Detective stories have always been a popular topic in video games. Presenting an enticing mystery for the player to untangle immediately makes each factor of the story more dynamic, as a character’s stray expression or slip of the tongue can present an important clue. Video game gumshoes pop up in all sorts of genres — striking visual novels like Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, open-world wanderings in L.A. Noire, even Picross puzzles in Murder by Numbers. Boodunnit?!, however, seems to be one of the first detective games to take place in a (free) 3D platformer. Offering up a range of spectral movement options to aid in the hunt for clues, Boodunnit?! is full of great ideas, but it needs a bit more polish to really bring them to life.
Julia was enjoying her move to the peaceful town of Boonkle. Leaving behind the crime-filled city and her stressful job as a detective, she whiled away her days as a florist, her biggest mystery to solve being who tracked mud into her shop. One morning, however, Julia finds herself hovering over a fresh plot of earth in the graveyard. She has been murdered, and the incompetent police force of Boonkle have no idea who did it. Taking matters into her own ghostly hands, she teams up with her sister Emmie to scour the town for clues, dealing with her unresolved issues along the way.
Boodunnit?! is all about thoroughly exploring the world to find the clues to solve Julia’s murder. As a ghost, Julia gains a suite of new abilities, but her newly dead status prevents her from accessing game-breakingly powerful moves like floating through a solid wall. Aside from the usual running and jumping you would usually expect from a 3D platformer, Julia can also levitate objects into the air to create her own platforms, dash through flimsy walls like fences or gates, and possess living beings, which can be used to scurry over a thick wall as a rat or chat to the townspeople for clues.
Each of these abilities has solid ideas but problems with the execution. As a ghost, Julia’s jump is naturally floaty, but such flowing movement makes precise platforming difficult. I overshot jumps many times, necessitating a long trek through previous platforming puzzles to get back to the place where I fell. This slipperiness is exacerbated by the fact that most of the platforms are created by levitation, so the distance between safe landing spots is rarely ideal.
Levitation is extremely fiddly, as object placement is determined by where the camera is pointing. Blocks cannot be placed too far away from Julia, nor rotated for a more useful angle. The system might work better if the camera became untethered from Julia in levitation mode, so the player could have tighter control over item placement. As it is, trying to bounce across my own poorly constructed pathways is extremely frustrating — feeling constantly off balance rather than developing mastery of my surroundings.
The possession mechanic fares much better, offering both fresh modes of traversal and insight into the lives of Boonkle’s townspeople. The town has quite a pest problem, with pigeons and rats lurking around the city streets. Taking over a pigeon allows Julia to glide long distances, with updrafts pushing the bird even higher. Rats are masters of crawling over vines, helping Julia over walls too thick for her ghostly powers to handle. Controlling a human gives the power of small talk, convincing residents to reveal details about their lives and letting the occasional hint slip.
This aspect was my favorite part of the game, letting the player feel like a true detective as they question citizens and sneak across balconies. The possession mechanic was not without its own share of awkwardness — townsfolk have to be facing you at precisely the right angle to answer questions, rats will slip off the wall with one paw off the vine, and a poor police officer was zapped out of existence when Julia jumped out of his body — but overall it provided an entertaining way to investigate the mystery.
Boodunnit?! is completed by finding five pieces of evidence connected to Julia’s murder, each of which is well hidden across the town and cemetery. Once they are found, however, the culprit is revealed in a cutscene, rather than having the player piece the clues together. Even if heavily guided, like in the Ace Attorney games, figuring out the mystery is a big part of the detective genre’s appeal — a logic puzzle on top of the evidence collection. I think a bit more active sleuthing at the end would have made for a more satisfying conclusion, but as it is the ending is still well done, wrapping up the mystery neatly and giving the player a chance to say goodbye to all of Boonkle’s quirky inhabitants.
The town of Boonkle might sound nightmarish with its abundance of rats, pigeons, and sewer vents emitting hot air, but the world of Boodunnit?! is really pretty. The 3D models are simple but charming, all button eyes and rounded edges. Julia’s ghost form is particularly adorable, sporting a colorful scarf and a flower sprouting from her spectral head. Everything is painted in autumn colours, coordinated in shades of red, orange, and yellow.
The interface follows this softness, using nice rounded speech bubbles for the conversations. The default text speed is glacial and the option to speed it up unfortunately did not work for me, so be prepared to button-mash through the longer conversations.
Calm acoustic guitar accompanies the investigation, appropriate for the cozy atmosphere but perhaps a little too chill when the murderer is revealed. Players interested in trying the game for themselves should also choose the itch.io version — Steam only has a demo, which is about half the length.
Boodunnit?! is chock-full of good ideas, but far too much of my playtime was spent feeling frustrated at the slippery controls. The game is incredibly ambitious, featuring physics manipulation, multiple control schemes for the animals, a full 3D world, and mountains of dialogue. Such a large scope would have been a challenge for any developer, let alone a brand new one. Developer Studio Koprol has been steadily patching the game since launch, however, and I am excited to see what the team comes up with next.
Next week we will be playing Swallow the Blue: Remastered, a pixel horror game set in an unnerving hotel. The game can be downloaded from Steam. If you would like to share your thoughts, discussions will be happening in the Discord server.