REVIEW: Lord Winklebottom Investigates is a proper point-and-click murder mystery, old chap
There's nothing like an old-school detective story. A bunch of old friends gather at a rich eccentric's fancy manor for some special gathering, only to discover the host dead in the water. The killer is in the house, and the tension-filled journey sets off.
Lord Winklebottom Investigates has all the pomp and circumstance of an old-school Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie mystery with one pretty obvious difference.
Everybody is a full-on real animal. Holmes and Watson are replaced by Lord Winklebottom the giraffe and Dr. Frumple the walrus. That (literally) dead-in-the-water rich eccentric is Lord Gilfrey, an axolotl whose body is suspended in one of the many tubes of water built into the home he shared with his late pigeon wife and his staff: a goat, a sloth, and a slug.
But you know. Other than that, it's your traditional British murder mystery story.
Just the Facts
Developer: Cave Monsters
Publisher: Cave Monsters, Wings
Platform(s): PC*, Xbox Series S|X, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch *platform reviewed on
Release Date: July 28, 2022
Review code provided by NEONHIVE.
Lord Winklebottom Investigates is the debut release from the one-woman development team, Cave Monsters. Charlotte Sutherland serves as the lead designer, programmer, and artist for this homage to the point-and-click genre. We can't help but respect the amount of work put into this clear passion project and recognize the love for the subject matter that's pouring out of every aspect of the experience.
With inspirations like The Secret of Monkey Island, Jeeves and Wooster (a PG detective serial that technically started in 1915), and of course Sherlock Holmes himself, Sutherland knew exactly what kind of game she wanted to make after stepping out of the AAA development machine and into the solo indie dev scene.
So what's the deal with this very British fancy giraffe and hippo story?
Set in 1920, Lord Winklebottom Investigates starts off with our famous detective duo fresh off of their last big case. Basking in the glory of solving yet another mystery over a cuppa, the two plan to take a break by heading to a soiree on a faraway island. It's a party held by one of Winklebottom's old schoolmates, Lord Gilfrey, an axolotl who'd traveled the world's wonders and presumably had something to share with his friends after his latest trip.
Upon arrival, one type of party ends and altogether another begins. Gilfrey is dead and our murder mystery is afoot. On the island are a hodge-podge of possible suspects that the studious Lord Winklebottom and his stalwart (and grumpy) assistant Dr. Frumple must interrogate and sort through.
There's the pelican Dame Celia, a former actress whose age has caught up to her. The sealion Reverend Peabody, a man of the cloth who might be hiding more than you think under that collar. The chameleon Dr. Price, a scientist who worked with Gilfrey on his research who goes unnoticed more often than not. You'll track each character and their most important story beats in Lord Winklebottom's handy notebook, which is a welcome tool when piecing together a complicated mystery. Almost everyone has a motive and it's up to our sleuthing pals to find out just what's going on here.
What awaits is a 4-6 hour journey spent navigating goofy scenarios delivered as plainly as possible and sorting out predator from prey.
Lord Winklebottom Investigates revels in the absurdity of its setup, but a lot of the comedy comes from genuinely well written jokes, puns, and fun scenarios. It's a decidedly British affair and that can sometimes make for long stretches of dry comedy, but I found myself laughing out loud at lines more than I expected.
It's a fairly satisfying mystery, with a compelling batch of potential murderers whose answers are constantly shifting as each new layer is unveiled. That all being said, Lord Winklebottom does break one of my rules when it comes to mysteries in fiction.
You can't solve the mystery all on your own from the information you gather. Instead, several key pieces of information are hidden behind plot twists that you have no way of predicting. It's a personal issue more than anything, as I like to be able to uncover the solutions to puzzles and mysteries with my own lil' detective noggin. This game only partially allows you do that, something I was disappointed to discover.
There's a great pace to the story, from the building blocks of its mystery to the slow build in the game's scale. Your first puzzles take place across a few screens, at a dock and in a bar. Act 1 opens up to the whole of Lord Gilfrey's Manor, with tons of new characters to meet and information to process. Act 2 opens up to the whole island and shifts everyone around. Each new chapter, each new revelation, comes with a well-paced and satisfying paradigm shift. Rather than just bringing you into brand new locations, having "picked" an area clean, like most point and clicks, it keeps finding ways to rejuvenate the places you've been.
