Last Updated on November 15, 2022
Detective Grimoire is a game series by SFB Games, a studio run by the “Super Flash Bros” Adam and Tom Vian. The Vians’ first seed of success was in 2007, with a prototype on several site platforms, including Newgrounds. This prototype was Detective Grimoire.
The Detective Grimoire prototype is remembered by gamers who spend a lot of time playing browser games. Who wouldn’t remember the scruffy detective who clears his throat with every sentence, and needs a nickel for every time someone questions his guise? Most fans believe the prototype to be the first game of the series, and some probably believe it’s the only one. They don’t know that the Vian Brothers would revive the Detective Grimoire series 7 years later.
I discovered that Detective Grimoire became a series while writing, “How I Recovered from the End of Flash Games with Itch.io“. Detective Grimoire lives on after the Newgrounds days, and it experienced a revival in 2019 under Tangled Tower. Let me emphasize that Tangled Tower is the sole reason why this blog post exists.
This flash detective game series has large gaps in production time and spin-offs, which is probably the reason why some Detective Grimoire fans don’t know the series is still alive. However, the Detective Grimoire series does not have consistent direct sequels throughout its timeline. But the stories still reference each other’s universes with familiar, eerie elements of whimsical decay, much like in Detective Grimoire‘s prototypical origins. The series gets even weirder when you play Tangled Tower.
SFB Games did not die within the ruins of the bygone era of flash games. Detective Grimoire is their ongoing legacy. Due to the studio’s resiliency, the series is now mature and reaches audiences outside browsers. The artistry of the Vian brothers has grown, developing an eye for visuals that I rarely see in AAA games these days. Their newer works have storytelling that are snappier and gripping, with an orchestrated OST that strikes at the right places.
I have played every single game with our favorite flash game detective. So now it’s time to talk about how long and luscious his beard has grown.
Detective Grimoire Visits A Carnival: The Beginning
As an adult, I can feel that Detective Grimoire is a point-and-click flash game with a youthful execution. This is expected, as it was one of the Vian brothers’ first games. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t great for its time. I remember finding it both humorous and creepy when I was a kid. But let’s see if a new pair of eyes will still love it the same.
Detective Grimoire is a Rookie But That Doesn’t Stop Him
Detective Grimoire begins with our eponymous main character standing in a parking lot with his partner, Officer James. Detective Grimoire is unsure of himself. But Officer James urges him to get going. Grimoire is getting cold feet, and you can hear it and see it in his expressions. Grimoire clears his throat with every dialogue box. You’re not sure if it’s acid reflux or a stim for his thought process. But you know Grimoire can do this. He just needs your omniscient help.
Before he enters the carnival, Detective Grimoire’s first observation is how old and run-down Fairgrounds carnival is. He stares in awe and wonders what he’s getting himself into. He meets an odd little girl that seems to manifest like a ghost. She gives him a map. The girl seems to know about the murder, and even talks to Detective Grimoire as if he were a long-time friend. This rubs him the wrong way. But it’s surely not the only strange thing he will experience.
There is graffiti all over the walls, smelly trash cans, and amusement rides are squeaking as they stay unoccupied. You soon find out that Fairgrounds is like this intentionally. This carnival’s sense of decay and stillness is an aesthetic. But what kind of person loves carnivals like that? Even Detective Grimoire himself is skeptical of this aesthetic choice. But he moves on.
The Case of Hugh Everton
Like most detective games, Detective Grimoire is a whodunnit. The prototype game centers around the case of Hugh Everton; a deaf, aging janitor that is found dead in the Hall of Mirrors by another janitor. The evidence scene is a pool of blood with a broken mirror behind where his body lay. Most of the Fairgrounds workers were not in proximity to Hugh Everton.
There are six suspects. Each one has a very unique personality. But they are all also apathetic about Hugh Everton’s death. They just want to get their paycheck and go home. Most of the suspects are mundane, and don’t seem like they want to murder anyone. However, they all agree that Hugh Everton didn’t work as much as they did.
Charles Ringer is a clown who isn’t good at being one. You will find this out when you realize how many malfunctions his costume has. He dislikes a colleague named Ricky Warrer, his job because his boss doesn’t care, and he generally shrugs things off. Ringer is a person who’s stuck in an undesirable position but doesn’t know a way out. He doesn’t care about his job because no one cares about him. His relatability makes him one of my favorite characters.
