Tuesday, November 6

Review: The Shapeshifting Detective [Nintendo Switch eShop]

The return of full-motion video games has been an interesting development, as after they’d arrived with the introduction of CDs used as storage media they crashed pretty hard. The revival makes sense as not only is memory now much cheaper but the processing power of systems in also higher, somewhat eliminating the then herky-jerky way these games played out.The Shapeshifting Detective is the latest game released in this style, and though it offers an interesting story with a mechanic where you’re changing characters to tease out information, as a whole I think some previous efforts played out more effectively.

Without too much background to start with on your own character’s situation, though bits are revealed as you talk to some characters, you’ve been assigned to solve a murder of a young female musician. The local Inspector suspects a trio of travelling tarot readers who happened to predict that a murder would happen, but it turns out that there are some other folks who arouse suspicion as well. What follows is equal parts detective work, memorization skills of fine details to keep your story straight as you change into different people, and quite a bit of repetition as you try to tease out details that will help you by talking to the same person as different people.

When compared to previous efforts in this genre on Switch though the game does work, and can provide some interesting moments, it also may have bitten off a bit too much with its ambition versus what it can deliver. There’s a degree of open-endedness you’d assume in these sorts of investigations, but in general your interactions are heavily on rails. This is understandable since everything is pre-recorded but your degree of latitude is petty limited. The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker (BTW, love the nod to that with the name on the radio) tried to combat that problem with a text prompt system that was well-intended but didn’t work out well, in this case it just feels like some added options sprinkled about with dead ends and red herrings perhaps would have helped. Oh, and one annoyance that can hopefully be fixed with using the controller is that at the very beginning of the game I kept accidentally choosing to start the game over again because it wasn’t clear which option I’d highlighted and I believe the default option was to start the opening credits scene again. In many ways I’m not positive why that was an option to begin with.

If you’re down for a somewhat unusual narrative where you’re a very active participant, able to hit characters from a variety of angles to tease out the truth, The Shapeshifting Detective may appeal to you. As long as you walk in with the expectation that there’s only so much room for player choice it may not be too disappointing. Compared to previous titles as a whole this entry feels a bit more jerky with the camera work and isn’t quite as cohesive, but it is certainly a novel experience with some decent acting propping it up. To get a taste for it’s style it is definitely recommended that you check out some video of the gameplay first to see if it suits you.

Score: 6.5

  • An unusual mechanic that allows you to switch your appearance and talk to the same people with a different character to tease out clues
  • While the quality from person to person can vary a bit as a whole everything is well-acted
  • There’s little to no delay from the time you choose your responses to moving on to the next video clip

  • Compared to previous efforts the open-ended nature this premise promises feels a bit too constrained by the limited choices you have for interaction
  • While I obviously got past the issue with the initial introduction playing multiple times it made for a bad first impression, and I’m not sure why an option to start over right away would be there at all