‘Red Johnson Chronicles’ channels point-and-click-era gaming’

"Red Johnson Chronicles" casts you as Detective Red Johnson (yeah, you saw that coming) and throws you into Metropolis.

Overview


LOVED IT: Fun story, solidly visuals and cutscenes, good variety of puzzles.

HATED IT: Takes forever to get rolling, bland color palette makes clue-hunting feel random.

GRAB IT IF: You loved the Professor Layton series and have some patience.

A long, long time ago (OK, it really wasn’t that long ago, but this is for dramatic effect), PC games didn’t involve mouse-clicking to fire a gun or mashing the space bar to jump. Instead, in a time ruled by now-defunct Sierra, the industry was dominated by point-and-click adventures, games where you searched static backgrounds for clues and solved puzzle after puzzle.
It’s a genre that seemed dead, but developer Lexis Numerique does its best to revive it with “Red Johnson Chronicles.” The PlayStation Network exclusive proves that the point-and-click adventure can still be appealing, but it is a style of game that has definitely aged.

“Red Johnson Chronicles” casts you as Detective Red Johnson (yeah, you saw that coming) and throws you into Metropolis, a city that seems a lot like Christopher Nolan’s Gotham filled with boneheaded police. With light jazz humming in the background, you’ll look for clues and solve puzzles as you try to solve a murder case, having plenty of fun while occasionally growing frustrated.

The strength of “Red Johnson” lies in the game’s puzzles. These are intuitive and fun to work through. Most involve logic or geometry, and they feel intuitive. One moment, you’ll be rearranging the circuitry of a camera like a slide-jigsaw-puzzle, the next, you’re battling a “Professor Layton”-esque word problem. The game is at its best when it throws these puzzles at you, and it feels fulfilling whenever you solve one.

“Red Johnson’s” adventure portions lack that same fun factor. Lexis Numerique leaves everything in a bronze-and-grey color palette, and it always has you hunting for tiny items. Things like bloodstains and bullet casings are the stuff of CSI fun, but they’re often nearly impossible to find against the game’s muddy backgrounds. All too often, you simply move your joystick slowly, waiting for an icon to pop up and tell you that there just might be something important there.

Strategy and detective work take such a backseat that these portions of the game feel boring and unnecessary. So too do the QuickTime sequences. These crop up midway through cutscenes, and they seem meant to break up the monotony of the classic point-and-click adventure. But if you make a mistake at any point in the sequence, you’re forced to start all over again. Eventually, this grows frustrating.

“Red Johnson” might have been better off modeling itself more after “Professor Layton,” because those are the strongest portions of the game. Luckily, they make up a large enough portion of the game to make it worthwhile.

Overall, this is a nice effort by Lexis Numerique. It’s not for everyone, but if you grew up on 90s adventure gaming, you’ll definitely have a ball.

Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 3

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