Detective Case and Clown Bot in Murder in the Hotel Lisbon
First posted on 01 January 2016. Last updated on 01 January 2016.
As a subgenre of crime fiction, detective murder mystery stories have been serving as plotlines for many novels, movies, and television shows. These stories have occasionally appeared also in adventure games. When an indie game developer from Portugal decides to tackle this subgenre on its own terms—by adding to it elements of wacky humor, infusing it with tributes to classic graphic adventure games, and then presenting it like a stage play—feelings of both excitement and trepidation about the developer's intended visions are rightly justified. Detective Case and Clown Bot in Murder in the Hotel Lisbon, the debut adventure game from Nerd Monkeys, is the result of such an intrepid effort.
The protagonist of this mystery is Detective Case, a hard-drinking, chain-smoking, down-on-his-luck private investigator living in his office barely above his means. As the story begins, a package arrives for Case at his office. It is an inheritance from a distant relative whom Case knows little about. When Case opens the package, he finds inside a strange robot that prefers to float in the air instead of walking on the ground with legs. Despite being made to function as a domestic droid, the robot tells the detective that it desires to become a circus clown instead. Heeding to the robot's own calling, the illustrious detective decides to name it Clown Bot. The new name is an apt fit for a robot with an identity crisis—as Case quickly finds out, the jokes that come out of Bot range from corny to risqué.
This odd couple is soon presented with their first case. Policeman Garcia has asked Case to help with investigating a mysterious death at the famed Hotel Lisbon. The inept local police have apparently passed off the murder of a man, who has been stabbed in the back, as a suicide. As you may expect from a detective who wears a silly blue hat and a robot that is more like a comedic foil, the game is far from taking itself seriously as a detective murder mystery. When Bot is not pulling jokes from its memory bank to entertain, Case is quick to fill in as the comedian for the duo. Case's sarcasm flows like a river. He is also as hardboiled as ever. At the crime scene, Case appears entirely oblivious of the forensic investigators who are busy taking photos of themselves dancing around a dead body. Likewise, the witnesses and suspects whom Case interrogates like to shoot off funny and sometimes racy one-liners. As such, this is not a game suitable for younger gamers. Rather, the game is best enjoyed by older gamers who like to reminisce the golden era of the adventure genre.
The game's graphics are a clear tribute to the early days of adventure gaming and pay homage to the pixel art style of classic adventure games from LucasArts and Sierra. The difference is that the game now dispenses the text parser and replaces it with an intuitive point-and-click interface. Gamers who are not familiar with these classic games may find the game's graphics overly simplistic and somewhat awkward. It is a mistake to let this dissuade you from playing the game, however. According to the developer, the original resolution of the game's graphics is only 256x192 pixels so to mimic the graphic resolution in ZX Spectrum. The graphics are then upscaled to 512x384 pixels in order to accommodate more modern hardware. The game can only be played in full screen and are pillarboxed to support common screen aspect ratios (such as 16:9, 16:10, and 4:3). Nerd Monkeys is to be commended for its attention to details in mimicking the visual aesthetics of classic adventure games.
Controls of the game are done with a point-and-click interface using the mouse. Clicking on a character or an object with whom Case can interact brings up an icon menu for the available actions, such as to examine (an eyeball), to talk (a mouth), or to use (a hand). In addition, clicking on Bot brings up a rosette of special icons to access the game's system menu: a floppy disk icon to save the game, a file cabinet icon to access the inventory, and a red button to have the robot tell a joke. Most of the jokes are admittedly corny, and some of the jokes are a bit racy as well. Bot is able to serve up a new batch of jokes whenever Case arrives at a new location, though its repertoire is limited as the jokes start to repeat themselves soon enough.
The mechanic used in interviewing characters is interesting. Each interview comprises of 3 rounds of interrogation. The object is to try to get the characters admit to the truth about what they have been questioned. You can choose between Case and Bot to conduct the interrogation. In each round, the game obliges you to match up accusations that Case or Bot makes with the evidence that has been collected. To succeed, it is important to notice when a character is lying by watching how the character reacts. Often, after Case fails a few times, Bot will offer a suggestion sarcastically alerting Case that he may not be the correct individual to conduct the interview. The most frustrating part of the interrogation process is that you will have to restart the interview from the beginning if you ever make a mistake, meaning that you will likely end up hearing the same jokes from the interrogation quite a few times.
The main story progresses over 5 acts. Aside from working on the murder case, you can choose to work on 3 additional sidequests which other characters may task you to do over the course of your investigation. Completion of these optional cases is not necessary to finish the game. However, these cases open up more locations and story elements for the detective duo to uncover.
Sound effects are sparse in the game. Importantly, the game has no voiceovers. By contrast, there is a running background soundtrack. The music is of jazzy style and reflective of the noir tone of classic detective films. Supposedly, the game offers over 20 different tracks of orchestral music. Unfortunately, the low bit rate in the quality of these recordings significantly lessens their enjoyment, especially when they repeat over and over again.
The off-color and sarcastic humor in this game truly pushes the envelope of what is considered politically incorrect or just bad taste. Some of the jokes will definitely offend a few gamers. To the developer's defense, their inclusion may have been done deliberately to reflect the obvious ignorance and prejudice practiced by the some of the characters in the game, including both Case and Bot. By comparison, self-referential jokes that poke fun at the adventure genre are more palatable. Likewise, some jokes break the proverbial fourth wall, complete with an audience clapping away as if the game is a stage play. At a minimum, the saucy humor that the game delivers may not be to every gamer's taste.
Detective Case and Clown Bot in Murder in the Hotel Lisbon deserves credits for taking risks in the subgenre of detective mystery adventure games. The humor in this game is decidedly risqué and can range from silly to controversial. The visual styling of the game pays good homage to the golden age of graphic adventure games. Consequently, the game can make for some amusing entertainment for classic adventure game fans who are not easily offended by its humor.