Agatha Christie's 1936 title makes its way to the Nintendo DS handheld console, complete with touchscreen interaction.
December 8, 2009
Black Lantern Studios
Release Date: November 2009
Originally published in 1936, Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders features Hercule Poirot on the hunt for a serial killer who is murdering people in the alphabetical order of their names and locations: Alice Ascher of Andover, Bettty Barnard of Bexhill-on-Sea, Carmichael Clarke of Churston. Before each murder, Poirot receives a letter from the killer signed ‘ABC’ containing information on the location and date of the next murder, but he and the police always arrive too late. Next to each victim’s body is an ABC Railway Guide (ie, train schedule). The story is narrated in both the first and third person by Poirot’s best friend Captain Arthur Hastings.
Impressively, as far as I can discern, the DS version of The ABC Murders follows the original mystery to a fault most likely due to the involvement of Chorion, an entertainment company that possesses the rights to the literary estate of Agatha Christie. The original characters and victim’s names have been retained as has the twist ending (c’mon, you knew there was going to be a twist ending) and the narrative process. So how does such a complex crime novel compress into the Nintendo DS? Quite nicely thank you.
The developer, Black Lantern Studios, have quite an extensive background with DS games and are adept at keeping the story flowing smoothly without the player ever feeling as though he is being led down a predetermined path. Interestingly, there has been one major concession made to modern day sensibilities and that is the inclusion of Professor Layton-type puzzles.
Throughout the game as Poirot questions suspects and searches for clues, he will be challenged to prove his reputation as an esteemed sleuth by solving puzzles that fall into the categories of Money, Logic, Riddles, Time, Multiple Choice & Travel along with Letter & Number Recognition and Matching Games. When these puzzles, and their solutions, fit into the overall plot of the game they are a welcome addition. When they don’t, they are an embarrassment. There are situations when the only reason for the inclusion of such a puzzle is that a suspect or witness will refuse to provide information unless Poirot first proves he is ‘worthy’ by first solving a puzzle that is totally unrelated to the mystery. Puh-leaze, what a slap in the face to the reputation of one of the world’s greatest literary detectives.
Other than this one shortcoming, there is much to recommend. ‘Agatha’s Notes’ are clickable notes scattered across different screens that provide trivia on the author’s life and ‘Poirot’s Lost Puzzle’ which is a collection of clues needed to solve a logic puzzle unrelated to the main story. The graphics are minimal but effective and the inclusion of occasional voice acting was a mild surprise.
Each screen always has options to either question suspects, examine the location with a magnifying glass or to read Poirot’s notes and Hasting’s personal observations for additional evidence (for if you ultimately accuse the wrong suspect, then the real murderer will escape and the game will be over!). Probably the best feature overall though is the ability to choose between playing in ‘Classic Story Mode’ which remains faithful to the novel or in ‘Free Story Mode’ which has the same story and characters, but changes their testimony and motives so that every game can have a new murderer.
While The ABC Murders does not possess the depth of plot or crisp dialogue of the full-length Christie mysteries published by The Adventure Company (Murder on the Orient Express, Evil Under the Sun, And Then There Were None), it is an impressive opening salvo in what one hopes will be an ongoing series of games on the DS.
Final Grade: B