Fourteen years after Murder, She Wrote went off the air, a tie-in videogame has finally been released, just as demand had become a roiling river of frenzied anticipation. Yes, Jessica Fletcher, the widowed substitute English teacher turned successful novelist who turned down a glitzy life as an author in murder-filled New York City for a nice quiet life as an author in murder-filled Cabot Cove, Maine is back in five red-herring-filled mysteries. True to the source material, Fletcher’s eccentric obsession and curiosity with murders trumps all chain of command and standard protocol with the local authorities, so she teams up again with Dr. Seth Hazlitt and Sheriff Mort Metzger to investigate the whodunits. (Tom Bosley’s likeness couldn’t be used, as a Father Dowling Mysteries FPS is reportedly currently in development.) But the fun of the original TV show was figuring out the culprit before Fletcher—and little of that has translated to the game.
What has been preserved is the show’s charm and simplicity, though they and a commendable Angela Lansbury impersonator serve largely as tentpoles around the game’s core: Hidden-object scavenger hunts à la dental-waiting-room favorite Highlights Magazine. Instead of fingering suspects and employing Fletcher’s formidable grasp of criminal logic, you’ll be studying static screens for minutes on end looking for items ranging from admissible evidence (blood samples) to obsessive-compulsive collection (peace symbols and hamburgers). The über-casual style attempts to integrate some twists by giving you a checklist on the left side of the screen with all the vowels missing—those are also tucked somewhere onscreen—and slapping your wrists for clicking willy-nilly by spinning your cursor out of control for a harrying second or two. Some items will launch tangential mini-games loosely tied to the investigation (like matching pairs of Cuban cigars, Concentration-style), but then it’s back to the clicking. Especially if you just elect to skip puzzles like these, which you can at will.
That said, it’s hard to imagine adventure-game diehards are rabid enough to seek out Murder, She Wrote: The cases are simply window dressing trying to hold players’ interest in an activity book with only one activity. This is obviously aimed at fans of the long-gone TV show, perhaps so they can pass the torch to their grandkids, or while away the hours until syndicated reruns come back on. Anyone else will be too creeped-out by that video of Lansbury “massaging” herself in the tub to dare venturing inside. Perhaps it’s best that way.