What is the source of the murderous curse? The golden idol, found by a pair of explorers who followed a treasure map to its long-forgotten island hiding place? Or the misfortune that accompanies the arrival of sudden wealth into any complex family dynamic? Or perhaps it’s the shortcomings of character often found in the sort of people drawn to such gilded mysteries: not only thieves and thugs, but also members of clandestine societies who roam Whitehall in search of power.
Whatever the reasons, murder is seemingly the price commanded by this artefact, as evidenced by the string of cases relating to the treasure that you are tasked to investigate in Color Gray Games’ delicious, moreish and utterly singular 18th-century detective spree.
Each case is presented to you as a frozen tableau. Unlike much detective fiction, the diorama is shown at the precise moment, or in the immediate aftermath, of the crime. The various players are caught in a moment of panic, surprise or furtive worry, and it’s up to you to deduce recent events. Clicking on people, props, documents and searching characters’ pockets provides a succinct description of the person or object – and, often, a key word which is then added to the gutter at the bottom of the game screen. These words must then be used to fill out blanks in your detective’s report on the scene, to explain precisely what happened and how.
The Case of the Golden Idol is a game of reasoning, elegantly modest in execution – the artwork is rudimentary, but strikingly so – but one that often requires extravagant feats of deduction. Genuinely new and inventive forms of play are relatively rare in video games, a medium that more often trades in refinement than revolution. Which makes this even more thrilling. Its puzzles are inventive, but so too is the way they must be solved, allowing both a trial-and-error approach and pure deductive reasoning. A game of wondrous, Sherlockian texture that plays out in our own imagination as much as on screen.