Author Topic: Chinatown Detective Agency (Switch) Review  (Read 2392 times)

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Offline thedobaga

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Chinatown Detective Agency (Switch) Review
« on: April 13, 2022, 05:07:06 PM »

The hand that wields the flaming sword is burned by a fire that knows no master

I first talked about Chinatown Detective Agency in June of 2020 when I played a demo as part of the Steam Summer Festival, and it pretty much immediately had my attention. According to the developers at General Interactive, CDA is heavily inspired by the Carmen Sandiego games of old, and though Ms. Sandiego’s travels and crimes were never part of my personal childhood, I could easily see where that comparison comes from. Taking a globe-trotting detective noire, throwing in a cyber-future setting, and putting an emphasis on puzzle design meant to take advantage of the modern world sounded like an incredible combination of things to make up a game, and the demo alone had earned my confidence in the ability of this team to really nail it. Now, almost two years later, Chinatown Detective Agency has arrived on a variety of platforms including the Switch, and it’s finally time to see if it really can deliver on those promises.

In Chinatown Detective Agency, the player is put in the shoes of former cop turned private investigator Amira Darma, who has recently set up shop in the city of Singapore. Gameplay is simple, feeling relatively similar to a point and click adventure. Amira can explore areas in side-scrolling sections, selecting and observing items as she gets close to them. Otherwise, pressing L or R will move the selection cursor to one of two sections of the UI. The L button will move to Amira’s phone, which can be used to call various characters throughout the story, either to get hints or to report case progress. The R button will move to the bottom section, which can be used to view notes about the current case, travel to other parts of Singapore, purchase plane tickets to other cities, or wait for a certain number of in-game hours. Time is always moving forward in CDA, and this means that certain events can only happen during certain hours and are also sometimes completely missable. You also have to keep track of your money, which can be earned by completing cases. This money must be used to buy plane tickets during cases, but Amira also has to pay rent on her office every month, as well as pay any employees she may pick up over the course of the story.

Cases in CDA are short, at their longest lasting about 20-30 minutes depending on how long it takes for you to do the research they require. There are three clients to work for in future Singapore: the affluent and mysterious Rupert Zhou, the beautiful and cunning Tiger Lily, or the straight-laced and idealistic Keeran Iyer. You are able to complete two cases for each client, one as part of the game’s prologue and one as part of the main game, after which the player must choose one of them to work with full time, at which point they and their affairs will become the game’s main focus for awhile. While investigating, the player will encounter puzzles that must be solved using outside research, and this is the aspect that makes this game really shine. By “outside research” I of course mean the wondrous resource that is Google, and this research could be about anything from world history to geography to the side effects of various poisons, and some of them can get shockingly in depth.

One of the minor puzzles that really shows this off takes place very early in the game. During one case, the player is handed a vintage stamp with a partial cancellation mark visible on it, and is then tasked with returning the stamp to its country of origin, with a bonus objective of figuring out the exact city it was originally sent from. Googling the words on the stamp led to a real stamp originally sent out of part of the Ottoman Empire, which meant the country it should be taken back to was Turkey. That was the easy part; the hard part was figuring out the city based entirely on the letters visible in the cancellation stamp, "ROUT". Well in order to figure that out you need to look into what territories made up the Ottoman Empire in the mid 1910s, when the stamp was originally issued, and figure out if there are any cities that might contain those letters. At first glance there's not, but if you notice that the text on the stamp is in French you may consider looking up some city names in French. You know, like Beirut, which in French is spelled Beyrouth. Bam, solution found. No, I did not figure that out on my own, but the fact that it is built in a way that means you could actually follow those bread crumbs is incredibly cool.

The major drawback to Chinatown Detective Agency is that unfortunately the game is riddled with minor bugs that, while not game ruining in any sense, can be quite distracting. Most of these bugs come in the form of audio problems, with voice lines sometimes playing at the wrong time or even failing to play at all. The audio balance of voice lines in comparison to music and sound effects is also very rough at times, with certain characters (most commonly Tiger Lily during my time with the game) playing so quietly as to be unhearable. Even when going into the sound settings and adjusting the sliders, this didn’t seem to fix much. Another bug I encountered often was when going to the phone or travel menu, sometimes I would be unable to access specific tabs or sections, and while this was annoying, it was basically always fixed by switching off and switching back on to that section of the UI. Again while none of these issues wreck the game in any way, they can be distracting and at times annoying to deal with.

Overall, Chinatown Detective Agency is for sure one of the most unique and interesting adventure games I have played in a very long time, with its focus on using your own personal resources to bring yourself to a solution, providing a sense of satisfaction I don’t often find from mysteries. It is a game that is completely unafraid of letting you make mistakes and wasting your time and money, and this ties flawlessly into its well thought out setting and very memorable characters who will regard Amira with the results of your effort. The pixel art that makes up environments is gorgeous and expressive, with the nighttime streets of Singapore being my personal favorite to just spend time looking at. While it is disappointing how common the minor UI and audio bugs are, this is nothing that can’t be fixed with a few patches and does not take away from what is a mystery-solving experience that fans of this genre absolutely should not miss.