Mandy Ferrier is the most seemingly average person in the carnival. She’s bubbly, and sells stuffed animals. She has books surrounding her because it seems there’s not much selling to do. A person like this doesn’t seem to have time to plot a murder. But perhaps she’s studying how. Ferrier is also the niece to an engineer that works at the carnival, Pete Nubhat. They both express a desire to take over the carnival, but in a way where it’s a distant dream and not an actual desire. However, it’s not known if Ferrier is serious about it or is just following along with her uncle’s goals.
Pete Nubhat also seems fairly normal. He is the carnival’s sole engineer, and a doting family member that dreams of his niece taking over Fairgrounds. Nubhat comes across as a regular ol’ uncle. But he seems to dislike Hugh Everton a lot. You don’t get to find out much about Nubhat’s personal life. He has a toolset with actual tools and ambition. I think Nubhat chose the wrong place to work at if he believes he can fix up Fairgrounds.
Jerry Spears is a young janitor. He discovered the dead body of Hugh Everton. He, like Mandy, is young and ordinary. He is just there to make his coins for college. Although his role is rather useless in this case, since the carnival is intentionally messy. Spears doesn’t express any desire to do anything out of the norm or even advance himself. He is nothing more than a college-age young man who wants to just live and experience beauty.
Ricky Warrer is a rival of Charles the clown. Ricky dresses up as a bear, and is more popular with the kids. He stayed late during the night of the murder and heard some commotion. He thought nothing of it and went home. Warrer fights with Charles Ringer because he feels Ringer doesn’t do his job well. However, Warrer does his job so well that he thinks Detective Grimoire is a child. He comes off weird at first. But he’s just another worker at the end of the day. I’m also not sure why his last name is Warrer. It is not a typo though, I promise you. I thought his name was Warren all these years.
Gary Coils is the boss and employer. He is rather lax. But he is on edge after Hugh’s death. Coils doesn’t seem to be the best employer since he does nothing for his employees. I feel like he’s partially at fault for the murder, due to his refusal to address needs among his staff. He seems like he doesn’t know what he’s doing altogether. Fairgrounds clearly needs its management overthrown.
The cast is a bit too normal. There isn’t much to expect from a small carnival though. The workers reflect the conditions of Fairgrounds, downtrodden and shuffling along. Charles Ringer in particular seems to be the most honest out of the whole bunch. But who wants to be a clown and a liar?
Every Suspect Lies But Detective Grimoire Asks the Right Questions
You question each suspect and you have to clear their alibis. You also find evidence throughout the park, such as a clown nose, a toolset, and a green marker. Interactions are centered around questions and showing evidence to the character until you gain enough information to finally interrogate them. This is fairly typical detective work. The Vians also create a mechanic that matches the intensity of catching someone in a lie with a quick time event. This mechanic also seems to take inspiration from Phoenix Wright‘s classic “Objection!”. I’m not kidding about this, you have to move your mouse cursor real fast toward the suspect’s face.
Working with evidence is easy. You show evidence to the suspects and read the notes that Detective Grimoire has gathered on them. There may be an item or two that needs to be combined, but most of them can not be interacted with. This is a short game, so you may not even need all the evidence to beat it.
To be honest, finding the culprit is easy in this game. Most people understand that murders have intent and ambition. There is nothing more normal than an ambitious human who wants the throne; it’s a timeless tale. Evidence throughout the game connects fights between the suspects, such as spiteful drawings and discarded costume pieces. The mystery twists in a way that shows you should never trust an ambitious co-worker because they will try to frame you for murder. Despite all that ambition, the murder is messy and leaves trails everywhere.
No One Wears Deerstalkers These Days, Not Even Detectives
Detective Grimoire is dark. It doesn’t help that it takes place in a carnival that looks like a garbage dump. For a 2000s game, there is a desire to veer from detective tropes with some inconsistency. In the 2000s, there were detectives in media who didn’t wear deerstalkers. All the characters in this game, however, act like Grimoire not wearing a deerstalker is a faux pas. I don’t think anyone unironically wears them, who would? Another inconsistency I noticed is that no one explains who built and owns Fairgrounds? I can only conclude that Detective Grimoire went to some part of the Midwest or the South that is severely underdeveloped.
