Murder By Numbers is a game with an interesting elevator pitch – it’s murder mystery visual novel meets picross. In theory, it sounds quite intriguing, which is how it got onto my radar. In practice, the two did not mesh well together and it ended up being a very subpar visual novel with a very good selection of picross puzzles.
You play as Honor Mizrahi, a laid off actress who just got out of a messy divorce and happens to run into the companion robot, SCOUT. He’s basically the cute little sidekick of the game. When the first murder happens, she decides to play detective with the robot, and it continues on from there as you unravel the rest of the plot.
As you can already tell from the post intro, I was not a fan of the story. It wasn’t necessarily bad, but it was painfully mediocre. I found the characters boring at best, annoying at average, and straight up infuriating at worst. I understand that some of these characters (like the husband from said messy divorce) are supposed to be terrible people, but I think you have to balance intentionally unlikable characters with likable ones, and unfortunately I didn’t find any of the characters particularly likable.
There’s four cases and the murder mystery plot of all four more or less followed the same formula. To be honest, by the end of the third case I was mostly zoned out of the plot entirely. I just wanted people to stop talking so I could play more picross.
If you’ve never heard of picross, you may have heard of them under the name nonogram. They are logic puzzles that involve filling in boxes based on the numbers given. Each row and column has a set of numbers and those refer to the length of the segments in said row or column. In the image below, the sixth column from the left has the numbers “1 1 4” and in the column you have one block, then a space, then another one block, then another space, and then four adjacent marked boxes. And it has to be in that order – 1 1 4. The spaces in between are variable and part of the puzzle is figuring out the configuration of these pieces.
This game seriously awakened a major addiction for picross that I never knew could I have. I even went and played Picross Touch, Mario Picross, and Nonogram Katana, all which are dedicated picross games, but none of those felt as good or as polished as Murder By Numbers. The UI is pleasant to look at and responsive. It’s also fairly good about marking off “completed” segments, which technically makes the puzzles a bit easier but is a nice QOL.
I really like the hint system in the game. There’s explicit hints such as checking which boxes are incorrect, but I really liked the option for subtle hinting that doesn’t lower your end score. Basically the way this works is that it highlights the rows/columns that can be filled in with purple. If I was stuck, I’d just toggle this on to see what I could potentially do next and continue from there.
I also weirdly enjoyed the fact that the puzzles look nothing like what the picture is actually supposed to be. I find that it made the puzzles more challenging and also makes you rely entirely on the numbers and grid, rather than trying to guess which tiles should be filled based on the picture. It feels more like a logic puzzle and less like an art assignment. I also disliked how a lot of the puzzles in Picross Touch were symmetrical because it makes the puzzle quite boring. That’s not an issue in Murder By Numbers. The puzzles were really fun.
Unfortunately, the fact that the puzzles only look vaguely like the actual “evidence” you’re going around and collecting makes the puzzles feel absolutely useless to the story and investigation part of the game, hence me believing that the two aspects of this game did not mesh well with one another.
In conclusion, I think that Murder By Numbers is a wonderful picross game, but a lackluster mystery visual novel. It’s probably much more worth it to just play a dedicated Picross game instead – I just haven’t found the one yet (but I guess that’s what the Steam sale is for, I’m on the hunt!)