There’s been a murder! In fact, there are several murders strung together in The Case of the Golden Idol. By tasking the player to solve a series of murders all tied together by the titular statue, this indie darling helped scratch the itch left behind by Return of the Obra Dinn. With a Lucasarts retro-inspired look and gameplay that requires the player to rely on their own deductive reasoning, The Case of the Golden Idol is one of the most unique games of 2022.
Scene of the crime — The Case of the Golden Idol’s approach to murder mystery is focused on the moment just after death occurs. Each of the game’s progressively complex murders is represented by static vignettes that trap everyone in amber with expressions of fear, surprise, or vindication.
A detective’s primary source of information is usually gained by interviewing suspects. Here there is no ability to interview, but each person at the crime scene is speaking their last thought. You can also observe the items that they have on them and read any scraps of paper in the world.
Although the game has a pixelated retro look akin to early Monkey Island games, much of the mystery-solving relies on reading the faces of those in every vignette. This is a game about details that can point you toward the answer.
While Case of the Golden Idol begins in small single-screen scenes like a man being pushed off a cliff. These vignettes soon span multiple screens representing the many rooms of a manor to the intricate caverns of a cult’s headquarters. After exploring every nook and cranny, the clues begin to rack up to the point you could fill a corkboard with red string connecting every piece of info. This is what Case of the Golden Idol wants to happen, and when the game becomes interesting.
Filling in the blanks — Perhaps the most played murder mystery game is the board game Clue. It tasks players with filling out a card that asks basic questions like who committed the crime, with what weapon, and where. This basic layout of filling in the answers is dialed up to 11 in the Case of the Golden Idol.
When you have fully explored a vignette, you are able to switch to thinking mode which has a set of mad lib-esque prompts like “[Blank] pushed [Blank] because they tried to steal the [Blank]”. You are able to fill in these blanks with words pulled from the vignettes. Every item, every name, and every action has a word associated with it that you then have to mix and match to solve the crime.
This is where Golden Idol takes direct inspiration from Return of the Obra Dinn to its benefit. Return of the Obra Dinn asked players to fill out a journal with the names of the ship’s crew and their fates based only on information the player gleaned from observing several scenes. Golden Idol asks the same of the player in its series of mysteries. Only through attentive observation and logical reasoning can you solve these puzzles. The game does not shepherd you along beyond showing you the vignette. That is all you have, now solve the crime.
In a year where gamers were happy to have games like Elden Ring, which took a more hands-off approach to player progression and encouraged discovery rather than guidance, Golden Idol offers a similar sense of discovery. Golden Idol is more cerebral, and the game plays out just as much on physical pen and paper as in the game, because you will most likely need to take notes and work out theories on sheets of paper before coming to the correct solution.
Solving each murder has its own satisfaction, but there is a greater joy that comes in piecing together the grand narrative that each case is just one piece of. In a year full of great games that asked players to do more than they are traditionally asked to, The Case of the Golden Idol stands out as an inventive investigation simulation worth playing.
The Case of the Golden Idol is now available on PC.
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