This prototype is the foundation for the series. It is obviously outdated compared to the rest of the series. Characters are memorable, especially Charles Ringer, but the gameplay is limited. The interrogation portions of this game are not well executed either. When cops interview suspects and believe they may be lying there’s more than just body language. I’m not sure why the Vian Brothers at that age thought that a quick time event mimics the reality of an interrogation. You also don’t have a chance to read all of the suspect’s dialogue because you will miss the opportunity to catch their lies.
As an adult, the prototype comes off cute and nostalgic, and not anything out of this world. Thankfully, there is drastic change throughout the series in both gameplay and appearance. This game is a prototype and nothing else. But remnants of this past Detective Grimoire echo in Detective Grimoire: Secret of the Swamp.
Detective Grimoire Discovers Icky Secrets of a Swamp
Detective Grimoire: Secret of the Swamp is the official beginning of the Detective Grimoire story. The game is seven years after the prototype publication. I was furious that I never heard about it before. In 2014, I was going through some big life changes. But how did I miss:
- A flash game classic revival.
- Egoraptor voice acting for Detective Grimoire.
2014 ushers Detective Grimoire into the light again with a new setting, a fresh hair dye, and an orchestrated OST. The game mechanics have evolved, and there are no quick-time events for interrogations. But one distinct difference is that Detective Grimoire is much more theatrical. The Vians upscaled their direction with wider eyes for this installment. They have a bigger budget, are able to have collaborators, and have matured in their skills. This is SFB Games’ dream game finally come true. This is why Detective Grimoire is a prototype, while Secret of the Swamp is the official Detective Grimoire. But don’t worry, you will meet some familiar characters.
Detective Grimoire Steps into Murky Water
Detective Grimoire departs from the decrepit carnival to a really icky nature attraction, Boggy’s Bog. It’s a swamp dedicated to a legendary creature that no one has seen. Yet there is a ton of commercialization of this creature’s image and he has masses of fans. Detective Grimoire himself has only known the creature as a cartoon and is surprised that the attraction even exists. He arrives at the swamp on a boat and steps off, once again concerned about his role. Officer James is lucky as he just drinks tea to warm himself around the chilly water.
When Detective Grimoire leaves the docks, he encounters the little girl once again. Just like last time, she seems to know too much about his case, and gives him a map. She disappears before he can question her, leaving him with odd cartoon statue portrayals of Boggy. And yeah, that adds more eerieness to an already ghostly location. This place seems to reek of natural smells and hauntings. I assume the owner, Richard Remington, is one of those spirits.
The occupants of Boggy’s Bog are hurt, yet also seemingly relieved or ambivalent over the death of Remington. Detective Grimoire will find out that the swamp wasn’t meant to be sold. The swamp is the home of people who remember a history of pre-commercialization. At one point, their home was all trees and waters that were not disturbed by Richard Remington. Detective Grimoire is disgusted and doesn’t know what’s coming for him. Hopefully, he brought an extra pair of clothes, because this case is going to leave him soaked.
Detective Grimoire and The Case of the Bog People
Richard Remington’s death is unusual, as is the location. There is speculation about folklore becoming a reality that is surrounding Remington’s final place. The murder scene traces a man that falls out of a window, which makes it seem like a suicide or an accident. But instead, the civilians of Boggy’s Bog begin to believe that Boggy is real, after evidence shows three claws marking his chest. Boggy is, therefore, an obvious suspect. But Boggy isn’t real and there are seven other people in the swamp.
The suspects all work at or are frequent visitors to Boggy’s Bog. And they all seem to have a fixation on the bog. A lot of the occupants exist to just fulfill their role there or to protest against Richard Remington with a refusal to be displaced. When Detective Grimoire discovers that Remington isn’t a great guy, and that the park exists as his fantasy front, that’s when a lot of people become suspect.
Sally Spears is a young woman selling Boggy merchandise. She spends her days standing at her vendor, earning minimum wage, and views the world in a matter-of-fact manner. She likes to point out the obvious when not everything needs a thorough analysis. There’s also the chemistry between her and Grimoire that just screams future friendship or relationship. Spears sells toys; her only function is to make revenue for the park. Selling Boggy’s image doesn’t seem to be something she dislikes. But she does it as a means of survival.
