I’ve been a big fan of logic puzzles ever since trying my first one back in grade school. It probably involved characters like Tim, Mary, and Steve, their respective ages (Tim is older than Mary but younger than Chris), and what flavor of ice cream they had during their trip to the state fair (neither Mary nor Chris had vanilla.) On a related note, I can also remember intently digesting every single Encyclopedia Brown book (and anything similar) as soon as I could get my hands on it.
For those who might not have had the chance to read them, they involved the daily life of the titled hero, a ten-year-old boy genius who solved small-time mysteries in his little town of Idaville. Each story would eventually result in Encyclopedia figuring out the “crime” and saving the day for those involved. These tales would keep me riveted through each page as I tried to work out the puzzle before Brown would spill the beans in the last few paragraphs. Imagine my delight when I came across Inspector Parker, which has artfully managed to combine the elements of a logic puzzle with solving a mystery in an easy-to-digest, computer game format.
The story of Inspector Parker is very simple and exists solely to give you a reason to work out the onscreen logic puzzles. In each case, a murder of some kind has taken place in Misanthrope Manor and you must help solve the crime with the help of the given clues. Inspector Parker acts as your mentor in the game, laying out each case before you and providing advice as you work your way through the game’s ranking system. As the game progresses, the crimes become more and more complicated, involving multiple suspects, victims, various pieces of evidence, and motives.
In order to solve each case, you must make use of the well-executed interface to eliminate potential choices for each element until you arrive at the final solution. Right-clicking on an icon in the mansion will remove it, letting you know that it is no longer a possible choice for that room. If you left-click, that tells the game you’ve decided that particular icon (whether it’s a suspect, victim, or other element) is the final choice and is located in that particular room. If you make a mistake, the game will let you know right away with a sound and adding one to your ‘Misses’ column. Earlier cases are more lenient but later cases have a very low tolerance level for mistakes. Eventually you’ll have have narrowed down the clues and discovered the correct solution to the puzzle. At that point, the crime scene detectives will take over and demonstrate how each step of the crime was committed in a quick onscreen display.
The graphics of Inspector Parker are very colorful and really make the game more enjoyable. Each room of the mansion (which gets bigger as the difficulty increases) is well drawn and filled with icons representing the suspects, evidence, etc., that might be present. The icons are also very well illustrated and the use of color helps a lot when trying to quickly sort through the clues as quickly as possible. The clues are usually easy to see and understand though the mansion gets extremely crowded in the later levels. This crowding can make everything difficult to view if you have a small monitor or are playing in a window. The developers seem to have anticipated this though, as they have provided a way to highlight each clue on the right-side panel to make it easier to see. Each clue also includes a detailed description which adds to the immersion factor and is often pretty funny to read.
There are two main game modes to play, including the Story mode and a Timed mode which can get quite hectic. The story mode involves working your way through the ranks of detective as you solve increasingly more difficult cases. You have a limited amount of mistakes that are allowed for each case but can take as much as you like. The timed mode is basically the same as the story mode but you’re given a strict time limit that you must beat in order to progress.
This mode gets incredibly difficult about mid-way through but is an excellent tool to keep your wits sharp. You’ll have to be a very fast mouse-clicker in order to correctly solve each timed case without making any mistakes in the time allotted. The best thing about both modes is that every single game is randomized which means you could play through a hundred times and never have a repeat experience. This is a brilliant design decision as it keeps the replay value at a very high level and will keep you coming back for more once you’ve solved it for the first time.
Overall I have to say that Inspector Parker is one of the best low-budget casual games that I’ve played. The colorful and artistic style of graphics, the “easy to learn but hard to master” gameplay, and the unlimited replay value makes for a great combination in a $19.95 game. There is a free demo version available from many sites that will let you try it out first to see if you’re a fan of the gameplay. I’d highly recommend it to fans of logic puzzles, mysteries, and those looking for some intellectual gameplaying as a refreshing change of pace.