Unsolved Crimes’ first case places you outside the police station trying to figure out who spray painted “Go to hell Clarke” on the back of the station. With its Neo Retro 70s vibe, it is entirely possible to believe that someone would have no problem doing this on the back of a police station, dropping a monogrammed appointment book, and believe they got away. The first case is the low point for Unsolved Crimes, as it is pretty terrible. The good news for the game is that everything gets better from there.
None of the cases, after the first one, is ever bad. That isn’t to say that some of them don’t feel like they are overly long, and require entirely too much evidence to finally be able to close the case, just that each one manages to throw enough new and interesting stories and reasoning puzzles to keep the game interesting. The problem is that it can be painfully clear what happened, and who did it, but still need to spend the next half of the case figuring out why. This can be super annoying because the items that have to be interacted with don’t always seem to follow any form of logic relating to the case.
Making matters worse is that by the end of the case the player will probably have clicked on every single item in the environment looking for possible clues. This seems to be encouraged by the way that there are always several items in the level that relate to the one solution that needs to be found. This can be even more frustrating when your partner brings up a query; a quiz the game presents to make sure you are paying attention, and asks you to click on the object that proves the guilt and all but one of the choices is wrong. Normally in this event, the game starts to show its strings as the problems always come back to the object interacted with, and not other evidence.
The main problem that arises from this kind of play is that it stops being about figuring out what happened and why it is import and starts to be about what the game wants as an answer. At the end of every crime, there is a final report that must be made in the form of a quiz that must be taken. Normally if the game has progressed to this point all of the answers to the questions are rather self evident on what really happened. The problem is that the answers can be rather same-ish in their wording. When this is accompanied by the vague queries handed out during the case that follows the same logic it feels as if the game is trying to take health from players that don’t stop to think about what the game wants to hear as an answer.
In many ways, the game resembles early Phoenix Wright games in mechanics and flow, just with all the emphasis on investigating the crime and none of it on making the entire thing stick in court. These similarities even go to the life bar that appears in the upper right corner of the screen that count down that remain incorrect choices that can be made before the entire case is ended and must be started over. This can be somewhat annoying because almost everything the game does has been done better, elsewhere.
All of this, the actions taken, the time spent, or the health lost during it, ends up being graded at the end of a case. This letter grade means nothing. Leaving the DS on for hours, losing all but one health the entire time, none of it matters as long as the case was closed. Receiving all A’s at the end of the game gives the player nothing, just the knowledge that they didn’t screw up. This seems odd as all of it is tracked for the entire progress of the game, but for no real reason.
The style of Unsolved Crimes can be rather confusing, as the game always seems to be taking itself super seriously, and yet everything is amazingly 70s and over the top, making it rather hard to take anything that happens straight. This subtle humor even has moments that feel nudged along as most cases, even those that are clearly murders, allow the suggestion that the case was a suicide to be brought up and only answered with a line describing the importance of hunches.
This is not helped along with the way that the game chooses to display itself either, as most of the time both screens need to have some amount of attention on them, and commonly ignore the fact that there is a sizeable gap between the two screens making the way that images feel disjointed. This isn’t helped either by the way that the graphics always seem to feel like a first generation N64 game.
Audibly the game is entirely forgettable, not in any bad way, just that the sound won’t be bringing up any long lasting memories or sticking in anyone’s head long after the game has been completed. It does manage to serve its purpose by not desecrating from the experience in any way, but makes very little effort for emersion.
For the price, Unsolved Crimes isn’t bad. The game itself works correctly in every facet, but the problem is that none of them seems to tighten enough to hold the game together for any real length of time. The strongest point of Unsolved Crimes seems to be that it is a very solid proof of concept, the game works nicely, and the mechanics seem sound enough even though some of the other items don’t seem to hold up. While this version doesn’t hold up for close inspection, it brings hopes for the next game this team can pull together.