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Review #030: The Shapeshifting Detective (Nintendo Switch)

Reviewed By: John B.

Developed By: D’Avekki Studios Published By: Wales Interactive, LTD Category: Adventure, Other Release Date: 11.6.18

Download The Shapeshifting Detective from the Nintendo eShop here.

D’Avekki Studios and Wales Interactive bring us The Shapeshifting Detective, the follow-up to their critically acclaimed FMV adventure The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker. I’m a big fan of narrative mystery adventures, but my personal history with FMV games is pretty sparse. I never played Night Trap or any of the other (in?)famous entries in the genre, so this is a relatively novel experience for me. While I encountered a few hiccups here and there, I must say I rather enjoyed myself.

The Curious Case of Dorota Shaw

The Shapeshifting Detective opens with a shadowy figure assigning you to solve a mystery in the small town of August. A woman named Dorota Shaw has been murdered; strangled in her bed. You are told that you will assume the role of Sam, who has something in his past he needs erased. The local law enforcement is all too happy to have your help, so they will agree to help Sam’s case in return for his assistance. Oh, and you can shapeshift. That’s where the title comes from, you see.

Once in August, you familiarize yourself with your lodgings, a small inn run by a woman named Violet. There are three other guests at the inn as well; tarot readers Rayne, Brownwyn, and Lexie. Inspector Dupont, the local cop assigned as your liaison, has pegged the trio as his prime suspects. They did, after all, enter his office days before the murder and announce that Ms. Shaw was to be murdered any day now. They claim they saw her fate in the cards. Sam must use his shapeshifting abilities to manipulate these characters, as well as unassuming ex-boyfriends, unscrupulous photographers, and late-night radio hosts to answer the question once and for all; who killed Dorota Shaw?

Different Faces Get Different Answers

The Shapeshifting Detective plays out much like a mystery visual novel would, except replace countless hours scrolling through text with full motion video scenes. You meet characters, ask them questions, and try to catch them in a lie or piece together different sides of the story to try and get at the truth. The shapeshifting angle is a pretty clever one; you can return to your room at the hotel anytime, and choose a character to change into. Some characters have nothing to say to others, but oftentimes characters with a relationship with the person whose face you’re wearing will shed some light on things you’re not supposed to know. It makes for a complex web of lies and half-truths through which to sift.

Of course, that can be a bit of a problem as well. Figuring out who is lying to you is harder than it seems; generally you can believe anything they tell you when you’re shapeshifted, but not always even then. When the time came to accuse someone of being the killer, even in my second playthrough I still didn’t feel like I had enough evidence to prove someone did it. The identity of the murderer is always randomized, as well, so what you learn on one playthrough is not always applicable to another. I guess if the good ending is one where no one else dies then I got it both times, but still. I felt the ending was nebulous enough that I can’t really say for sure I got the right person. Ah well. Next time I guess I’ll accuse someone who I think is innocent just to see if anything happens differently.

Graphical Hiccups

Perhaps this is just a reality of the FMV genre, but there are a lot of sharp cuts from scene to scene. Oftentimes the camera cuts to another angle or another line of dialogue that doesn’t feel like it naturally flows from what came before. Scene transitions are likewise sharply cut, and the speed of these cuts seems disjointed from the leisurely pace of some conversations, resulting in a very confusing tone. I suppose one could interpret that as being fitting for a mystery game; but the story is good enough to carry itself that some smoother transitions would have improved the gameplay experience. I should stress that this is a relatively minor complaint, in the grander scheme of the game. I simply feel that the cuts are jarring enough to warrant mention.

On my second playthrough (first one took two and a half hours or so), I didn’t notice the cuts as much, so maybe if you’re forewarned it won’t seem very important. Also, and this may be less important, every time I got to the end of the game I would get an error and the game would quit. If there’s a scene after the last debrief with Dupont, I haven’t seen it.

Solid Performances, All Around

The cast of the game generally puts on a great show. Rupert Booth’s sly and sardonic Inspector Dupont is a personal favorite. Returning to his office for a summary of the case always proved to have a few sarcastic asides that left me chuckling. I would say the only place the game really suffered is that there really isn’t a conversation taking place for the actors to use; Sam has no voice in the game, so the actors are just reciting their lines into a camera. Some of the cast handle this better than others; the aforementioned Booth is probably the best at it, but then many of his lines are simple exposition to begin with. At times cast members can come off as a little stiff, and when this combines with the disjointed camera cuts it can make scenes seem more schizophrenic than intended.

The Verdict Is In

Despite a few small problems with the game’s editing, I enjoyed my time as Sam. The Shapeshifting Detective introduced me to some interesting characters and took me to some weird places I didn’t know I was going. Maybe in a game about a guy who can shapeshift, I shouldn’t have been surprised to see interdimensional travel, tarot cards, and alien abductions play a large role (those might be spoilers; or then, they might not… cue the ominous music).

Final Score: 7.5/10

Download The Shapeshifting Detective from the Nintendo eShop here.

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*Review Code Provided By Wales Interactive

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