When the touch screen features of the Nintendo DS were first shown off a lot of adventure gamers around the world took notice. The touch screen seems like the perfect tool to bring point and click adventure games to handhelds. It seems a lot of developers have taken notice as well, games like Phoenix Wright and Trace Memory have made the system home, and at E3 several other adventure titles were announced. Touch Detective is the first of those announced titles to come out and it is one of the first truly touch screen dedicated game.

Boasting a unique setting and art style Touch Detective already has a fresh feel before you even open the box. Spread out over four different cases, you guide Mackenzie, a new detective who is taking over the business for her dearly departed father. With the aid of her investigative assistant Funghi and her servant Cromwell, you try to help Mackenzie prove her worth to the town as their Touch Detective.

The words “Unique”, “Stylized”, and “Quirky” immediately come to mind when I look at Touch Detective. You can clearly see that the game draws on the aesthetics of Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, and the character represent this very well. You have little goth girls, zombie town residents, inflatable monster lizard-ducks, and they are all convincing and give a real good feel to the game world. The look of the world is sixty percent of what’s good about this game. In fact, I truly hope to see more games in this series, albeit with better gameplay, that use this art style.

However, all is not good in the graphics department. Being that this is a “point and click” adventure game, the graphics play a major role in the game mechanics. When you get stuck in a case, and the main reason you can’t proceed is because you can’t see the item you’re supposed to use or it doesn’t look anything like what you’d think, it really puts a damper on the gameplay.

The soundtrack is a mixture of quirky beats and moody music. In general it’s fairly enjoyable, but not really memorable. I would’ve liked more work in the sound effects department. Having virtually no sound effects makes for a boring game, and not having any kind of voices really keeps some of the more interesting NPCs from truly standing out. After seeing all the game had to offer I can’t imagine it would’ve been too particularly difficult to add in more sound effects to really add more to the heart and soul of the game. Being one of the first games to be completely controlled with the stylus, Touch Detective‘s controls feel natural and work fairly well. You will spend all of your time tapping, tapping on everything and anything. Why do you tap on everything, you ask? Well it’s two fold. First, because of the way the gameplay is setup up, you have to tap on practically everything just to make sure you don’t miss a clue or item you need to use to progress. Second, there is the added element of the touch journal which records a lot of the items you can touch and the way they feel. It is a half-baked idea to make you not get completely bored from having to scour every area of every screen. Sure it’s nice to be rewarded for being diligent, but you shouldn’t have to be this diligent in order to solve the case. For the most part the controls are responsive, and you can get pretty accurate with where you want Mackenzie to move and what item you want here to examine, and except for making it almost mandatory to touch everything, the controls work exceptionally well.

Gameplay follows in a long lineage of traditional point and click adventure titles that have graced the PC since the dawn of gaming. Mackenzie is given a case, usually a mystery, missing person, stolen dreams you know the usual stuff you see on Law and Order. Everything works fairly well until you’re given a specific case breaking clue like needing fire, but Mackenzie can’t use fire. What the heck was I supposed to do? I was angry, horribly angry, until I started tapping on everything and came upon a device that looked nothing like what it said it was and no logic would lead you to it either (for spoilers sake I won’t tell you what or where it is). It worked, much to my frustrated surprise.

Adventure games should make you think, definitely on board with that. I am even alright with fairly obscure puzzles as long as the solutions are presented in a manner that you can actually see the end results. See the clue above, it should’ve talked about needing to warm something up instead of needing fire. This isn’t the only time this happens in the game and it makes for a mildly frustrating experience. All of this would be forgivable if the story really stood out, or if Mackenzie herself was half as interesting as the NPC counterparts. Unfortunately, being obscure, frustrating and boring usually makes for a knockout combination.

It’s a shame too because I really wanted to like the game. I like the idea that you see Mac’s thoughts on the top screen, although it’s too easy to accidentally skip pass them and miss something important. The game world is interesting, the extra characters are well written, and there’s a boatload of great potential here. Normally, the sum of the individual parts can exceed the whole, but it is not so in Touch Detective, and I look forward to seeing a future title that ties these parts up with a tighter, more interesting story and a little less obscure gameplay.

Four cases, four measely cases comprise the whole of the main story line. All of these can be finished in less than two hours if you use the tap on everything method. There are bonus mini-missions to do, but once you get to that point your hand is worn out and your touch screen is filled with dents from tapping your brains out. You have the aforementioned touch journal, and that adds a little bit of reprieve from the gameplay, but it’s too little. If the story was more enjoyable and cohesive then I could’ve recommended this on value, but it’s not.