One of the most depressing days in (fairly) recent games industry memory was when much loved Japanese visual novel studio CiNG closed their doors, after years of delivering some of the most interesting, emotive, and gripping stories to grace Nintendo's handhelds. From Another Code to Hotel Dusk, and their final, incredible swan song, The Last Window, no-one else made games quite like CiNG - and when the studio announced its retirement, we were left thinking we'd never play a game quite like it again. Until now.
Chase: Cold Case Investigations ~ Distant Memories ~ (the tildes are very important) is a CiNG game in all but name. A product of the mind of former CiNG director Taisuke Kanasaki, Cold Case Investigations has all the hallmarks that made the original games so great - a grumpy detective, a hand-drawn art style, and a murder mystery that'll keep you guessing. In fact, there's only really one issue - it's only about an hour and a half long.
With an equally budget price of £6 (although at just $5.99 in the US, it's not as generous as it should be), Chase: Cold Case Investigations is essentially a short story that centres around the cold case unit of the Tokyo metropolitan police. There, the aforementioned grumpy detective, Shounosuke Nanase, and his glamorous, earnest assistant Koto Amekura, sit manning the phone on a daily basis, sitting on top of a large pile of unsolved cases, waiting for a new lead, tip-off, or other piece of information to surface that'll let them open the case again. And it doesn't take too long before that happens.
No sooner have you been given a brief introduction to the protagonists than the phone rings, with a man wanting to offer an anonymous tip-off. Five years ago, an explosion occurred in the Ryokudou Hospital, killing a man, and leaving devastation in its wake. For years, this had been considered an unfortunate accident - but your tip off suggests there's more to this than meets the eye. This, he says, is a murder - and it's up to you to re-open the case, and prove it.
As a visual novel, how you do this is mostly by sitting back, and allowing the story to unfold, as the grouchy Nanase sits and does very little, while poor old Koto runs around like a headless chicken scouring CCTV, arranging interviews, and poring over case files to see what she can learn. Every now and then, you'll be asked to interact with the game, and will have to put your detective skills to the test in one of two ways - either by examining a photo of the crime scene, looking for clues, or by interviewing a suspect, and choosing the right words to say to back them into a corner.
If anything, it's the photo inspection sections that are the most challenging, as the interviews are multiple choice. On the contrary, the photo examination sections are free form - and sometimes, you'll only get one shot at poking the right object. From time to time, Koto will shove a picture under your nose, and it's up to you to either examine it as you see fit (looking for clues as you try and piece together what happened), or touch the piece of evidence that "proves" a certain point - and for the latter, you'll only get one shot at getting it right. Luckily, even if you get it wrong and end up on the game over screen, you won't actually lose any progress in game - but knowing that one wrong move will leave you staring at the game over screen certainly piles the pressure on.
The interviews, however, are much more standard detective fare, and require you to make the most of your sharp mind. Giving you a chance to drill a suspect for information, and back them into a corner, you'll be periodically given a choice of at least two questions you can ask - one right, and one wrong - and you'll have to rely on everything you can remember from the case so far, plus a little bit of detective intuition, to choose the right option. There's a health bar shown at the bottom of the screen, too, so you can't afford to make too many mistakes - get too many wrong, and you'll be staring at a game over.
So, for the most part, Chase: Cold Case Investigations delivers everything you'd expect - a gripping story, decent characters, plenty of intrigue, and some great character art. Perhaps the only problem, then, is that's it's so far long. At around an hour and a half, it feels like the story's barely had time to start going when the credits begin to roll - and the fact it ends on a cliff hanger leaves you wanting more, without any reason to suspect you'll ever get it. As far as we're aware, this isn't intended to be chapter one of an episodic game, but rather, a self contained story. Not that we'd complain if it became the former, mind you.
Still, for a taste of an adventure, Chase: Cold Case Investigations is a fun way to wile away an hour and a half. It's just a shame there's not more to it, as the cliff hanger ending kind of leaves you feeling like you haven't really got your money's worth, rather than bringing events to a satisfying conclusion.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo 3DS