Blue Madonna: A Carol Reed Mystery
First posted on 27 March 2011. Last updated on 15 May 2014.
There is much to be said to the adage in game design—if it ain't broke, don't fix it. This adage leads to an old conundrum with opposing viewpoints which a game developer often faces. On the conservative end, if a given game design is still attracting gamers, then it is best to leave it be and not to make any substantive changes. On the experimental end, if the same game design is in danger of becoming static after so many games, then it makes sense to impart some innovations and to implement a few radical changes. Blue Madonna: A Carol Reed Mystery, from Swedish indie game developer MDNA Games, is an adventure game that typifies this conundrum in game design.
Blue Madonna: A Carol Reed Mystery is the seventh game in the long running Carol Reed Mystery series. Carol, the main protagonist, is an English woman living in Norrkoping, Sweden. She never looks for mysteries, but mysteries seem to find her somehow. This time, she receives a phone call from an artist named Christina Falk. Christina is concerned that she is being followed and that the potential stalker may have even entered her home. She blames herself for the intrusion because she does not always lock up the door of her house. She asks Carol for help and to meet her the next day at the local art museum where she has an exhibition of her work.
Carol arrives at the museum the next morning and is told by a coworker that Christina has committed suicide. As Carol begins her own investigation, she uncovers clues suggesting that the dead artist has been investigating a local legend of a nun who has supposedly hidden a number of priceless church icons shortly before her death. In fact, if the legend is true, these rare icons may have indeed been buried in Norrkoping. Carol decides to follow Christina's trail to find out what the dead artist has discovered that may have led to her death.
There is no need for you to have played the previous games in the series to understand Carol's methods of sleuthing. To familiarize novice players with how the game operates, the game begins with an interactive tutorial that is very useful to novice adventure gamers who may be unfamiliar with the game's point-and-click interface. For veteran players, this tutorial can be skipped entirely. To this end, the developer is to be commended for designing a simple and yet functional interface. The items you collect are stored automatically in the inventory that can be accessed at the top of the screen. This inventory remains hidden until you hover the mouse cursor to the top edge of the screen to reveal it. You can combine different items in the inventory by simply clicking on an item and then dragging it to another item to make the combination.
As with previous games in the series, this game makes use of a series of rendered photographs to give authenticity to the physical locations featured in the game. Indeed, the scenery in some of the locations that Carol visits can easily make for stacks of beautiful postcards. In this sense, the visuals in this game rise above those in other adventure games that make of use pre-rendered computer generated graphics. However, the static nature of these scenes, even if they are real, does little to help you to immerse yourself totally into the game.
In the few interactions Carol has with other characters in the game, rendered still photos of these characters are used that change periodically to show their different facial expressions as voiceovers provide their dialogs. A list of dialog topics also appears in Carol's notebook that pops up on screen next to each character, from which you can select a topic to initiate the conversation. Fans of the series will instantly recognize Stina, a recurrent character in the series who is Carol's best friend. Somehow, Stina has a new job with each game. This time, she runs a tobacconist shop. Other major characters include Carol's boyfriend Jonas and a shady artist named Michael Lombard.
However, Carol spends much of her time in the game on her own without any contact with other characters. As the mystery progresses, Carol will find conveniently placed letters and notebooks in the different locations she explores along the way. Although this mechanic can help to keep you engaged in the exploration, it is often overdone in this game and causes you to lose interest in Carol's pursuit instead.
The locations that Carol must visit are many, ranging from beautiful and lively landscapes to dark and desolate ruins. For some locations, however, you must return several times to uncover all the clues there. This repetitive exploration of the same locations can be somewhat boring. Further, it is very easy to miss a key clue hidden in any of these locations. As a result, you can get stuck in the game with no way to progress further until you locate the missing clue. Such search can be both time consuming and frustrating.
The only map in the game is a map that Carol uses to travel to the different locations. On the map, the name of the next location that you need to visit will flash. I have found this map to be very helpful. Once you are there, however, you are on your own, since there are no additional maps that will help you to navigate the area locally. As such, you can easily get lost or disoriented when exploring a large location. Finding your way out can be tricky.
The puzzles in this game are typical for the genre. Still, I appreciate the attention to details that is often required in order to solve these puzzles. As such, you will get a great feeling of satisfaction whenever you complete a puzzle. Carol frequently uses her skill of deduction like a detective in solving some of these puzzles. If you are stuck, you can click on Carol's notebook on the top of the screen to get a subtle clue on what you need to do next.
Blue Madonna: A Carol Reed Mystery is a game that begins with an interesting story but ultimately fails in delivering an immersing mystery. After so many games in the series, this latest sequel has become an example of a design that has become static and is in need of innovations if the series wants to continue to succeed. Carol is undoubtedly an enduring protagonist for the series, but she is now ready for a makeover—a new look that will allow her to continue her sleuthing in future cases to come.