Duck Detective: The Secret Salami

Duck Detective: The Secret Salami

Happy Broccoli shows a lot of potential, but while all the ideas are good, the execution lags behind.

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Let me start by stating that the central concept behind Duck Detective: The Secret Salami, is quite brilliant. This is important to emphasise, as this review could easily come across as complaining, because although developer Happy Broccoli Games has the right template, a sharp combination of aesthetic, narrative and mechanical elements, the connective tissue between them is simply too disjointed to recommend it wholeheartedly.

In Duck Detective you are, funnily enough, the duck detective Eugene McQuaklin, in a world of anthropomorphic animals in the best Pixar style. He's recently been through a brutal divorce due to an addiction to white bread (yes, that's a theme that runs throughout the game) and needs a case to distract him from his depressing life, as well as money for the day and the road.

Suddenly, just such a case turns up from a mysterious employee of the bus company Bearbus, and you rush there to see what's going on. This is also where you get on the trail of The Salami Bandit, who plays Bearbus' various employees against each other, and then the wild treasure hunt begins. It's up to you to identify the bandit, because you are... well, Duck Detective.

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Duck Detective: The Secret Salami

The game uses an isometric perspective and you gradually move through Bearbus, interviewing a relatively limited cast of characters. As the case becomes more intricate, you gain access to more rooms and will, in broad terms, continuously present the same characters with new information gathered, which then leads to new revelations. This plays out through a series of relatively predefined systems that, while ensuring the feeling that you are a detective on the trail of the case, cannot be manipulated or organised in any creative way.

The primary gameplay mechanic is, on a more structural level, collecting words, these words come from observing the suspects, going through their personal belongings or asking them specific questions. These words can then be added to your notebook, bringing you closer to an actual solution. This isn't a bad idea, because by forming the sentences yourself it feels like you're gradually unravelling the mystery yourself, and it's quite satisfying to have understood an aspect of the overall case to the extent that you quickly fill in all the correct words in an uninterrupted sequence.

The problem is that the game doesn't keep track of what these characters have actually said and what's actually going on. You only have your words, which, broken down, can be as bland as the names of individual employees, and then you have a rather superficial collection of evidence that is only described with a short note. In other words, the game doesn't give you a satisfactory overview of the contexts the employees have put you in, and thus it can quickly turn into pure guesswork because you don't have the necessary information to solve the puzzles the game presents you with. The so-called 'Deductions' are an excellent idea that unfortunately quickly falls apart when the game's other systems can't keep up.

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There is an overview of 'Suspects', for example. But here you can only get three generic headings about each character, such as Rufus the janitor is a 'sci-fi fan', is a 'practical person' and is a 'janitor'. Yes, these three pieces of information are useful at specific times, but nowhere is there a summary of what I've talked to Rufus about, or what I later learn about his relationships with the other employees, with Bearbus in general, or with the actions of The Salami Bandits. This only gets more frustrating around the halfway point, where the code you need to crack is who has presented what gifts to an employee named Sophie. You're simply not given enough to go on, and the only thing McQuaklin has to offer is that it would probably be smart to 'talk to the employees'. Thanks for that, duck.

Duck Detective: The Secret Salami

The game is just over three hours long, and consists of just this one case. It all takes place indoors, so the whole concept of using a trenchcoat duck in the rain with a noir-ish soundtrack falls apart pretty quickly, as there's no noir iconography to be found in the rather cosy Bearbus workplace. The whole noir idea quickly takes up space in the back of the room and never comes to the front. I could have easily imagined a mystery set in a more detective-friendly environment, preferably with different buildings to provide more aesthetic variety. But the game quickly marries itself to this one location, and as a result, it's a bit of a drag.

But again, all the ideas are here. Anthropomorphic animals are always a fun, quirky way to play with specific character traits, the set-up with words in the notebook could easily become a more in-depth puzzle with far more freedom for the player, and both the voice acting and the Paper Mario-like graphics are spot on.

But Duck Detective falls short, even though it works in a way. It's not bad, but the whole thing reeks of unrealised potential, and I really hope Happy Broccoli gets the chance to give this formula another shot, because the concept is downright brilliant. It's also much better than the actual game that sprang from it.

06 Gamereactor UK
6 / 10
Solid ideas throughout. Great aesthetic style. The word puzzles work some of the time.
Doesn't go far enough in the noir direction. Lacks refinement in the execution of the ideas. A bit too linear for the genre.
overall score
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