Agent Folder is a nerdy hobbyist who is quite passionate about the revised history of Boggy and the swamp itself. He is usually holed up in the museum, reading. He rarely leaves the place. The nerd is also quite defensive about his knowledge and possessiveness of his space. However, this seems to be an issue for everyone in the bog, for understandable reasons. This guy is full of knowledge on Boggy and is one of the more eye opening suspects in this game. I also wonder if the guy has more hobbies outside Boggy. If he’s so considered about the creature’s image, why doesn’t he reveal this information?
Mr. Harper is a cook that sells green soda that resembles swamp water and makes burgers. He was close to Richard Remington and loved feeding the man meals. Overall, he’s a harmless old man who wants nothing more than to serve the tourists. His dedication to preserving the happiness of the tourist attraction is a huge contrast to everyone else. It’s not clear if he knows of the attraction’s past or is just forgiving.
Echo Everstone is an environmental activist who views his work as something radical. But most people beg to differ. He is generally seen as an extremely dedicated public nuisance. He earns the nickname “Echo” because his protest for the swamp has become a faint noise rather than a movement. Everstone is a weird guy and I think most people can admit that. I’m not sure how he hasn’t been murdered for his protesting. I guess no one took him seriously.
Lady Weybridge is an elderly woman who has lived in the swamp for years. She is not happy with the commercialization of Boggy and the swamp. She keeps to herself in her house, brewing stuff and ignoring the invasion of curious strangers. The only stranger she approves of is Detective Grimoire. You will have to play witch in her house a couple of times for certain pieces of evidence. She doesn’t seem to mind it since Detective Grimoire is empathetic to her situation.
Bobby Burle is a cameraman who works with an eccentric director. He looks like he wants to push you into the swamp water. But he is actually a kind-hearted person. Burle just wants to help out his film partner, eat lunch, and get his work done. He takes walks throughout the swamp during breaks from directing. A fairly normal guy despite his looks. One has to wonder how he hasn’t dropped his camera into the water.
Vincent VanDePeer is an eccentric movie director who loves using the bog as his cinematic experiment. He swears he’s an artistic genius. But what he’s actually doing is leaving his props around and disturbing the search. He’s also connected with Richard Remington, and bribed Remington so he can make this film. The guy literally leaves props that look like Boggy’s legs laying around. Detective Grimoire is made to believe for half of the game that he’s possibly Boggy. But no one actually knows what Boggy’s legs look like. Personally, whatever movie this guy is making – it sucks, we don’t need another Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Boggy is the legendary creature of the bog. He’s rather introverted and doesn’t care to be around humans for understandable reasons. No one has ever seen Boggy before in the flesh, yet he is a suspect that is now feared. The elusiveness of Boggy takes up a large part of the game’s mystery because there are remnants of him throughout the attraction that are either fictional or real.
Our suspect cast is larger and has more variety than the prototype. Some are more interesting than others and some have small contributions to the game. The most interesting part of the game is the folklore surrounding Boggy, Richard Remington, and the bog itself. Boggy is made human or demonic. And Richard Remington is either an invader or just a manager depending on who’s talking. This game is an interesting study of how folklore is made and how people create various versions of a tale or person.
The Murkier the Water, the More You Find in Boggy’s Bog
The Secret of the Swamp has deep lore to it, which the Vians make sure you explore well in each dive. The gameplay sticks to its roots. But brainstorming has become more intuitive compared to the Detective Grimoire prototype. You pick words to construct ideas that strike Detective Grimoire, and choose items to present to suspects to draw the conclusion of their innocence. What I found most interesting about the gameplay design is how you’re made to choose sentences and think about what you’ve seen, read, and found. The games want you to actively become the detective by reading intentions or possibilities. After all, detective work is not just about pointing fingers and asking the right questions, it’s also about how you get there. So you need to have a sharp memory and pay attention.
Otherwise, there aren’t many other changes to the core gameplay. The game’s puzzles aren’t particularly hard. There were simple puzzles involving locks and moving trash. Many of the puzzles lead to a location and not always to a piece of evidence, with the exception of one at the end of the story. One puzzle I enjoyed was mixing the chemicals in Lady Weybridge’s house. Overall, most of the puzzle focus of Secrets of the Swamp surrounds the suspects themselves. You figure out their motives and sift through their lies.
