There’s clearly something about detective games that we love. Since attending EGX Rezzed in April 2018 and noticing a few titles of this type on display, there has been an increase in the amount of private investigator (PI) protagonists and clue-finding gameplay over the past couple of years.
For example, last month I found myself backing two Kickstarter campaigns with similar themes and several more are due to begin shortly. Gamedec by Anshar Studios features a character who must investigate crimes in both the real and digital worlds where your clients may be just as corrupt as your suspects. And in Chinatown Detective Agency by General Interactive Co., you’ll need to conduct real-world research to solve certain puzzles and track down the Fractal Killer.
The Flower Collectors by Mi’pu’mi Games caught my eye during LudoNarraCon at the end of April for three reasons. First, it’s another detective release and I really enjoy this sort of title; second, there’s something about the protagonist that gives a unique twist to the gameplay; and third, it’s set in Barcelona. I had the opportunity to spend a few days in this wonderful city for the first time a couple of years ago and it’s a place I’m planning on returning to as soon as possible.
A demo wasn’t widely available during the online event but the developer participated in a live broadcast and shared several chapters of their game. It begins when Jorge, a retired policeman who’s struggling with a difficult past, witnesses a shooting from the balcony of his apartment. Moments later an ambitious wannabe journalist named Melinda bursts through his door after witnessing the murder because someone is following her, and together they must figure out what happened here.
The title is set in 1977 after the decades-long dictatorship of General Francisco Franco has come to an end. An uncertain future lies ahead for Spain as the county makes its way towards democracy, and the changes in everyday life back then were as radical as the political transformation. The two protagonists are complete contrasts and their differences effectively capture that feeling of turmoil, the old struggling against the new and the conservative against the rebellious.
Every character featured within The Flower Collectors is an anthropomorphic animal. Lead Designer Tobe Mayr revealed that this design choice reflects their personalities rather than abilities and doesn’t affect the gameplay in any way. You don’t realise that Jorge is a bear unless you happen to notice his shadow, or that Melinda is a cat until she lands in your living room, and it’s a little jarring at first because their voices sound so human; but after a while it adds to the style of the game and makes a serious storyline a little lighter.
Jorge is unable to leave his apartment as his movement is restricted by wheelchair and so most of the gameplay takes place from his balcony. Being this high up gives him a perfect view of the murder scene below along with his neighbours though, and he’s able to use binoculars to do his sleuthing – as well as peep into people’s windows. It’s a mechanic which makes the player immediately focus on what’s happening in the surroundings and the story feels like a much more personal experience for it.
But what happens when a potential witness or suspect needs to be questioned? This is where Melinda comes in. Jorge uses a transmitter to speak to his partner so she can stay informed of what’s going on around her and know who she should speak to next. While she keeps busy down in the street, he can use her camera to take photographs and will also make drawings of things he has witnessed from his vantage point. The Flower Collectors seems to be a game about teamwork.
Jorge becomes Melinda’s eyes-in-the-sky when she needs to sneak into a building. For example, at one point she must get into the cabaret where a suspect is talking to someone on the roof. The retired policeman trains his binoculars on the entrance and notices that the bouncer is keeping guard, so he directs his partner behind a car and then tells her when the coat is clear. Jorge can keep track of Melinda through the windows and alerts her to hiding places when someone comes close.
The detectives can use a crime-board to collate their evidence and piece together a timeline of events once they’re back in the apartment together. There doesn’t seem to be a penalty for making wrong decisions here; placing a photograph or drawing in an incorrect location sometimes reveals some insight about the clue from either Jorge or Melinda’s perspective before they simply remove it from the layout. It’s a great way of making sure the player has understood what’s happening in the story before they move on to the next section.
The developer says their project is inspired by classic crime-noir films and video games such as Firewatch. There are certainly a few similarities, particularly when it comes to the style of artwork and lighting, but also in the voice-acting and focus on character. Jorge comes across as a gruff old bear who’s not only struggling with his past but also the changes for his country, while Melinda wants to move forward as fast as possible and see where her career as an aspiring journalist takes her.
The Flower Collectors was released a few days before the start of LudoNarraCon last month and so it won’t be long before I’ll play it for myself. Head over to the official website or Steam page if you’d like to find out more.
Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.