The Case Of The Golden Idol Is This Year’s Return Of The Obra Dinn

I have enormous appreciation for Lucas Pope’s detective game Return of the Obra Dinn, so I was excited when I saw his tweet recommending The Case of the Golden Idol. The similarities between the two games are immediately apparent. You’re presented with a series of scenarios in which someone has been killed, and it's your job to figure out who they are and how they died. You’re given a snapshot of the scene after the murder has happened, and through context clues and simple deduction, you have to figure out what happened. The Case of the Golden Idol takes goes a step further by also asking you to outline the series of events that led to the murder, which is often more complicated than it first appears. This could be a daunting experience, given how limited the information available to you is, but what makes The Case of the Golden Idol exceptional is the way it teaches you – through careful pacing – how to think like a detective.

Each scenario is a 2D freeze frame of a crime scene moments – or sometimes during – a murder. You can freely click around the scene to inspect written documents and look for clues, and as you do keywords will automatically get added to your journal. In each puzzle, there are a few questions you need to answer. You need to figure out the names of every person involved and solve a context-specific puzzle that changes in each scenario. When investigating a murder that takes place during the reading of a will, you need to figure out who the receipts of the will were and what was willed to them. Figuring out the names of everyone involved can often help you solve this other puzzle, and vice versa.

Finally, in a sort of mad libs style process, you need to use all your keywords to fill in the blanks on a description of the entire scenario. To do this, you have to use all the information you can see after the murder and infer the series of events that preluded it. As you can imagine, this is much easier said than done, but Golden Idol does an exceptional job of preparing you to solve its most complicated murders by teaching your deduction methods along the way.

That’s not to say things start off simple. Even the very first scene, which depicts a man pushing another man off a cliff, can be difficult to understand. In this case, the what is obvious, but the who, where, and why takes some solid reasoning skills. You’ll find both of their names on a contract, then using the contents of their nearby backpacks, sort out which man is which. A map in the victims pocket can be used to figure out where the crime took place, based on the formation of islands in the background. With only the killer and his victim in play, it doesn’t take long to put all the pieces together and figure out that these two men went on a expedition to find treasure together, but when one tried to steal a golden statue, the other one killed him for it. As the idol passes from hand to hand throughout several decades, leaving a bloody trail behind it, your basic deduction skills rapidly expand.

By the fifth murder – a poisoning at an aristocrats dinner party – you’re asked to identify nine different characters by the first and last name, determine which seat each of the five dinner guests sat in, label each room in the mansion with the name of the servant that lives there, and describe who was poisoned, by whom, for what reason, and how they did it. There are more than 30 key words and even more clues to be found throughout the four rooms of the estate – some of the red herrings – but it's totally manageable and not the least bit overwhelming, because it does a great job of letting you work your way up to such a complex case.

The Return of the Obra Dinn offered a similar sense of progression, but where its murders only got more complex as more people were involved, The Case of the Golden Idol increases the challenge by telling longer, more involved stories with each new case. Identifying each person is usually just the first step to figuring out what happened, which makes each scenario feel like its own self-contained story. Some of the later cases have so many plot points and moving pieces they could have been the basis for entire games on their own.

The Case of the Golden Idol and The Return of the Obra Dinn are inextricably linked, and it's hard to imagine the former existing without the latter. It’s great to see this unique style of deductive detective game start to become its own genre, and what The Case of the Golden Idol is adding to it here is significant. If you’re an Obra Dinn fan, you won’t want to miss this.

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