Listen to me for a minute. Imagine Sherlock Holmes, but instead of being a pompous eccentric, he’s a well-behaved giraffe wearing a top hat. And replacing his partner John Watson, there was instead a plump hippopotamus in a dapper suit who constantly drinks tea. No, you didn’t accidentally pick up the famous detective’s opium-smoking habit, these two curious characters are the animal counterparts of Sherlock and Watson in the zoological adventure Lord Winklebottom Investigates.
The brave duo, gentleman giraffe Lord Winklebottom and Doctor Frumple the hippopotamus, have been invited to a mysterious island to sit on a special announcement only to arrive and, by George! There has been a bloody murder! It’s a point-and-click affair where you use the Speak/Use/Look actions to interact with the environment while dragging and dropping items from your inventory bar into the world to use them. It’s classic point-and-click through and through.
The setup is straight out of an Agatha Christie crime tale and looks like an ITV4 Miss Marple special squashed with an episode of David Attenborough’s Planet Earth. The Honorable Axolotl Admiral Aristotle Gilfrey invited a group of animals to his mansion for a secret announcement, but was found dead as a doorknob in his water tank before he could reveal a glimpse of his news . As Lord Winklebottom arrives on the scene, the island is surrounded by a terrible storm, trapping everyone – including the murderer – on the island. Gasp!
I to like this kind of setup. Give me a Poirot box and a bunch of hobnobs and I’m in heaven. Lord Winklebottom Investigates has so many pleasing nods to British crime dramas that I couldn’t help but feel completely charmed. Lord Winklebottom and Frumple’s jokes are incredibly dry with lots of exaggerated Britishisms like “old”, “old boy”, “well, I say” and everything in between. There are ridiculously named characters like Dame Celia Wellington-Boot, the high-strung pelican whose former stage actress, and Reverend Archibald Peabody who is part seal and part priest. There’s also Salty Walters, the booze-soaked sailor who also happens to be a grumpy pug. Animal archetypes keep things fun in a genre that can be quite stuffy, like when Winklebottom can’t help but munch on some very important, yet very tasty evidence.
Each animal is fully voiced with the cast having a colorful range of accents from all over the British Isles (a quick shout out to Pumphrey the slug gardener whose booming Welsh accent, from one Welshman to the next, was perfect). With the painterly character art and rich settings, it all adds up to a particularly lavish game that’s incredibly suited to a 1920s murder mystery.
It all adds up to a particularly lavish game that’s incredibly suited to a 1920s murder mystery.
With the stage set, my deer stalker seated firmly on my head, and my notebook firmly in hand, I was ready for a twisty detective tale. But Lord Winklebottom Investigates never quite gets on its feet, and what could have been a runaway tale of foul play and misdirection is more of a laid-back trot. It just boils down to the fact that I didn’t feel like I was doing any detective work, which is a big miss in a detective game.
The main culprit of Winklebottom’s lackluster detective antics are the puzzles. The classic point-and-click design of dragging and dropping items into a scene quickly becomes frustrating when it’s easy to misunderstand the logic behind the puzzles. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what to do with a wire hanger, for example, which seemed totally out of place until I finally realized (and slight puzzle spoilers ahead) that I had to cut it with a pair of pliers and fix a broken telephone cable with the extracts. But of course, you could say, only to me it felt like a certain range and almost bordering on Lucas Arts levels of darkness. There were often instances where I resorted to clicking every inch of the screen in case I missed something, and started dragging and dropping items over whatever I could to move the story forward. – which has worked for me on more than one occasion.
Aside from a few of those Lucas Arts puzzles, the rest of the puzzles felt like child’s play. Most of the time you’ll be trying to open locked doors or sealed boxes containing a hodgepodge of items. I never felt like I was gathering clues or evidence, more like just slashing a bunch of tattoos that I hoped would help me in some way. I felt this about many objects that clashed in Winklebottom’s endless pockets. A small bottle, an 18th century axe, a kitchen knife and an empty envelope don’t make much sense on their own, but who knows, they might come in handy later. There’s not really a moment where you piece everything together in a rush of drama and detective work and that was something that was mostly missing.
If you’re looking for a bite-sized detective novel, you won’t find it here. Instead, I would suggest one of Frogwares real Sherlock Holmes games. But if you’re more of a Sherlockian vibe and just want to have a good time, then there’s still plenty to admire here. Lord Winklebottom Investigates is a deliciously light snack with a sweet crunch, something many players will be more than happy with. You’ll never feel like you’re solving a real mystery, but it sure will make you laugh and charm you, man.