REVIEW: Golden Idol Mysteries: The Spider of Lanka is a dream DLC
THEY DID IT AGAIN. Color Gray Games could have rested on the success of one of the biggest surprises of 2022, a game we called "the truest detective game" and easily selected as one of our Game of the Year nominees.
They could have coasted for a bit before coming back with whatever great new ideas their collective minds could come up with next. But instead, they went immediately into working on three brand new cases for a brilliant piece of DLC that does what all the best content additions aim to do: deliver more of the best parts of the original.
Just the Facts
Developer: Color Gray Games
Release Date: May 4, 2023
Review key provided by publisher.
Just six months and change since the release of The Case of the Golden Idol, Color Gray has re-emerged with new content for their best-in-class Mad Libs murder mystery. This DLC came out of nowhere, complete with a bewildering reveal that saw pieces of the announcement sent to different outlets in Golden Idol's distinctive art style, left for folks to puzzle together as each successive story was released. That was just about a week and a half ago.
With the shock and awe approach, I got the feeling we might have something special on our hands with this DLC... and I love when my gut feeling is right.
Framed as part of a Golden Idol Mysteries series, The Spider of Lanka looks to be the first in a series of case collections that continue the Golden Idol's story. Or at least I hope so.
The Spider of Lanka takes the omniscient detective to a whole new region to solve another batch of murders that some mastermind has clearly orchestrated to advance their terrible goals. Where Case of the Golden Idol took place in Albion, a fictional, lightly satirical version of jolly ol' London, The Spider of Lanka takes place in Lanka, a fictional Southeast Asian country. And just like their real-world counterparts, colonizers are definitely stirring up some shit again.
Over three cases, you'll once again be piecing together a greater conspiracy — deciphering what led to the deaths of a handful of people and learning the rules of a fun lil' card game. It centers around royalty selecting their heirs, foreigners from the familiar Seven Seas Company interfering in the way they only can, and general sneaky skullduggery behind it all. I don't wish to delve too much into the details, as it's all best for you to uncover completely fresh, but I promise you... it's juicy.
Each case presents with the same amount of grime and dark comedy, dropping you into frozen scenes, just moments after utter chaos. You're left to pick up the pieces to try and understand how you've ended up in this situation. Clicking on a man's bludgeoned face — hoping for a piece of information crucial to understanding what happened to him — and instead getting "this man is not breathing" will never grow old.
The DLC starts with a slapstick bar fight resulting in multiple deaths and ends in a grand multi-faceted ambush. This time, though, it all feels even scummier as you witness the desecration of longstanding rituals rather than just assholes infighting, showing just how far a reckless and selfish rich man's destruction can stretch.
The DLC does in fact loop back into the main game in surprising ways. Similar to the way the mysteries work, it isn't clear at the start, but as you zoom out and piece together the links and get the lay of the land as you play, it all becomes clear. And it's just as sneaky and clever as the game's actual puzzles and mysteries.
If this DLC accomplishes anything narratively, it's proof that Color Gray can continue to pile onto what they started in Case of the Golden Idol with no issues.
While most of what I feel about the gameplay and overall loop can be found in my Case of the Golden Idol review, I'll offer a brief summary here.
You're dropped into each scene and given a few core highlights to click through. You'll rummage through pockets and pore over documents and slowly collect a database of names, pertinent objects, and locations.
This is the exploring phase. Click over to
the thinking phase at the bottom of the screen and you'll be presented with an interesting mystery Mad Libs, with a rough outline of what's happened with blanks to fill in using what you've gathered. Piece it all together and you've cracked the case, then it's on to the next one!
No other game presents a mystery that seems so incomprehensible — like, you have not even the beginning of a thought of what's going on — before slowly unlocking your mind to solve it all on your own and making you feel like a genius. Color Gray has really unlocked a great formula to deliver mysteries in satisfying ways, and this DLC is probably its best showcase.
These three cases will take you somewhere between two and three hours, depending on your puzzling acumen, but are probably even more satisfying to unlock than those in the base game. They're about middle-of-the-pack in difficulty, avoiding the messier puzzle structures from the first game (no math, I promise) and generally keeping things pretty straightforward. I did wish the game gave us some of the larger-scale mysteries that Case of the Golden Idol presented by the end of its runtime, but I also understand getting anything new is a gift.
Some will see the three-hour runtime as a downside, a way-too-short return to the world of the Golden Idol. But I couldn't disagree more. Each case runs about an hour, with a brilliant arc of genuine befuddlement and eventual satisfaction. And with an asking price of just $5.99 for the three of them, it's heaps more valuable than, say, a Netflix subscription in 2023. If you don't already have the full game, you're looking at less than $20 for 15 cases and over 10 hours of content. That may just make it one of the easiest recommendations VGG can make, especially if you're a fan of mystery games.
I hope the framing of the DLC as one of the Golden Idol Mysteries implies we'll get even more, because I am beyond ready to take regular three-hour trips into the scummy, mysterious waters of Color Gray's universe.
This DLC also showcases the talented artists and musicians at Color Gray's flexing their growth. The grotesque pixel art and unnerving animations feel more fluid and detailed than they were in the base game. As if the stiffened "prim and proper" London-focused world of the original is allowed to let loose in the fictional Lanka. The much more satisfying Southeast Asian-inspired soundscape allows composer Kyle Misko to deliver a beautiful, although brief, soundtrack that helps communicate the brand-new setting better than anything else.
Golden Idol Mysteries: The Spider of Lanka is a confident statement from Color Gray. Where the original came out of left field to deliver a detective mystery game unlike anything we'd seen before, Spider of Lanka had the expectations of the first game to contend with. And the team was more than ready to meet the challenge, delivering a DLC experience that does exactly what DLC should: delivers more of the best bits of the original, promises growth and improvement with the lessons learned from the original, and fills out the world's lore in satisfying ways.
If Golden Idol Mysteries are here to stay, sign me up for each and every one.
Video Games Are Good and Golden Idol Mysteries: The Spider of Lanka is . . . GREAT. (9/10)
+ more of everything Golden Idol did right, less of what it did wrong, Southeast Asian setting is so much more interesting than the grimy streets of fictional London
- not the most difficult mysteries to unravel, ends as quickly as it starts, has you begging for more, each case is fairly straightforward
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