The Secret of the Swamp is a Stylish Detective Grimoire
The Secret of the Swamp is definitely a great start to the series and a well-designed revival. Detective Grimore is all grown up and his animations are more varied. The world-building is novelistic and digs into several moral stories of nature’s victimhood by humanity, and displacement by commercialization.
The storytelling is rich with unique characters that make you lift a brow and laugh. The animation and voice acting comes alive with the press of a button. The OST is a bit of an acquired taste. But the way the strings soar and strike as you wander through the murky grounds and up into the trees heightens the whimsical tone of the setting. One minute, you fear Detective Grimoire is going to drown. Then the next minute, there’s a ship restaurant in the middle of nowhere, and then a treehouse. Everything feels cozy and warm, yet also cold and clammy.
The Secret of the Swamp would’ve been the best game of 2014. It is beautifully complex yet simple in its net of plot and world-building. I almost found everything a bit too cleanly in place, but I’d much rather a detective story not to have too many holes. Especially since Secret of the Swamp ends with an implication of more to come.
Detective Grimoire Arrives to Tangle Tower
Tangle Tower is a 2019 release. I got it on my Switch during the holidays after Secrets of the Swamp. The art style has become more lined, and faces are narrower with rectangular shapes. The background art has become more painterly and detailed. The orchestra is still in the background and now there’s an opera along with it with a woodwind section that provides the most beautiful Irish-inspired music I’ve ever heard. The detective’s hair is much more luscious, and he’s got a grown beard. Now, he also has a partner that’s a willing participant in case solving, the sharp-tongued Sally Spears. Tangle Tower is a whole new world and makeover.
Instead of a carnival, you are now in the presence of two rich families that are hiding secrets behind their hearts. A young, precocious woman named Freya Fellow is dead, leaving the families scrambling for their rooms to cope. Freya Fellow is a figure of admiration for the household, so it is only understandable for the floorboards to be heavy. Despite how beautiful the tower is, there is a stiff, heavy atmosphere weighed down with regret and withdrawn feelings.
The minute the title loads onto the screen, the ambient drones start crawling into your ears. You know this family has problems.
Tangle Tower is a Family Drama
The Tangle Tower is the shelter of two prominent families, The Pointers and the Fellows. They seclude themselves in their rooms and seem to divide themselves among their name in sections of this tower. This of course is automatically suspicious to Detective Grimoire and our cheeky new partner, Sally Spears. The families are both prestigious. But it’s hard to understand where they got their wealth from. Detective Grimoire discovers this soon.
The duo arrives to the island by boat, much like in Secret of the Swamp. Sally Spears doesn’t look thrilled, although you will find that she just looks like that. Detective Grimoire is somewhat mature and confident, but he’s still young and fearful at heart. Sally Spears and Detective Grimoire make jokes as they explore the environment, and they will be doing that for the whole game. The dynamic they have with each other is unlike Officer James. Also, this time you don’t meet the strange girl. I guess she’s no longer following detectives.
The detective duo feels that there’s something wrong as soon as they enter the island. They look in awe at how simultaneously majestic yet eerie this place is. Pink waters, vibrant beetles, statues of a familiar amphibian creature playing instruments, and birds that find haven on this family island. When they enter the actual estate, they see a luxury interior with depressed occupants and even more questions. The real hammer to the senses is the murder scene. A painting of a white-haired woman holding a bloody knife is standing tall before the victim’s resting place. The matriarch of the Fellow family, who is the main motif of this painting, stands from afar in a catatonic state.
This game is far different in mood in contrast to the previous two games. It truly embraces this darkness. But it doesn’t take itself so seriously where all you see is the glare of death. The murder of Freya Fellow will be Detective Grimoire’s surrealist case yet. And he will find more and more questions the deeper he digs his hands into the island soil.
In Tangle Tower There is a Tangled Family Tree
The families are all hurt and shocked way more than the suspects in the previous games. Almost all of the family members have some memorial blessing or bittersweet feelings from Freya. Every suspect has their own unique trade, since both of the families pride themselves in the arts. But there isn’t arrogance to these families’ achievements. Rather, they seem almost bored with this luxury except for two particular outliers. This is quite a huge tower, so there are a lot of people to talk to and analyze. Detective Grimoire has to talk to the suspects and visit their bedrooms for further evidence.
