Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of the Frozen City review
The Good:

Nice variety of gameplay with some inventive puzzles; pleasant hand-drawn art; accessible to casual and younger gamers.

The Bad:

Illogical storyline; poor use of 3D capability; puzzles badly integrated with setting; unclear instructions.

Our Verdict:

Feeling more like Layton-lite than heavy-duty Holmes, Mystery of the Frozen City is for those who enjoy casual puzzling enough to overlook a nonsensical story.

Travel around the exhibition is done by means of a map which allows you to hop instantly from room to room. This map also includes symbols showing which rooms have unfinished activities in them, as well as blocked doors. The map is only labelled with simple illustrations of its contents, but it proves relatively easy to navigate using the symbols as guides. Within each room you will search for items to interact with and collect. Much of the machinery is inoperative for various reasons, requiring you to gather parts such as cogs or pipes necessary to get them working again. This results in recurring scavenger hunting gameplay, as you scour the various available rooms for the missing items. When you have at least one item of a set in your possession, the inventory shows how many are required in total to complete that particular challenge. To aid the less eagle-eyed, the A and B buttons allow zooming in and out. There is also an on-screen help button which will shift the view and briefly sparkle around interactive items.

Some objects, such as a camera or robot, contain items you need within them or as part of their structure. When you find one of these, you are presented with a standalone 3D representation of the object on the touch screen, which can be rotated freely in all directions. Using the stylus you can select specific parts in order to remove them to get at what you need. Dismantlement puzzles could have provided an opportunity for some intriguingly complex challenges as you try to manoeuvre pieces out of the way. Sadly, simply clicking on a part instantly removes it when possible, and since the order is not always logical, these become simple exercises in trial and error instead.

As well as hunting for multiple item sets, you also need to find a suitable substitute for a missing oar and make use of various tools. These can be selected from the inventory and mini-versions attach to the on-screen cursor to show they are ready for use. The sci-fi glasses also make repeated appearances throughout the game. When you initially acquire them, they are completely inoperative, requiring various lenses to be useful. These are collected over the course of the game, starting with an x-ray lens and increasing in options as time passes. Selecting one of these lenses and using the glasses on certain areas reveals clues vital to progress. Strangely, the dialogue puzzles implied by the “interrogate many characters” promise on the box fail to materialise. Instead, conversations are simple one-track affairs, in which Holmes largely appears ready to take people at their word rather than as suspects in a crime.

More than 50 minigames appear throughout the game, including cracking lock combinations, placing cogs, and rearranging a pipe network. These challenges are mostly untimed, though there are a couple where you're required to be moderately quick. Instructions are shown immediately prior to starting the activity, but aren't visible on-screen whilst doing the puzzle. They are available at the tap of a button if required, but this is an odd choice, as the top screen could easily have accommodated instructions by default.

There are some intriguing puzzles on offer here. A challenge to arrange a circle of lights so that sixteen particular combinations appear around its circumference proved harder than it looked. Another game where you challenge one of the scientists to help him focus his mind also proved simple in design but tricky to solve. There are also some classics available, such as a solitaire-based game and a pair of sliding box puzzles. Unfortunately, some clunkers have entered the mix as well. Avoiding touching the sides of a maze is made unnecessarily difficult by the screen blacking out as soon as you start moving. There is also a dice-based game that appears to solely rely on luck to win.

The difficulty is not helped by unclear instructions on a number of puzzles. One task involving arranging squares in a pattern states, “One square cannot be moved alone”. I took this to mean that squares had to be moved in groups of at least two. In fact, this simply means you cannot move a square so it no longer touches any other square, a distinction that makes a great difference to solving the puzzle. The puzzles themselves are generally easier than those in the Professor Layton games, making The Frozen City more accessible for the casual player. For those who find a particular minigame too difficult, there is a skip button available. However, you must wait for it to charge up before becoming active, which can take approximately seven minutes, so this is unlikely to see much use. I did not find any optional puzzles beyond those required for your quest, but the game does include an index for replaying discovered challenges.

The main problem with the puzzles is that they do not make sense in the context of the setting. A complex bead puzzle seals the box that contains the keys to the kitchen. Fitting rivets to a boiler involves tapping them in different combinations until all stay down at once. The puzzle where the maze blacks out takes place in broad daylight. Doors to mundane areas of the building, such as the guest lounge, are locked with puzzles rather than keys. A freshly developed photo comes out inexplicably mixed up. Whilst some of the missing objects have been deliberately concealed, making their scattering logical, many are arbitrarily split. This is taken to new heights when four specific items are needed to make a barricade when there are plentiful other items around the building that are suitable for the job. Even the inventory puzzles don’t all make sense. One requires you to open a box to acquire an empty bottle, when several bottles you could easily empty sit close by. Whilst some level of contrivance is not unusual in adventure games, this is going too far.

I went into this game hoping to step into the shoes of the Great Detective, but this game fails to authentically offer that experience. The variety of gameplay managed to hold my interest throughout its 5-6 hour play time anyway, but the jarring lack of puzzle integration constantly broke any sense of narrative immersion, and I found the plot more an irritating distraction than a fascinating investigation. The 3D presentation does not serve the graphics well, and players may find reverting to 2D advisable this time around. As a fairly casual handheld puzzler, Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of the Frozen City is more accessible than the Professor Layton games, so younger gamers or those looking for some lite entertainment on the go will find some enjoyment here, but hardcore adventurers and die-hard Holmes fans are likely to find this 3DS title too elementary.



AD Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of the Frozen City can be purchased at:
Amazon  

Game Info
Europe October 26 2012 Focus Home Interactive

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Steve Brown
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