The little grey cells of the famous Hercule Poirot has been fleshed out in the books, TV serials, movies, comics, and the like. There have been a handful of video game adaptations of the Belgian detective’s adventures across platforms. These titles capture the thrill of mystery solving to varying degrees of success.
The First Cases isn’t publisher Microids’s first foray into Agatha Christie’s mystery fiction empire – The ABC Murders was released in 2016. This next attempt at a gamified chronicle is an all-original story, not based on any novels, focusing on a time between Poirot’s rise from a humble police officer into an international genius.
Story – A Fresh Adventure
I’ve read a lot of Agatha Christie’s novels, and was excited to see how an original story would become a fun and satisfying adventure worthy of the Queen of Crime. With so much material to base the game from, it’s sure to be a daunting yet exciting task.
Let’s start with our protagonist. I found that Blazing Griffin‘s younger and red shoe-wearing reimagining of Poirot captures the charismatic wit and unassuming arrogance of the original novels. He’s sure of his intellectual prowess but doesn’t rub it in, and assumes authority over the room. I liked how they presented his character and added bits and pieces of his personality with his inner thoughts when he investigates.
The game’s title, The First Cases, is a bit on-the-nose, but to be more precise we are talking about two cases. You start off with a Prologue that introduces the gameplay and the first set of characters that will set the stage for the main game’s whodunnit. Poirot gets called to investigate a party, and ends up in a mystery far more gruesome. The set-up in pretty good and feels natural. It provides a good pace that mimics a novel as the entire game is set in chapters, appeasing the fans of the original books. Your investigation has you meet lots of characters. Their designs and their roles are probably figures you have met before in other crime novels.
I felt that the cast of characters, themselves spins on well-known tropes, were underutilized in the story. You come to discover that there’s more than meets the eye to each guest in the Mnemosyne House. Their roles in the story feel quite predictable, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it’s just that the game could have done so much more to make the cast feel more real, given the capability of a game to indulge players in a little more detail and storytelling. I know this could have been done because there are certain characters with shining moments. The intrigue and mystery would have been more compelling if more characters were treated less as Cluedo markers, but rather as human beings capable of good and evil.
Despite the missed opportunity, the story is still enjoyable. The twists and turns that determine the course of the case was paced well and hooks the players enough to make them push on and solve the mystery once and for all. I felt that it was good for the story to be simple because it allows the player to think through each fact of the case. Mystery games need not be deep and complicated to be good – they just need to make the player trace the building blocks of the case on their own. I’m glad that the game went with this route.
Gameplay – Connect the Dots
The main gameplay loop is the creation and completion of “Mind Maps”. After you investigate rooms and interrogate suspects, you collect your truths into nodes. A separate menu has you work on connecting two pieces of data to form another piece of information, and so on and so forth until you get enough information to answer your question. There isn’t really any failure here – the game patiently awaits you to build your argument from the ground up before moving on with the story. Because of this, it plays out more as a visual novel rather than a typical adventure game – I quite like how they set it up, and works for those more interested in the story and simple logic puzzles.
There is a bit of a learning curve you would have to endure. The puzzle is not as intuitive as it looks at first glance. You start off with some simple connections, usually obvious elementary details. As the game goes on, the evidence becomes more nebulous and you need to be more conservative in your trial-and-error. I did find that some logical connections were on the flimsy side, in particular when it came to Poirot’s musings about interpersonal relationships between two people.
A few tips to keep in mind when dealing with the Mind Maps: read the nodes carefully. Each piece of evidence is accompanied by Poirot’s thoughts, providing leading questions to help you see what piece of information is relevant to another. Also, you can pay attention to the what nodes are close to each other or become connected with usually perfectly straight lines. Thankfully not all of the solutions are this simple, or it would be way too easy, but it’s something to keep in mind if you’re tempted to use brute force.
Another section of gameplay is an interrogation. You’ll be faced with defensive suspects, and you need to pick the right dialogue options to make them open up about new information on the case. In reality it’s a very low-stakes showdown – should your dialogue partner shut down, the interview begins anew.
Overall, the gameplay is a relaxing challenge. It felt like a genuine exercise in the building blocks of logic. I can imagine that many players could already spin off their solutions in their heads based on their own observations and biases. However, I found it fun to see how little details and asking the right questions connect together to create solid information. It was not as easy as a I thought, but I never thought it unfair. Plus, it made me feel smart – isn’t that the point of pretending to be Hercule Poirot?
Audio and Graphics – The Job Gets Done
The First Cases uses a point-and-click adventure interface for your investigations. The settings of your sleuthing feel lively and lived-in, providing enough detail to keep you engrossed in mountains of clues and red herrings. There’s good attention to detail in each scene as well – walking over broken glass, for example, causes a crunching sound. I thought this was neat of the developers to include.
The character designs are very thoughtful and speak volumes on each individual. After finishing the game, you are treated to some drafts of their initial renditions, providing you a peek at just how much attention to detail was given to the cast. In the short cutscenes that play in between the games “chapter” use 3D models acting scenes with modest animation. They serve the story well enough.
I will also commend the use of sound design. While used sparingly throughout the game (the game seems to prefer silence to help the player concentrate on the task at hand), the moments of revelation and despair were highlighted. It got me pretty hyped up, honestly – like I was really hot on the heels of a despicable criminal, with an entire audience to revel in my genius!
Agatha Christie – Hercule Poirot: The First Cases was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch with a key provided by Microids.