Like musical chords, the defining features of a song aren’t the basic parts it’s made from but rather the unique way the artist chooses to arrange them. The same could be said of how a chef combines ingredients in a dish, the way a painter layers a canvas, or even the deliberate syntax used to write this review.
It’s no different for game developers. Often, they’re working with the same basic elements that have come to define the industry over the past several decades, but their implementation and design choices are what create the experiences that land in front of gamers. The Last Case of Benedict Fox attempts to combine several concepts into one neatly packaged experience by joining together a Metroidvania, detective mystery, puzzle game, and even elements of a Soulslike.
Unfortunately, none of these are particularly well polished, and as a result, The Last Case of Benedict Fox is often a frustrating, confusing, and meandering jaunt with an identity crisis. That’s not to say it’s a bad title, and developer Plot Twist gets credit for attempting to blend so many genres together. But the lack of refined gameplay means it sits just slightly above average in terms of entertainment value.
The Last Case of Benedict Fox begins by abruptly thrusting players into the role of the titular character, an eldritch detective bound to a (friendly) demon. As Benedict bounds across rooftops through the tutorial level, the Lovecraftian motif practically oozes out of the screen. For as much as The Last Case of Benedict Fox doesn’t know what it wants to be in its playstyle, the presentation is unmistakably delivered with a superb, dreary color palette and clever use of shadows. The audio and voice acting only add to the eerie, looming feeling of menace that lurks around each new room.
That sharp presentation stands in stark contrast to the often sluggish controls and poor wayfinding throughout each area, which take the form of Benedict entering into the consciousness of each of the dead characters he finds. And yes, one of the core components of a Metroidvania is exploration — of that there’s no doubt. But the exploration needs to be defined by a system of logical progression.
Certain areas should obviously be gated by as-yet-unacquired skills, such as a double-jump or floor smash, which are typically acquired through exploration or defeating bosses. That’s not what happens in most instances with Benedict Fox, though.
Instead, new skills are purchased through a currency called ink, gathered from defeating enemies. Getting killed by an enemy results in any gathered ink being absorbed by the mob that landed the final blow, making it stronger the next time you fight it, which is where the Soulslike piece of the puzzle comes in. With enough ink, players can then purchase a new ability, but there’s a catch: Abilities have to be unlocked in a set order; there’s no customization.
Coupled with unresponsive inputs, affecting both combat and exploration, you’re left with a title that makes one of its key pieces more frustrating than it is enjoyable. That extends to puzzle solving and the detective elements as well. There simply aren’t enough clues to point you in the direction to solve some puzzles logically, and it was often impossible to tell whether I was supposed to be able to solve a puzzle with current items I’d found or if I was supposed to come back later. Worse, some of the “puzzles” weren’t actually puzzles at all — they were gated areas that required a missing piece of lore I hadn’t stumbled upon yet.
The puzzles were even more aggravating because of how difficult the text and runic symbols were to read. It’s the one miss in the presentation, but it’s one that had me squinting at my (65-inch OLED) TV more than I should have. Even when I had the answer to a puzzle, I could hardly read the inputs on the screen to enter the solution.
That’s not to say that it’s all bad, and fans of Metroidvanias may find something they enjoy here. With the title available through Xbox Gamepass, there’s also incentive to download it without feeling any buyer’s remorse.
The Last Case of Benedict Fox is an ambitious, creative attempt to merge multiple genres, and that creativity should be applauded. Sadly, the gameplay suffers because no one area is executed upon particularly well, leading to more frustration than gratification.
The Last Case of Benedict Fox earns 3 GiN Gems out of 5.