These are games that I have thoroughly enjoyed playing in the past decade. I have tried to capture, in brief, what is memorable/interesting/outstanding about them.
It is a snapshot in time and I do not plan on continuously updating this post as I make my way through the backlog and come across new favorites. I think the only updates I will publish will be links when the games listed below (including the honorable mentions at the bottom) become subjects of blog posts.
In no particular order:
The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles
The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles (2021) has to be played in its entirety. It collects two separately released games – Adventures and Resolve – which should have been called Part 1 and Part 2, because together they make one amazingly written mystery.
I absolutely loved every part of this collection. I loved the goofy-but-serious-when-he-needs-to-be Herlock Sholmes, the twists at the end, the exquisite commentary on western culture and specifically on the ideas of justice & fairness in Japan and Britain at the end of the 19th century. I loved the writing – the character development of Ryunosuke and the humor & earnestness of the dialogue.
I also finished the game thinking “you know, in a different timeline I think I would have liked to be a lawyer.” Then again, one of my professors in graduate school practiced medicine for many years before pivoting into doing a PhD in statistics, so who’s to say which doors of possibility are locked forever or not.
Honorable Mention: Judgment (2018) where you play as a lawyer-turned-detective. The investigation aspect was too simplistic and much of the game focused on beating up yakuza thugs, but I really liked solving the big mystery that involved government conspiracy and police corruption. What’s not to like?
The best way to play Her Story (2015) is:
- With a notebook and a pen beside you
- With a partner/spouse/friend beside you
My wife and I had so much playing through this together – writing down potential keywords to try as we watched the videos, slowly piecing together the facts of the case and eventually having a moment where we both gasped and turned towards each other with our mouths agape.
A lot of games in this space are very linear and hold your hand. Not Paradise Killer (2020) – it turns you loose on an island full of super weird shit and ask you to figure out whodunnit. Like Her Story, Paradise Killer leaves it entirely up to you to decide when you’ve solved the case. You might even “succeed” within the game to make a case against someone you’ve accused but miss a crucial piece of evidence that would have led you to a different suspect and maybe even uncover a conspiracy.
Mysterium (2015) is one of my most favorite board games. Honestly it shares the top spot with Ticket to Ride. Much like Dixit (also one of my favorites) the beautifully illustrated cards are a major part of why I like it. When playing as the ghost, I love learning about the other players and the ways everyone interprets the “dreams” differently and focus on different aspects. As one of the mystics, I love trying to decipher what the ghost is trying to communicate.
Lucifer Within Us
Lucifer Within Us (2020) has what I consider to be the best timeline reconstruction mechanic of the bunch. Kitfox Games really went for it when they were designing that aspect of the game and delivered something really special. It also has an interesting setting/vibes, which I would describe as cyber Catholic.
While this blog is primarily about detective games where you solve mysteries of criminal nature (mostly murders), it’s also about games where you solve other types of mysteries – spooky ones like in Strange Horticulture (2022). It has a core puzzle where you try to identify plants based on very little information and try to give the correct (or intentionally incorrect) plant to your customer to help them with their problem (or exacerbate it). I also liked the auxiliary puzzles like locating specific points on the map to find special plants/mushrooms or to progress in the story.
I recommend reading Game Developer’s deep dive.
I had a lot of fun playing Erica (2019) with my wife. We were both super engaged in the occult mystery of it. It’s a great FMV game with interesting interactive elements (e.g. swiping multiple times to unscrew something).
Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective
Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective is a lot of fun to play in a full group of the 8 players it supports. It does a great job of simulating that feel of investigating and solving a mystery by letting you read through fake newspapers in a search for clues and talk to potential leads.
I also love the part where you have to look at the map of London and figure out if a suspect’s timeline checks out, knowing that it would have taken them such-and-such amount of time to travel between two points on the map by foot.
Frog Detective series
In the Frog Detective series you play as a detective who is a frog, and over the course of its three entries you solve the mystery of The Haunted Island, investigate The Case of the Invisible Wizard, and uncover Corruption at Cowboy County. It’s the only entry on this list that’s kid/family-friendly like Jenny LeClue: Detectivú and I love that sweet frog so much.
The Case of the Golden Idol
I was initially put off by the grotesque art style of The Case of the Golden Idol (2022) but once I started playing it, I very quickly warmed up to it and ended up really liking it by the time I got to the final scene. It’s got a mad libs-ish mechanic where you have to fill in the blanks.
This is one of the games that really made me feel like a detective by requiring me to search for every ounce of “evidence” in every scene because that’s what gives you your vocabulary. Then you have to use context clues and make a whole lot of deductions about who is where, doing what, and why.
Hercule Poirot: The First Cases
Hercule Poirot: The First Cases (2021) shares some similarities with Frogwares’ modern Sherlock Holmes games – specifically the part where you make connections between nodes (pieces of evidence) to create deductions.
The isometric view and adventure game style of The First Cases reminded me of playing Sanitarium and Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers in my childhood. (I also watched Columbo with my late grandfather when I was like 8.)
I also appreciated the political commentary! A lot of this list (both above & below) is games that have something to say about lower vs upper classes and abuse of power by law enforcement (including military).
Further Reading: My review of the studio’s earlier game Murder Mystery Machine (2019).
Murder by Numbers
Murder by Numbers (2020) is a nonogram puzzle first and a detective visual novel second, but it works so well. They figured out how to marry these two very different genres of game and combined it with funny (but occasionally cringe-y) dialogue.
Contradiction: Spot the Liar!
Contradiction: Spot the Liar! (2015) is so campy in the best way. It’s got a great mystery, a cult, and actors who will chew the hell out of the scenery1.
Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One
Frogwares has been making Sherlock Holmes games for a while. I’ve been a fan of theirs since Crimes & Punishments and while I’ve yet to play any of their older titles, it’s clear that that their development history has been leading them to Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One (2021). I loved the variety of cases and the open world-ish approach – which places you on an island, much like Paradise Killer does.
My one gripe with these modern titles is that Frogwares keeps doubling down on action and hand-to-hand combat & shooty-shooty, which is not what I come to these games for. I blame Guy Ritchie.2
Honorable mentions: Disco Elysium, Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments, Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter, L.A. Noire, LAYTON’S MYSTERY JOURNEY: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy, Layton Brothers: Mystery Room, Heavy Rain, Hidden Agenda, the Dartmoor mission in HITMAN World of Assassination, Still Life, Subsurface Circular, Tacoma