There are a lot of suspects to remember. And since they’re family, they all know each other well. There is also a lot of history to gather from not only the family but the place itself. The Tangle Tower is alive with secrets and Freya Fellow is dead with the family’s remaining secrets that cannot be encased in a house. What is most interesting about this cast is that most of them are more interested in their own future and place within the Tangle Tower rather than Freya.
Flora Fellow is a quiet woman who loves her isolation and birds. She stands in a room before her daughter’s body and it’s unclear at first if she’s like this because of her daughter being dead or because she’s always like this. Based on what her family members say though, she seems to have had a rough life. She doesn’t say anything at all. Literally, Detective Grimore doesn’t get to learn much about her except through clues. The only “word” you will get out of her is the wind blowing her long, beautiful hair.
Felix Fellow, a self-proclaimed explorer and father of Frey, has a living space full of ships. He seems to like taking on new hobbies and thinks everything he does is good on the first try. Although his confidence does seem to waver when he speaks of his projects. Honestly, he does seem to be the outlier of the family, due to his incapability to master something. Felix seems to be a deadbeat to his daughter, Fifi Fellow. I do kind of feel bad for him, but he also swears he’s the best explorer of all time, despite no evidence of it.
Fifi Fellow is a little scientist who lives in the library. She loves to correct or clarify things you say. She might get accused of murder one day due to her fascination with science. Fifi seems to have a bit of a mean streak. But is a genuine person. Perhaps her brutal honesty is a part of her scientific behavior, as science is about searching for truth. She is the best friend of Freya and you can tell she admires her. But the untimely death of her friend seems to trap her in the tower much like everyone else. Despite her love of science, Fifi holds a disdain for preppy and normie ideals.
Fitz Fellow is a hulking gardener who is rather talented in caring for his crops, and even engineering them. His size and private attitude will make him rather suspect. In actuality, he really just keeps to himself and is a hopeless romantic, with two women pining for him in the tower. He’s hard to talk to at first. But he’s not as bad Flora Fellow. The greenhouse is full of bugs and plants that shine and crawl. The greenhouse is one of my favorite rooms in the game. A passion for science seems to run in the Fellow family. But not all of them are successful in their experiments.
Poppy Pointer is a gothic pianist who seems to hide her sadness behind piano notes. Her humor and personality are rather sullen. But it seems like she just likes embracing the darkness. When you dig up more evidence on her, it’s obvious that she’s a typical young adult that is just growing into her skin. She is a close friend of Freya, much like Fifi. And they both seem to share a passion for dramatic art. Her piano is beautiful to listen to, and you just have to stand for a bit in her room. She’s quite similar to Felix, and is a possible love interest.
Professor Pointer is a seedy aspiring astronomist. Unlike Felix, he’s a self-proclaimed doer that actually creates physical work through his hobby. He’s got a rather dramatic personality of gesticulating. But don’t let that fool you, because he’s rather disdainful and jealous of the other Fellows. I did not like this guy from my first glance at him. Despite everything, he’s one of the least interesting people in the house and plays a small role. I barely remember him.
Detective Hawkshaw is a detective who claims to know everything about the Pointers and Fellows. She also refuses to spill the beans, which is frustrating. She expresses a fascination with the family. But she will keep the info under tight paws instead of helping a mystery-solving brother out. Hackshaw also has an odd workplace that doesn’t seem functional. It looks like a treasure chest desk. But a lot of things don’t make sense in this tower.
Penelope “Penny” Pointer is an extravagant woman who surrounds herself with birds. She is in love with Fitz. She seems to be rather miserable, feeling like an outcast among the families, but enjoys the views. Penny acting and looking like a bird is the first thing that comes to mind. At first, I didn’t expect her to be a mean kind of person, but she does seem ambitious. She is the most eager to flee from the tower compared to everyone else. But she feels trapped by her love for Fitz Fellow.
The cast of Tangle Tower is interesting because they all have so much animation compared to the previous games. Each of the characters has a burning desire to leave this estate or be alone. The tower really is a character in itself as it traps the families into creating their own lore, and they want out. Only the death of one of the brightest stars is what’s getting the Fellows and Pointers to question their positions.
