Listen to me for a moment. Imagine Sherlock Holmes, but instead of a pompous eccentric, he’s a well-mannered, top-hatted…giraffe. And instead of his partner John Watson, there was instead a plump hippopotamus in a dapper suit, sipping tea all the time. No, you didn’t accidentally pick up the famous detective’s opium-sniffing habit, these two odd characters are Sherlock and Watson’s animal counterparts in the zoological adventure Lord Winklebottom Investigates.
The brave duo, gentleman giraffe Lord Winklebottom and Doctor Frumple the hippopotamus have been invited to a mysterious island to attend a special announcement, only to get there, by George! There’s been a bloody murder! It’s a point-and-click affair, using Talk/Use/Look actions to interact with the environment while also dragging and dropping things from your inventory bar into the world to use. It’s classic point-and-click through and through.
Straight out of an Agatha Christie crime thriller, the setup feels like an ITV4 Miss Marple special mixed together with an episode of David Attenborough’s Planet Earth. The honorable axolotl admiral Aristotle Gilfrey has invited a group of animals to his mansion for a secret announcement, but was found dead as a doornail in his water tank before he could get a glimpse of his news. When Lord Winklebottom arrives at the scene, the island is engulfed in a terrible storm, trapping everyone on the island – including the killer. gasp!
I love this kind of attitude. Give me a Poirot box and a pack of Hobnobs and I’m in heaven. Lord Winklebottom Investigates has so many entertaining references to British detective drama that I couldn’t help but feel utterly entranced. Lord Winklebottom and Frumple’s quips are incredibly dry with lots of exaggerated Britishisms like “old chap”, “old boy”, “well I say” and all the rest. There are characters with ridiculous names like Dame Celia Wellington-Boot, the high-strung Pelican, who is a former stage actress, and Reverend Archibald Peabody, who is both a seal and a priest. There’s also Salty Walters, the alcohol-drenched sailor who also happens to be a grumpy pug. The animal archetypes make for fun in a genre that can get pretty stuffy, as when Winklebottom can’t help but chew on some very important but very tasty evidence.
Each animal is fully voiced, and the cast has an eclectic array of accents from all corners of the British Isles (a quick shout-out to Pumphrey the snail gardener, whose booming Welsh accent was spot-on from one Welshie to another). Combined with the quaint character art and rich settings, it all adds up to a particularly elaborate game that befits a 1920s crime thriller incredibly well.
It all comes together in one particularly elaborate game that fits incredibly well with a 1920s crime thriller.
With the set set, my Deer Stalker firmly perched on my head, and notebook firmly in hand, I was ready for a twisting crime thriller. But Lord Winklebottom Investigates never quite gets off the ground, and what could have been a galloping tale of foul play and misdirection is instead a casual trot. It just boils down to not feeling like I was doing any sort of detective work, which is a huge flaw in a detective game.
The main culprit for Winklebottom’s lackluster detective antics are the mysteries. The classic point-and-click design of dragging and dropping items into a scene quickly becomes frustrating when the logic behind the puzzles can be easily misunderstood. I spent a lot of time figuring out what to do with, say, a wire coat hanger that seemed completely out of place, until I finally realized (and slight puzzle spoilers ahead) that I had to cut it up with a pair Pliers and use the snippets to fix a broken phone cord. But of course, you might say, just for me it felt like quite a range, almost bordering on Lucas Arts levels of darkness. There were often situations where I had to click every inch of the screen in case I missed something, and I started dragging and dropping items onto everything I could to advance the story – what at more as an opportunity worked for me.
Aside from a few of those Lucas Arts brain teasers, the rest of the puzzles felt like a breeze. Most of the time you’ll either be trying to open locked doors or sealed boxes containing a smorgasbord of items. It never felt like I was gathering clues or evidence, just stealing some stuff that I was hoping would help me in some way. That’s what happened to me with many items rattling in Winklebottom’s infinite pockets. A small bottle, an 18th-century axe, a kitchen knife and an empty envelope make absolutely no sense on their own, but who knows, maybe it will come in handy later. There’s not really a moment where you piece it all together in an onslaught of drama and detective work, and that was something that was severely lacking.
If you’re looking for a thriller you can get your teeth into, you won’t find it here. Instead I would suggest one of the real Sherlock Holmes games from Frogwares. But if you’re more of a person with Sherlock vibes who just wants to have fun, then there’s still plenty to admire here. Lord Winklebottom Investigates is a deliciously light snack with a sweet crunch, something that many players will be more than satisfied with. You’ll never feel like you’re solving a real mystery, but it will surely make you laugh and bewitch you, old boy.