Detective Case and the Clown Bot in The Express Killer from Nerd Monkeys
The sequel to developer Nerd Monkeys’ Murder in the Hotel Lisbon, Detective Case and the Clown Bot is a point-and-click adventure built around the exploits of the eponymous detective. At its core, The Express Killer is a text-based narrative comedy with light puzzle-solving gameplay built around it. As a result the game thrives or falls with the quality of its humor.
The premise of The Express Killer is that passengers on the express train from Lisbon to Porto are being murdered and it’s up to Detective Case, along with his robotic sidekick, to unveil the killer. The majority of the game takes place on the aforementioned train and the investigation entails interviewing the many passengers, searching for clues and taking on a handful of mini-games throughout the train.
The narrative itself is appropriately bizarre and it has a few fun twists but for the most part I found it hindered by humor that, for me at least, all too often provokes a cringe rather than laughter. Humor is a subjective concept, of course, and there are no doubt many who could enjoy the style of comedy at play here but I found it to range between flat and altogether painful.
This problem extends into the characters, many of which seem to be rather predictably asinine, from a muscular train conductor who can be distracted by talking about his esoteric fitness techniques to Garcia, who fulfills the trope of the ineffective police officer to the letter. One moment that did make me chuckle was discovering the enormous, ornate and spatially improbable restroom that can be found in the first class cabin.
The sad thing is that there is a lovingly crafted point-and-click adventure buried beneath the obnoxious canned laughter. However irritating some of the characters can be, they certainly are quirky and unraveling their secrets makes for an interesting mission. Some characters must be presented with evidence and pressed to reveal the truth, whilst others expect favors before they will be helpful. This is where the mini-games come in and they can be quite enjoyable distractions.
A couple of examples include a memory game that visually resembles a platformer – except that one needs to match the environment to the location of briefly shown pickups – and a game which requires teeth to be matched with empty slots on a pair of dentures. Most of the actual challenge in The Express Killer is packed into these mini-games and so it’s a shame that they are so sparely dotted through the adventure.
Face Like a Clown
The aesthetics of The Express Killer make delightful use of pixel-art and the game is often very appealing to look at. The attention to detail here is often impressive and I found the atmosphere of the various areas on the train to be evoked effectively with this careful design work. The music is light and cheery, if a little repetitive at times, and it does a good job of keying into the slightly off-kilter vibe of the game.
The Express Killer has clearly been built with a lot of care from its developers; the aesthetics impress and the puzzle-based investigation is well-planned. It’s a shame that this is hindered by the aforementioned issues with humor and that there isn’t really enough gameplay between mini-games to prop up the lengthy text-based narrative. It’s possible that fans of the genre will find something entertaining here but I recommend doing a little sleuth-work of your own to see if the writing style is to your tastes before reaching for your trench-coat.