Before I get into it, yes, I realize I’m extremely behind on this game. “Touch Detective” was released for the Nintendo DS way back in 2006, and I only now got around to trying it out. I’m going to play the sequel, “Touch Detective 2 1/2”, but I don’t plan to touch on that here. Instead, I figured I’d give this quirky little game the long overdue review that it deserves. Let’s break it down, shall we?
“Touch Detective” is a point-and-click adventure game where you play as Mackenzie, a young girl vying for a shot at becoming a renowned detective. To help her out is her butler, Cromwell, her weird mushroom pet/friend Funghi, and her quirky best friends Penelope and Chloe. You play through four unique, strange cases to make Mackenzie’s journey into becoming a fully-fledged detective come true. There’s even a fifth “bonus” episode that lets you mingle with the townspeople and solve minor quests even after the main game is finished.
I’ll get this out of the way now: I enjoyed how quirky this game was in its writing. Granted, there were times when characters often sounded childish and a bit annoying (looking at you, Penelope), but the main lead and her friends ARE children so I could forgive it. While it did tackle a few adult-esque themes and jokes here and there, the writing seemed tailored toward a younger crowd. Again, this was probably due to the age of the characters in-game, but it needs to be pointed out. As for the characters, both main and supporting, I had very few problems with them overall. The game at least makes the effort to give a personality to each one, even the most insignificant townspeople. Overall, the game has a quirkiness factor that may or may not appeal to people.
I usually make the point not to let graphics decide whether or not I want to play a game, but in the case of this game, they were the selling point for me. If you couldn’t tell from the cover art above, the graphics have a sort of cartoon-y, Tim Burton-esque look. In the game, this artwork for the characters is sparse, but there’s an ever-present avatar of Mackenzie on the top screen. During dialogue sequences, this avatar will show her inner, often sarcastic thoughts. The actual 3D graphics aren’t too bad given that they try to continue the cartoon-y style. The character models show up clearly on-screen and, since the game relies heavily on touchscreen controls, there’s a little speck of light to indicate which spots you’re either moving Mackenzie to or examining the scenery. The backgrounds themselves are mainly 2D and look pretty crisp for the DS. Honestly, I loved the graphics from start to finish, though again, it may or may not appeal to others.
Since this was on the DS, which tended to not have voice clips, this game sort of has sound effect dialogue similar to what you’d find in an Animal Crossing game. The plus side to this is they took the time to give many characters their own unique sound. None of the “voices” are all that annoying, though I’m used to that kind of thing. Despite that the DS wasn’t a powerhouse in the sound department to begin with, I also found the music and general sound effects came through pretty clearly. The game also has different music for different areas, which at least kept it from grating. Like with many games, I didn’t have much to complain about in this category.
But now we come to the meat of the game and the place where many of my complaints lie. Firstly, aside from questioning characters to move cases along, you’re tasked with searching areas for items by tapping on the screen. This is mostly an easy task, but I often found the controls to be pretty wonky in tight spots. Trying to find hot spots could be nightmarish, and I’d find myself either tapping on Funghi by mistake (who follows behind you the entire time) or missing the hot spot altogether by a few pixels. I’m not very well-versed in point-and-click games to begin with, but I chalk it up to the touchscreen controls being the issue. Not only do you use them to tap for clues, but you also control Mackenzie’s movement as well. This could also be a pain at times in tight spots, because I’d get stuck on something minor and end up accidentally clicking Fungi, an item or another character by mistake while trying to adjust my position. The controls are easily a downside for these reasons, but it happened infrequently enough that I wasn’t too frustrated.
There are six locations in the game and you’ll revisit them frequently as you go along. Luckily, the game has a map screen that pops up whenever you exit an area for easy travel. Unfortunately, you still have to traverse each area just to reach the map, which while not hard could get a little tedious at times. It would’ve been nice if the game just let you bring up the map whenever you wanted to quick travel. But I suppose since the game only has five episodes, they didn’t want to make it go by TOO quickly. Each main episode has two parts to them, but if you know what you’re doing, this game could be beaten in at least 4-5 hours or so. Personally, as long as a game holds my attention and didn’t cost an insane amount, I don’t care how long or short it is. But again, others may not agree.
My biggest gripe aside from the controls, however, is the general lack of direction this game gives you. Now, I know point-and-click games are meant to be explored, and this game isn’t nearly as insane puzzle-wise as some of the old Sierra games were. But some of the tasks (I wouldn’t quite call them puzzles) felt a bit obscure, even for a younger crowd to solve. You sometimes get hints on where to go next, and other times you’re left clueless. You’re also able to show items to people, so like many games in this genre, it quickly becomes a game where you’re clicking everything on everybody just to progress once you’re stuck. Thankfully, I was only stuck twice to the point of having to look up online what to do next, so the game isn’t completely unforgiving. And as I’ve said, I haven’t played hardly any games in this genre, so it could also have been my lack of understanding. That said, while I appreciate that the game doesn’t hold your hand every step of the way, an established hint system would have been useful.
Overall, for a game released 10 years ago, “Touch Detective” is enjoyable and definitely underrated. It might not be the most polished point-and-click out there, but it has its charms. The characters and writing are quirky, the graphics have a cartoon-y feel that I really like, and the gameplay, while often wonky, at least forces you to think slightly critically to figure things out. It might not be considered the best the DS had to offer, but I don’t feel that it deserves to be forgotten.