Are you old enough to remember sitting down in front of the TV on a Sunday night, anticipating the appearance of Angela Lansbury in one of the longest-running mystery series ever? If so, you will be thrilled with Murder, She Wrote by Legacy Interactive, a wonderful mystery hidden object/adventure hybrid based on the long-running television series of the same name. Murder, She Wrote allows the player to join world-renowned mystery author Jessica Fletcher as she makes her way through five brand new murder mysteries.
For those who don't remember the show (and those who have never managed to catch it in numerous reruns in syndication) here's the scoop: a widowed, retired English teacher who also happens to be a best-selling novelist solves real-life murder mysteries in her little town of Cabot Cove, Maine (considering the number of killings in this small town Cabot Cove must have been the per-capita murder capital of the US from 1984 to 1996, when the show ran) or wherever she happens to be visiting. Just consider Jessica the Miss Marple of Maine — although, to be precise, she's more like the Ariadne Oliver of Maine, but if you don't read Agatha Christie you wouldn't understand the reference, so... moving on.
Each mystery, triggered by a novel in the menu bookcase, begins with a cut-scene setting up the story and the nefarious deeds that make up the central mystery. Three of the scenarios take place in Cabot Cove itself, one in another town in Vermont, and one takes place in London, as the original show would occasionally do. Once the cut-scene is over, the HOG fun begins. A nice conceit of Murder, She Wrote is the list of items to be found comes out of Jessica's old manual typewriter, which happens to be missing the vowel keys. Before you do anything else you must find the six keys in the scene (A, E, I, O, U, and Y) to complete the list. Several items that are found in the scene interact with other items or are needed to find other items. Some items or areas in the scene open up mini-games as well. Once the scene is done you will be treated to another dialogue cut-scene which leads to the next HOG scene, and on it goes until the mystery is solved. Navigation between the scenes is accomplished with a map of the town or city in which the mystery is taking place.
Each of the five mysteries contains a large number of HOG scenes, mini-games, and puzzles. Hints are on a refilling timer that can be refilled faster if you find the typewriter ribbon hidden in the background (for those unfamiliar with "typewriter" and "typewriter ribbon", I suggest a trip to the local museum). Most mini-games can be skipped after a period of time. HOG scenes and mini-games are timed, but there is also the choice of a relaxed mode for those who don't like the pressure. All of the dialogue and cut scenes can be sped up by clicking, or skipped altogether. Skipping the dialogue, though, is taking much of the fun out of the game. Unless, of course, you don't care about the story at all and are just aiming for the HOG and mini-games.
Analysis: Legacy Interactive has done a stellar job of creating a game that is literally like wandering through an episode of Murder, She Wrote. The voice acting in the cut scenes adds to the illusion, a standout being Phoebe Moyer who does a great Angela Lansbury impersonation, capturing both her "Mainer" accent and her natural British accent (playing a dual role in one of the mysteries). Although we are treated to a lot of fake Maine and British accents, none of them are painfully egregious to listen to. All of the HOG scenes are about gathering evidence, and the mini-games are all about piecing together the clues. All you need are some commercial breaks and you'd feel like you were experiencing the real thing.
The artwork in Murder, She Wrote is, for the most part, bright and a little cartoony, with a sort of hand-painted feel. The soundtrack is the famous title music and incidental music from the show itself. Along with the spot-on background noises and voice acting, the sound is a great part of the game experience.
One of the nicest aspects of the game is the "twist" put on the mini-games and puzzles. Granted, they are familiar iterations of puzzles that have been done before, but many add their own individual spin that makes them feel fresh. Many of the hidden match 2 games, for instance, will cause the hidden objects to shuffle if you don't make a match, forcing the player to employ a lot more memory skill than the average hidden match 2. There are also several logic puzzles that add to the feel of investigating a crime.
Another fine feature is the length of the game itself. If you don't skip the dialogue sections or mini-games, each of the five "novels" can generate at least an hour of playing time. Completion of one book triggers the opening of the next, and there is always the possibility of going back and replaying any of the stories. This puts Murder, She wrote ahead of the pack when it comes to sheer playing time.
The novel structure of Murder, She Wrote lends itself well to casual gameplay. You can marathon the game, but it is much more enjoyable to play one story at a time, like reading a good book or enjoying an episode of a beloved television show. If you like hidden object madness and are a murder mystery fan then it's time to pull out the magnifying glass, put on your thinking cap, and play Murder, She Wrote.