The Case of the Golden Idol is a delightful detective game very much in the vein of 2018’s brilliant Return of the Obra Dinn, but with a style and a vibe all its own. Instead of tasking you with the identification of single colossal roster of ship’s crew and passengers, Idol provides a dozen or so snapshots in time, each depicting a crucial moment in the violent history of a fascinating ensemble. You may hear what each person on the scene was saying (or sometimes thinking!), examine everything in their pockets, and so on, but you may not observe the passage of time. On the strength of one instant’s visual evidence only, you must correctly reconstruct the story surrounding each event, filling in the blanks on a descriptive scroll.
The mechanics are standard point-and-click affair, with the game recommending that highlights are turned on in order to eliminate some of the ‘pixel-hunt’ aspect; this is inoffensive, possibly even good if you’re easily frustrated by point-and-clicks (like me), but might negatively impact the amount of time you will spend on each scene, since it’s clear when you have all the information and can get into the information synthesis/deduction part of the chapter. As a result, the game itself is short – I got through it in a little over 4 hours, requiring help for only one very specific part of a chapter which I would describe as not really fitting in with the rest of the game but it’s concise, such that while I would have loved to play for longer, the story would only have suffered if drawn out unnecessarily.
The story itself is interesting in some aspects, but my main criticism of it – and of the game as a whole – is that it didn’t instill senses of awe, or horror, or tragedy in the way that Obra Dinn managed; it’s a relatively straightforward murder mystery (playing into a lot of classic mystery/’whodunit’ tropes) with some spooky elements, and doesn’t get particularly dark or deep even at its creepiest moments; some parts, such as the ending, I would even call kinda goofy. Additionally, while I enjoyed the soundtrack the first time around, spending protracted amounts of time listening to the same music loops gets a little tedious – doubly so when they start reusing tracks in later chapters. All that said, we can’t make perfection the enemy of the good – Golden Idol’s story and soundtrack are both undeniably great.
Overall, The Case of the Gold Idol is absolutely worth your time and money, and is a very solid addition to what I hope will become a growing mystery/deduction genre.