When I played James Patterson's Women's Murder Club: Crimes of Passion for the Nintendo DS, I had never read any of the books in the long running series or seen any episodes of the short lived ABC television series. This led me to be slightly concerned about my ability to jump into the game as it seemed to have been made for fans of the franchise. As a DS game, however, Women's Murder Club keeps close enough to the common conventions of gaming that all of the good parts of the game, as well as its flaws, can be taken entirely on their own merits.
The gameplay in Women's Murder Club: Crimes of Passion is an odd cross between that of a hidden object game and the gameplay in other text based DS adventure games, like Hotel Dusk: Room 215. You are presented with a conversation about the case that you have to go and investigate, which is followed by a trip to a crime scene so untidy that it was probably a health hazard before a dead body popped up. Once there, you're given a list of items to find at the crime scene, which in this game is split up into several categories. Clean-up, for example, involves getting items like soccer balls and radioactivity symbols off of the screen. Investigation has the player searching for possessions of the victim or other items related to the crime. And Deduction, where you often have to search for clues as to who the murderer is or where they might have been. Unfortunately, an occasional complex clue can frustrate the player due to the lack of a hint system.
Though the hidden object style of play is fairly easy to find in this game, it is broken up by other types of play. Minigames are found in nearly every chapter, including slide puzzles and mahjongg solitaire, and fit the rest of the game nicely through touch screen control. The player is also expected to interrogate suspects by presenting them with evidence Phoenix Wright-style. It is strange that the game doesn’t penalize players for making mistakes in this section, but is still entertaining enough to break up the usual gameplay.
Gameplay sequences are connected by long stretches of story, which is fair, considering that the game is based on a book series. Since this game is based on books, there is a certain degree of presentation values that are expected, including the use of proper English. While gamers might look the other way to improper grammar usage in Fighting games or rush-job Japanese translated titles, it makes no sense to release a game built around novels to contain text based errors. Although not unplayable, the grammar errors really bring down the game’s presentation values.
Women's Murder Club: Games of Passion's graphics and sound, while not amazing, work perfectly for the purposes for which they were intended. In the hidden object sequences, the scenes and objects presented are clearly drawn, meaning that any difficulties one might have in finding objects are intentional. During the game's story sequences, which are far more frequent, all of the dialogue is played out by static artwork of the characters on static backgrounds. It can be a little distracting that no matter what's going on, the characters have the same ambivalent expressions. For a couple of the characters, the artwork was also edited strangely, leaving white pixels around their edges. The game’s audio qualities are also middle of the road, while a nice high pitched screaming sound effect is the highlight.
In terms of overall value, Women's Murder Club: Games of Passion is a bit difficult to judge. The game itself is extremely short and quite easy. There's no marker of time spent on the game anywhere in it, but it will probably take around 5-6 hours to complete.
The issue of length is somewhat alleviated by the two major bonus features. The less innovative of the two is a full featured version of mahjong solitaire that can be accessed at any point during the main game. It has five diverse boards to play on as well as a clear and easy to use tile set, making it quite a nice extra. The second bonus on Women's Murder Club is the DSi exclusive Photo Mysteries feature. As heavily advertised as it is on the game's packaging, the Photo Mysteries themselves are not very gameplay intensive. For them, you use the DSi's camera to photograph everything on a list that the game gives you at the start of a mystery, including other people, animals, or other random objects, after which the game plugs the photographs into a pre-generated mystery. It is sort of silly and gets old very quickly, but I was admittedly very entertained by the fact that I could make a video game accusing people I knew of being serial killers.
As a whole, Women's Murder Club: Games of Passion was a laid back and interesting game for the Nintendo DS. The game makes some unique game design choices, like the addition of mahjong and DSi camera mini games, but the meat of the game should prove entertaining if you have been a fan of the novels.