I initially had high hopes for Cold Cases: Investigation, a puzzle game by Madbox. I wondered how the developers would choose to approach the narrative. Would my character have a five-o’clock shadow and a drinking problem? Would he interrogate seductive yet unforthcoming Marilyn Monroe types?
Admittedly, I might have muddled the general concept of cold cases with the much more specific tropes of classic film noir. But the point is, a detective theme could have easily enhanced the play of this puzzle game. A plethora of possibilities exist for making this game compelling. For example, Madbox could have created strong characters or focused on the specific utility of found objects.
Unfortunately, Madbox didn’t put much effort into any aspect of Cold Cases. A few minutes of play demonstrate that even the game’s placement in the “puzzle” genre is a stretch. It leaves much to be desired in terms of entertainment value.
The Most Puzzling Feature of All
Perhaps the most “puzzling” feature of this game is that it doesn’t have any real puzzles. The tasks are only pretending to be puzzles. Working through a few of them reveals that they require no skill or thought. A player needs only their eyes to see and their fingers to tap their way through. Beyond that, the game doesn’t ask anything of one’s brain.
You’re definitely a cop. They don’t give you any backstory. You just know you’re a cop because you’re solving crimes. Criminal cases present themselves on cards. You can either take each case or skip it for the next one. You can only do that two times before you have to take the case to move forward. Solving cases demands tasks such as questioning the witness, finding the murder weapon, and conducting polygraph tests.
When I say that you need to “question the witness,” here is what that actually involves: a person pops up on your screen, and you tap on them. A word bubble containing the murder weapon appears above them. Congratulations: you have questioned the witness.
Finding the murder weapon requires running a kind of scanner over some “clues” (like logs and suitcases). When you see the murder weapon inside a clue (and you always will), just hold the scanner there. Thus, you have completed the search for the murder weapon.
Worst of all of these “puzzles” though, are those that—wait for it—give you the answer. The clearest example of this is in a puzzle where you have to choose between two possible murder weapons. Say the crime scene photo is of a huge burn mark in asphalt. You will have to deduce whether the weapon was a stick of dynamite or a knife. Obviously, this should not give you too much trouble. But in case it does, don’t worry—just wait a few seconds, and the picture of the correct weapon will actually shake.
Non-challenges like these would lead the more cynical among us to suspect that Cold Cases exists primarily to put ads in your face.
Contrary to what the tone of this review likely suggests, I always look for something positive to say. With Cold Cases: Investigation, however, Madbox has certainly challenged me. The game fails to impress in nearly every category. Its tasks require minimum effort, and sometimes they all but complete themselves.
The game is advertised for ages 10 and up (a fact to which I wish I had paid more attention in the app store). As I consider the possibility that it might have been made with a much younger audience in mind, I start wanting to go easier on it. The game does have some humorous touches that might entertain such an audience. I once discovered a suspect hiding her weapon, which happened to be an entire swordfish, inside her dress. The criminals also often have silly names that reference pop culture (like Nerdy Potter and Harley Queen).
Realistically, though, I doubt that Cold Cases: Investigation would hold the attention of any age demographic for long. It has no actual puzzles, and moving up through its levels doesn’t bring forth any real changes in type or intensity of play. With all the real puzzle games you can choose from, you’d be doing yourself a favor to skip this ad-delivery service masquerading as one of them.
Is It Hardcore?
Not for a second.
Cold Cases: Investigation does not have real puzzles. Nothing in the game changes as the player moves up through the levels. The resulting purgatory is only interrupted—all too regularly—by advertisements. No case can be made for this game.