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The Case Of The Golden Idol

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: PlayStack
Developer: Color Gray Games
Release Date: May 25, 2023

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Switch Review - 'The Case of the Golden Idol'

by Andreas Salmen on June 26, 2023 @ 1:45 a.m. PDT

Stretch your deduction skills to their limits and untangle a web of deceit in this innovative nonlinear detective game that's putting a truly unique spin on the genre.

The Case of the Golden Idol was a sleeper indie hit when it was released in late 2022. It currently has an overwhelmingly positive rating on Steam and is hailed as an exciting new kind of detective adventure game. That premise alone is certainly enough to garner my interest, and if you missed out on the initial PC release like me, the new Switch ports of the base game and its DLC could be an excellent opportunity to jump in. Whether The Case of the Golden Idol hits the same high marks as the PC version is another story. Traditionally, point-and-click-heavy games haven't always fared well on a controller-bound platform.

The Case of the Golden Idol is comprised of 12 cases (plus three more in the DLC, The Spider of Lanka), each depicting a different crime or scheme to untangle. Each case can be understood and solved on its own, but they follow an overarching story with a core cast of characters that is increasingly fleshed out through objects in the world and very brief interactions. If you pay close attention, it all comes together in an escalating story that eventually goes to some dark places, but that's one of the best things about it. It's intriguing from start to finish. There was rarely a time when I wasn't eager to solve the case to see what would happen next. I wasn't necessarily following the story, but The Case of the Golden Idol kept surprising me with new little twists that changed the ways that players dissect each case to discover the truth.

Players aren't really doing any detective work in the traditional sense. There are no witnesses to be questioned or confront with evidence. Instead, you're like a crime-solving fly on the wall, quietly observing and putting together the pieces. Each scenario locks you into a certain location, usually comprised of several areas to investigate, with a plethora of people scattered around the premises and a finite number of clues and interaction points: secret messages, hidden items, a floor plan that connects people to specific rooms, clothing that offers clues about roles and responsibilities, etc. Each scenario adds layers of depth to the puzzle, and it can sometimes be slightly overwhelming, but players always feel a sense of accomplishment when every piece of the puzzle finally falls into place.

The investigation portions of The Case of the Golden idol are very much akin to classic point-and-click adventure games. As we interact with different items or people, we may gather additional information — actions, items, locations and names — that ‌are the building blocks of the eventual conclusion. As we search each area and interact with the environment, we collect pieces of information as single words. That could be names, a specific action like "push," or a specific location. What I especially liked is that The Case of the Golden Idol doesn't make this portion confusing or complicated. Interaction points are clearly marked as "seen" once we interact with them, and a counter on the screen lets you know when you've found everything. That eases the frustration of missing a small piece of the puzzle but not being certain whether you've found everything yet. Usually, you're best off scouring the entire area and every single character, including their pockets. Once your evidence marker turns green, you have found all of the word-building blocks necessary to fill out the conclusion sheet.

Speaking of which, solving a scenario has the charms of filling out an Excel sheet, but it is eventually rewarding when you finally lock in the correct answers.‌ The game has different masks that you fill in to solve a mystery. The base template that all cases share is correctly naming all of the characters in the scene. There's also a final solution statement that requires players to fill in names, actions and item based on the clues found during the investigation. In most cases, additional pieces of information add more sections. In one case, you need to figure out which worker lives in which flat. Other times, you may have to figure out the role of a person based on their clothing.

The goal is to complete one set of information, validate it, and slowly work through each text area to inch closer to a resolution. It helps with solving each investigative puzzle, slowly completing each section in the thinking phase, and inching closer to connect the dots and deliver a conclusion. That conclusion isn't always clear. There will be times when some trial and error is necessary to get the final details right. Since there's an indicator when you have fewer than three incorrect assumptions, you'll often swap around pieces of information until it's all correct and you can close the case.

On a technical level, The Case of the Golden Idol isn't pretty as much as it's atmospheric — if you'd describe "odd unease" as an atmosphere, that is. It's cohesive in its weirdness, and the overarching "doomed idol in the hands of a greedy family" plot line adds to the distinct pixel art presentation. I like its style of presenting interactive dioramas of cases with a minimum of clues and leaving you to read between the lines, make connections and assumptions, and put it together in a way that makes sense.

The Switch version stays true to all of that, but the controls are challenged. This is a game I'd always opt to play with a mouse on a PC. The Case of the Golden Idol does whatever it can to improve how the game works with a controller, but it doesn't reach the same level of comfort. This is a port that I'd recommend playing in handheld mode to use the Switch's touch-screen. Navigating through environments and endless text fields and clues with a joystick isn't as smooth or snappy. There are different control modes (free-form and snapping to options) as well as a handy way to control cursor speed in real time, but it isn't as smooth as I'd like it to be, and it feels quite cumbersome. If you can, handheld is the way to go.

The Case of Golden Idol is an engaging adventure game that completely won me over, even though it's not remotely what I thought it would be. It's more about observation than actual detective work, but it requires more deduction skills than many games of its kind would feel comfortable to burden the player with. It's very much in the vein of Return of the Obra Dinn, where it's more about your logical deduction skills than about pretend detective play. If that's your cup of tea, The Case of the Golden Idol is an easy recommendation. Given the choice, I would opt for the PC version, especially if you don't intend to play the game in the Switch's docked mode.

Score: 8.8/10

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