It's a shame though that just as things start to really get exciting, you find yourself knocking on the door to the game's ending.
Speaking of point and clicks, from a gameplay perspective, Lord Winklebottom Investigates is a solid classic point-and-click adventure; it's equipped with modern simplifications to the overall formula as well as some of the genre trappings that would be better left behind.
Winklebottom isn't so classic of a point-and-click that you'll be selecting from a library of 20 verbs as you navigate screens of interactables, but instead, it provides you with only the actions you need as you click around. It helps to keep things clear, like which items you can pick up and pocket, and generally makes for a more accessible experience.
On the other hand though, there are more than a few obtuse puzzle solutions that'll bring your experience to a halt, as has frustratingly become a common trope in the point-and-click genre. At times, you'll know exactly what Lord Winklebottom needs to do to progress the story, but not the order the game dictates those actions need to happen. Sometimes, even after you've cleaned out dialogue options with everyone possible, a new one will pop up with one specific person and it won't be clear who or why but THAT will be the way the game progresses.
It's got some pixel-hunting, it's got some strange combinations of items you might not otherwise combine, it's got all the "greatest hits" of point and clicks. These are all the teachings of legends of the genre, so Winklebottom isn't entirely at fault — but sometimes it's best to leave the past in the past.
Lord Winklebottom certainly makes use of its unique setting and characters for some creative puzzle solutions. Winklebottom's height advantage over most others allows for some fun situations, like being able to reach second-floor windows, for example.
But it isn't just Winklebottom's physical traits that deliver unique puzzle solutions. Lord Winklebottom and Dr. Frumple are two proper English gentlemen, and for the sake of proper-ness and being gentleman-ly, some obvious solutions are just out of reach, forcing you to think outside the box more often than not. Need a cloth to soak up some liquids? Don't you dare consider the roll of toilet paper in the bathroom! How else will folks perform their ablutions?
Even the game's de facto hint system is delivered by sharing a cup of tea with Dr. Frumple (who hilariously carries a cuppa from beginning to end) as he delivers his take on the current situation and helps to point you in the right direction.
These small gimmicks help to change your general mindset when examining each puzzle placed in front of you.
With such a focus on narrative, you won't be surprised to find that Winklebottom's quality is anchored by a great visual style and some amazing performances from its actors.
Each voice actor delivers a performance that avoids obvious tropes or outright mimicking of each animal's noises and is just generally so fun. From the soft-spoken and charming Lord Winklebottom, voiced by Charlotte Sutherland's husband, James Sutherland, to the overly dramatic Dame Celia, voiced by Sally Beaumont delivering a pitch-perfect impression of a self-important actress. We also have to shout out Gustavo Coutinho for the work that went into the soundtrack, with several tracks proving that woodwind instruments are the perfect instrument to score a murder mystery. Visually, Lord Winklebottom has a beautiful hand-painted style that brings to mind the grand centerpiece illustrations from children's books and textbooks depicting all the parts of an ecosystem. Imagine those scientific illustrations that caught your eye as a child, but with all those animals dressed up in 1920s period clothing.
When the last sips of tea are finished, Lord Winklebottom Investigates proves to be a more than enjoyable entry into the modern point-and-click adventure library. Taking key lessons — both good and bad — from the legends of the genre, Winklebottom's got all the pieces to endear itself to fans of the genre.
If you've been burned by point and clicks in the past, there's nothing new that Winklebottom does to pull you in. But if a posh giraffe in a suit does something for you, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. We hope to see Lord Winklebottom back sooner rather than later and look forward to seeing what else this universe might provide in the years to come.
video games are good and Lord Winklebottom Investigates is . . . GOOD. (7.5/10)
+ plain silly with an engagingly layered mystery, a beautiful children's book aesthetic, and some top-tier voice acting
- a few painful common obtuse point-and-click puzzles, too dry at times, and over just as quick as it gets exciting
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