Lord Winklebottom Investigates - A Whodunit where you don't
As a giraffe detective and his hippo sidekick are called to an island by an old friend to join a party where he wanted to make a grand announcement, they find themselves showing up to the scene of a murder. In Lord Winklebottom it is up to you to search for clues on this island and find out who killed the head of the household, and why.
In it you will find a rogue's gallery of suspects: a feline journalist, an alpaca seer, a pelican actress who is hard of hearing, a walrus priest, a chameleon scientist, a goat maid, a sloth butler, a slug gardener, and a toad lawyer. Yes, this game is very, as Fred Patten would put it, zipperback. These characters could very well be replaced by human counterparts, but where is the fun in that?
In spite of the animal characters, though, I could not actually recommend this as a game. If you do enjoy detective stories this one is kind of forgettable, if you enjoy games this is not much of a game. If you do like quirky animal character adventures, this one is passable but there are better options out there these days. If you like playing a story that has light interactivity then this may actually be your cup of tea. As long as you don’t put the tea in first — or was it don’t put the milk in first? Either way the tea is just okay.
A story with some interaction
If I were to describe this game, it would be a visual novel with point and click elements. Going into the game, I thought it would be the opposite. Interestingly it had me in the first half when I was putting the clues together and investigating. But after getting through the first half, it became quite clear to me that it was mostly smoke and mirrors about my agency in the story.
I distinctly remember the moment that I felt disconnected from the game and felt like a cog in the narrative machine rather than a participant. There is one puzzle that acts as a sort of combination lock. In order to open this, like any escape room, you will need to gather clues on the island to open it. When I found the first three clues and couldn’t find the fourth I attempted to brute force the combination by entering the first three items I knew and then going through all the final possibilities, of which there are only 7. After seven attempts the lock remained closed. It was as if the lock had grown a sense of sentience to know that I had not triggered a narrative flag in the matrix that would allow me to open it. As soon as I found the last clue, the same code magically worked.
The immersion at that point was broken. I’m playing a visual novel. I’m not an actual giraffe in this universe. I am at the whims of the narrator. Games to me need to account for the different ways that the player can interact with it. Even if the solution is unorthodox. It adds fun and replayability. I know that the programmer knows this based on the tutorial having 2 possible orders to do things when making your tea, and having fun dialog for both, even if it was a flourish choice in the end it impacted the game and made you feel that you at least had agency and the world would react to your actions as simple as they seemed.
Now I had felt that it was all a farce.
Good components, except the game mechanics
In the end, I believe that the game started off as a fun romp as an aloof giraffe and his snarky hippo partner became a streamlined who did it without any steaks of your sleuthing abilities. I will say that if you’re looking for a simple point and click that you would give a younger gamer, perhaps this would be a good choice. Nothing gets too brain scratching, as long as you know how to use resin. Also this game about a murder investigation doesn’t get too graphic. The characters are charming, and the art direction is fun.
However, given the options out there, it just left me, as an adult, disappointed that there was not much more here than a novel that happens to have some interactivity.
If you are looking for an interactive detective fiction where the game actually expects you to put your deductive skills to the test, I would suggest Aviary Attorney instead. Thinking back on my playthrough on that game there are actual different endings and possibilities depending on how well you manage your time on the case. Its themes are also a bit more adult, and include historical political currents of the era it takes place in, which in itself is a spoiler because of how organically it comes up during the case to understand where you are in history.
As far as Winklebottom is concerned, I would say that the art direction, voice acting, characterization, presentation, and all of the elements that come together to make the story I quite enjoyed. However, I’m reviewing a game, and it was the core game mechanics that I didn’t care for. If I’m reading a story, I would rather read a story. In a game I should feel as though I have at least the illusion of agency. This series would make for a good graphic novel, the game mechanics just get in its way.