Our favourite story of the year? Why, it was inventive mystery game The Case of the Golden Idol. For more of the year’s best games, head to the Game of the Year 2022 hub.
Chris Livingston, Features Producer: I can’t think of another time this has happened when playing a game, but as I wrapped up The Case of the Golden Idol, the final few pieces of the story falling into place, I thought: “This would have been a great novel.” Spread across a dozen murders, all involving the mysterious idol, a deep and fascinating story unfolds, one tiny sliver at a time.
To uncover that wonderfully twisted tale of greed and corruption, murders need to be solved by carefully examining the crime scenes, which are frozen in time at the moment of the victim’s death. There’s the voyeuristic thrill of going through people’s pockets and desks, examining their belongings, reading their notes, and discovering their secrets. The brilliantly simple Mad Libs-like mechanism of filling in blanks with the words you collect to slowly form the means, motive, and identities of all involved is the perfect match for the crude but weirdly appealing pixel art style and animation. And each murder fills in more of the story of the Idol itself, its history and powers, and lives of the ruthless people who would kill to posess it.
It’s a detective’s dream come true, especially in one murder where a detective has already begun investigating and you get to go through his notebook to help you solve the crime. Delightful.
Imogen Mellor, Features Producer: The Case of the Golden Idol thrives on terrible deaths and uncomfortable, jarring artwork. Though each scene is almost still, with minimal animation, the horror of the moment—and the fear of what you might find when you click on objects and people—is immense. At one moment you’re investigating an inn and while looking at the two top rooms a large portion of the screen is taken up by the pitch black attic. No animation, nothing interactable, nothing to be seen, but when a terrible, bloody murder is also on screen, I would glance at that nothingness, scared of what could lie in the ceiling. A brilliant mystery wrapped in a gruesome package.
Jody Macgregor, AU/Weekend Editor: What a year it’s been for mystery games, and mystery-adjacent ones too. Standouts have included Immortality, Pentiment, Strange Horticulture, The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow, and Frog Detective 3: Corruption at Cowboy County.
The Case of the Golden Idol was unique though, presenting a string of unsettling crimes that get weirder as they go on, slowly revealing a world that’s way more twisted than you at first thought. Initially, the most unusual thing about its version of the 18th century USA is the existence of the cursed Golden Idol, but as the mysteries follow on from each other it becomes an entire alternate history.
Those mysteries are engagingly weird too. While all of them are technically murders, whether at a fancy dinner party or inside a locked room, figuring out whodunnit is only part of the puzzle. At the same time as solving the crime you might be expected to tease out an understanding of the ritual trappings of a cult, the identities of gamblers at a table, or how the mystical powers of the Golden Idol itself work. These secondary solutions are often just as interesting as the killings.
It reminds me of the way Sherlock Holmes can’t be bothered dealing with Jack the Ripper going on a spree through Whitechapel because the case is too boring for him, but tell him you’ve been sent a threatening letter with five dried orange pips in the envelope and suddenly the case is afoot.