The Locks and Hauntings of Tangle Tower
Tangle Tower is different from its predecessors in both mood and narrative style. In this game, the characters literally haunt you. As the game mechanics from the previous games are preserved, but items are interacting with you. The mystery of Tangle Tower echoes the stories of the past and the hidden present. So, it only makes sense that there will be creepy items such as the corroded green tape that plays music, and an odd crab-shaped wooden toy filled with ink that forms shapes.
The items in this game actually interact with each other to resolve fragmented clues, which makes for some interesting problem-solving. The humming from the green tape gives me chills every time. There is little explanation for these items either, but I assume it is the dead keeping contact and wanting their rest.
Puzzles in this game are incredible compared to the last two. They were actually almost enraging. I am the worst detective, do not hire me, I will be dead after missing a few cues from a stalker. In Tangle Tower, puzzles are abundant. They are found on doors, chests, fountains, walls, and any sort of suspicious or eccentric-looking decor. None of them are very easy. The difficulty is serious business this time, and I had to give up and Google for several puzzles.
I think it is good for puzzles to be difficult, especially if the puzzles actually tell a story. For example, each puzzle has evidence that exposes the room’s occupant such as the Paint Brush puzzle in Freya’s room. Sally Spears is not here to solve things for you, so read the hints from Sally or look up a walkthrough. You really have to think and squint for these puzzles. My favorite is Professor Pointer’s Mechanical Solar System and Flora Fellow’s Gemstone Egg, due to their originality and attractive visuals. Both of the aforementioned puzzles led to the revealing of a clue that usually exposed something deep about one of the Fellows or Pointers.
I solved at least 7 out of the 13 puzzles in this game without a guide, which is impressive for me, despite taking many tries. So one thing this game has improved on a lot is the actual mystery solving without depending solely on clue searching and conversation.
Tangle Tower Looms Above With Great Beauty
Tangle Tower is the best game in the series due to the amount of world-building. The story is great and I love the familial conflict. There is a running theme that seems to be along the lines of “The Curse of Fate” or “The Curse of Tradition” that makes it interesting. The lore of Tangle Tower does continue from Detective Grimoire: The Secret of the Swamp. The Secret of the Swamp is referenced vaguely enough so that you don’t have to play it. But I recommend you do because it adds to the overall atmosphere. Without getting too deep into spoilers, I hope the next Tangle Tower goes more in-depth with the Fellows and Pointers because the family history that connects with The Secret of the Swamp is too fascinating to not explore further.
Tangle Tower is a game about the fragility of the family structure and rich people’s facades. Everyone in the house is either an outcast or fixated on their own roles. It’s obvious that there are dysfunctional family problems. However, it is only one person who decides that the family name and the building they occupy is so important that it leads to stealing an innocent life. Freya Fellow did nothing to deserve her death, yet she is killed for control and ambition.
I love almost everything about Tangle Tower. But I did find the ending a bit unrealistic. I’m scratching my head because there isn’t enough information. Let’s hope the sequel will go over more of it. If not, it can still be up to us to make our own endings. Perhaps my slight dissatisfaction comes from a place of wishing there was more discussion and exploration of the Tangle Tower’s background. The murderer’s motive and some clues left behind leave some plots holes in Freya’s death. The background of Tangle Tower’s mystical environment makes no sense after you find more information about the shining bugs.
Detective Grimoire is Grown and a Great Feat
It might be due to the gaps of time between releases, but the Detective Grimoire series is quite underrated among the indie game fandom. There are probably a thousand reviews per game. But it still doesn’t have much visibility. The games all have beautiful artwork that mesmerizes the eyes, especially the environmental art where individuals are not only animated but their surroundings also tell a story. The writing is sharp and comedic, especially in Tangle Tower. Tangle Tower really puts a smile on your face, but it smacks your smirk away in the right spots. The soundtrack in Tangle Tower is the best OST I’ve heard in years and the speakers for the Nintendo Switch did not do it justice.
Overall, I wish there were more games like the Grimoire series out there in the indie world. The Vians have a talent for making worlds that haunt you, especially with the way things are seemingly innocent and volatile at the same time. Tangle Tower is highly rated on my narrative games list. But I admit I have a soft spot for stories about big, eerie mansions and secretive families. After all, it’s generational trauma for the Pointers and Fellows. And what’s more relatable than that?
Wei Yuan Lee is a interactive fiction writer and game dev. He enjoys spooky interactive fiction, quirky platformers and RPGmaker games. He checks Itch.io religiously.