Step into the world of intrigue and deduction with this captivating detective sim – one that pays homage to classic mystery stories. Developed by Happymeal and Undercoders, this title combines nostalgic aesthetics with modern gameplay mechanics to deliver a unique and engaging mystery-solving visual novel that plays out like a TV show.
Heavily inspired by Nintendo’s Famicom Detective Club series, the attention to detail in recreating the ambiance of the 8-bit era is greatly appreciated by someone who never experienced it the first time around. Character sprites exude personality, and their expressions change dynamically as the story unfolds.
A murder rocks the secluded Ise-Shima region of Japan, well known for its pearl culturing industry. At the heart of the mystery lies the Indigo Moon, a species of rare and valuable pearl as blue as the midnight seas. Once the pride of the industry, and only created by one family, the Indigo Moon became a highly sought after business acquisition with the potential to ruin a family run dynasty.
Players take on the role of a hardened detective, who must untangle the intricate web of intrigue of the case with his inexperienced sidekick Ken. Using an on-screen menu system, we can engage with the surrounding area, investigate clues and gather intel from the colourful and interesting cast of characters. Ken acts as our grounding to the modern world, providing us with the ability to use a search engine to look up more information when you’re feeling lost.
The game mechanics resonate with those familiar with investigation phases in titles like Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, making it accessible and engaging, where you examine and move between areas of interest and investigate your surroundings for more information. However, I felt like there was a lot less deduction and calling on evidence than I expected from a detective game.
While the game excels in many areas, its deduction mechanics left me wanting more. The inclusion of a game booklet and the encouragement to take notes raises expectations for more complex deduction scenarios that ultimately don’t really materialise. It may be that my expectations for that kind of interaction have been raised by games like Phoenix Wright. However, the need to take notes serves another purpose—to help players keep track of a deeply convoluted plot where everyone seems to have a motive and appears suspicious. This approach might be a way to immerse players in the intricacies of the narrative and encourage them to piece together the puzzle on their own. I did take notes, and I enjoyed the process of doing so, as each new thing felt like a revelation I was personally part of.
Regardless, the game’s strength lies in its captivating story. The rollercoaster ride of uncovering the mystery and engaging with the characters overshadowed any disappointment with the deduction mechanics. Ultimately, the value of a game lies in the overall enjoyment and immersion it offers, and The Ise-Shima Case managed to deliver a deeply compelling experience in that regard that I completed it in one sitting of about four and a half hours and wanted more at the end of it. I couldn’t tell if the game was paced fast, or if I was just deeply engaged. Personally, I didn’t have any trouble with the light puzzle aspects, which were woven in so seamlessly they didn’t really feel like puzzles; and made sense within the narrative, such as searching lock-ups, or trying to guess passwords.
The game’s chiptune soundtrack adds depth to the overall atmosphere and nostalgia value. The music enhances the emotional highs and lows of the story, creating an immersive experience that gently resonates with players. Accompanied by well-executed sound effects, the audio elements contribute to the game’s ambiance and impact.
Retro Mystery Club Vol 1 – The Ise-Shima Case is a trip backward in time, where nostalgia and intrigue successfully marries classic mystery storytelling with simple gameplay mechanics. While the deduction aspects might not have reached the complexity of certain renowned detective games, the game’s great narrative and immersive world-building more than compensate for this. The need to take notes, whether for tracking convoluted plot threads or simply immersing oneself further in the experience, offers a unique engagement that resonates with the curious detective within us.
The game’s strength lies in its ability to transport players into a richly detailed world where every character holds secrets, every clue matters, and every revelation feels like a personal accomplishment. The Ise-Shima Case is a testament to the allure of intrigue, and a reminder that a good detective mystery never truly goes out of style.
Shinyuden’s Retro Mystery Club Vol.1 is developed by Undercoders and Happymeal Inc. Available now on Steam with a Switch release due Sept 14th.