If you want to know what the fifth game in the advent calendar is, you’ll have to open a web browser and search for a specific name, date, and location, using only this pixelart render of a world artwork real .
Get ready to use all your knowledge of how Google search terms work with Chinatown Detective Agency!
CJ: It’s a rare game that asks you to put it aside periodically to deepen your learning of the book and search for real information. The Chinatown Detective Agency does just that, posing problems like identifying stamps from around the world or deciphering a message using number sequences and library books. It tickles your little gray cells – I’m sorry, Monsieur Poirot – in a way that other games don’t or can’t, connecting the mysteries of the near future that cross paths with the titular Chinatown detective Amira Dharma to our own existence. In case you can’t tell, I really like it.
Point and click adventures from when I was a boy often used to veer into silliness and bewildering darkness with their puzzles. I still remember spending weeks resisting the urge to consult a cover-mounted advice book for a gory clue to how to properly handle crabbing traps in Indiana Jones and the fate of Atlantis. The Chinatown Detective Agency knows it exists in a bright, connected future, and just lets you google it. The thing is, it looks like real research most of the time.
Some of the best games I’ve had the pleasure of being sufficiently blown away with have demanded the need for a pen and paper to scribble down plenty of thoughts. CDA – can I call you CDA? – fits perfectly among them, like a Wordle on the third move. Amira is a nice enough blank slate to broadcast your self-perceptions on, helping you get trained in the seedy world of cyberpunk. We have the impression of glimpsing a possible future. I don’t want to spoil any of the cases, because you should at least give the game a try once in a while, but they touch on issues that we all already face, such as energy poverty, extremely corrupt elites, and even the weird assassination by drone.
What a nice heartwarming recommendation at Christmas, huh? Put all the heavy world shenanigans aside, because I think my favorite part of Chinatown Detective Agency is running the business. You have to select cases for Amira, weigh the powerful people you could piss off against any financial rewards if you solve the case. You have constraints that are recognizable and uncomfortable enough that case resolution seems urgent enough, like paying bills. On the other hand, you can travel and see the world while you are working.
The easiest way to sum up CDA is Carmen Sandiego 2037, but that obscures its depths. Looking for something to occupy your noggin? Or even a game to get family members to help out, while you’re all eating roast turkey over the holidays? I know a small business in Singapore that would love to have you on board. Just keep your nose clean.
Alice Bee: I want to add a few points to everything CJ has raised here. the first is that the Chinatown Detective Agency looks and sounds fantastic. A full voice cast is often a luxury in point n click mysteries, but CDA’s cast does a terrific job. The different pixel backgrounds, meanwhile, look beautiful, and the cities look different day and night. This is a detail that I appreciated.
The second point is that, learning AI being what it is, when you play the game now, you need to add -“Chinatown Detective Agency” to the end of your Google search, otherwise you will only get guides and exact answers.