A great mystery gives us enough information to pique our interest and make us care, but not enough to color in the full picture until it’s time to discover the truth. Tangle Tower is full of humor, pretty scenes, and charming characters, but it’s its top-shelf execution of a good mystery that makes it worth the investment.wanted to solve the mystery before the game presented it to me…
When friends have recommended video games to me that are, “Really cool! Like interactive books or movies,” I have never really been interested. Most of the video games I play are action-packed and fast-paced, or resemble the slow strategic planning of a board game. No video game “like a book or movie” has ever sounded very interesting to me.
But this game eroded my expectations of this novel-as-game genre.
Tangle Tower is a mystery game carried along by its strong story and utterly charming characters. The genre is generally understood to be muder-myster-puzzle-adventure, similar to the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney series of games, as I understand those (having never played them, either). The game is also a bit of an homage to the Lucasarts point-and-click adventure games of nearly 30 years ago.
When I sat down this weekend to play through Tangle Tower, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Having never played a game that feels like an interactive mystery novel, I was hoping the characters and the story were engrossing enough to keep me interested, as action and strategy were certainly not going to carry me along.
It sounds cliché, but once I figured out the mechanics and general rhythms of the game, I couldn’t put Tangle Tower down.
Without spoiling too much, the gist of the game is this: you play as a pair of detectives (Grimoire, from the Detective Grimoire games, and Sally) investigating the mysterious death of Freya Fellows, a resident of Tangle Tower along with nearly a dozen other family members and…others. Your role, as the detectives on the case, is to interview the other residents of Tangle Tower and investigate the handful of rooms full of clues and puzzles.
The general progression of the game looks something like this: enter a room, talk to any characters present, solve puzzles in the room, and engage in suspicion minigames based on clues you discover that may conflict with the statements provided by the characters. Generally, the suspicion minigames task you with arranging statements and clues in a specific order to point out an inconsistency in information provided by a suspect. The order of all of these different actions will vary, but the different mechanics make for great variety and never really feels stale. I sometimes found myself quickly reading dialogue instead of listening to every word a character said, but more out of excitement to move on to the next puzzle than out of boredom.
Because the game is so dependent on character interaction and dialogue, I knew that any enjoyment in the game would hinge on how repetitive or unique the dialogue felt. I was pleasantly surprised. Every character has a serious amount of depth in his or her own context, and the ways in which each character speak of one another was downright impressive. What the game lacks in fireworks and deep strategy it has in character interactions and dialogue depth. To people familiar with dialogue-driven games like this, Tangle Tower may not be any different that others in the genre, but being my first foray into the space, I was floored by just how much dialogue was available. The icing on the cake was the artwork. It looked pretty and hearkened back to some great 2000s-era cartoon vibes.
Ultimately, what Tangle Tower did for me more than provide a delightful gaming experience for a weekend (it is a short game) was re-ignite in me a love for mystery and investigative stories. I hated reading when I was a kid, but a great Hardy Boys mystery could always grab my attention and teach me how to problem solve in an effort to solve the mystery before the characters. I found Tangle Tower evoking the same feelings in me. I wanted to solve the mystery before the game presented it to me, and it reminded me how little mystery I’ve sought out recently.