Case of the Golden Idol is a detective game, similar to Return of the Obra Djinn, although Case of the Golden Idol arguably has better writing and a whole lot of humour.
As soon as you start up Case of the Golden Idol, you witness a murder. There is little explanation as to what you are witnessing, no hand holding or tutorial, you are simple thrown into the mystery and its up to you to solve it on your terms. Case of the Golden Idol is segmented into chapters and they collectively tell the tale of the Cloudsley story, and it’s one of the Cloudsley’s getting murdered in the opening exchanges of the game.
Case of the Golden Idol is set in 18th century England, and the game certainly has it’s own style. It’s a cross between pixel art and caricatures, similar to the original Day of the Tentacle and other Lucas Arts games. When I originally saw the game I could have sworn this was going to be a point and click adventure game, but once you get into the Case of the Golden Idol, it’s so much more.
Gameplay-wise, Case of the Golden Idol plays in a similar fashion to case of the Obra Djinn. Given there aren’t many tutorials in the game, it’s a case of using your wits and skills to uncover who the murderer is. At first this may seem like a simple mechanic, but later on it becomes devilishly tricky. For example, one of the first moments you have to analyse is someone being pushed off a cliff. There is a freeze frame, some small animations, and you are allowed to investigate with a few clicks of the mouse. As well as analysing the imagery in front of you, there are two modes to select: Exploring and Thinking.
Exploring allows you to analyse what you can see in front of you. You can seek for clues, for example, who is trying to push this person off a cliff? Is the person pushing someone off the cliff holding any objects that may help identify them? Are there any names, locations or anything that will help solve the crime. Keywords fill up the lower section of the screen and are saved for later, when you switch into Thinking Mode. In thinking mode you have to fill in the blanks. When you Explore, you are generating these key words and the blanks, then when you Think you hav to fill in the blanks and solve the problem.
It’s a neat mechanic, which is slightly tricky to get into, but once you are in, then you’re in and things become second nature. Case of the Golden Idol presents you multiple murders, and you have to work out how all this fits into the wider landscape. Greed, backstabbing and plotting, it’s all here. We have cults, poisonings and class battles on the horizon. We meet many of the Cloudsley clan, and ultimately the story revolves around the Golden Idol, a device that be used to manipulate matter.
Humour is strong with the writing, which is good because the game can be a little strange to look at. The artwork is very unique, but largely static and the audio work is key to building up tension. As you progress through the game other characters are trying to throw you off the scent, so you have to keep your investigative nose to the ground and stay strong. Look around you, everyone is a suspect given the amount of money and power involved in this tale.
Case of the Golden Idol starts out straight forward enough, but the puzzles and brain teasers get complex the later you go in the game, to such an extent that sometimes its worth putting the game down and having a rest, then coming back to it fresh with a new perspective. I found myself baging my head against a brick wall a couple of times, but once refreshed, I came back and things seemed to open up. We do have the Thinking mode for this kind of thing, although I found it all a little too much at times, and found taking time away from the game worked better for me. Persevere with the game though, it’s worth it.
The game follows a linear story, but as each chapter goes by, time passes too, and the Cloudsley family arguments fall away to national issues. Totalitarian governments come to power, and as the years go by there’s an incredible sense of urgency in the timeline of the game. Case of the Golden idol really comes together in the closing moments, pulling together all the characters, the scheming, and the big picture comes into focus.
This is a tale of how power corrupts, which shines the light on brilliant satire. The game is rich in history, it has it’s own personality, it’s very unique plus the mechanics of the detective work may be some of the best I’ve seen. While I loved Return of the Obra Djinn, I found that didn’t grab my attention like Case of the Golden Idol. it’s one that probably flew under the radar for many in 2022, but its definitely something worth checking out as soon as you can.