Miss Fisher and the Deathly Maze, Episodes One and Two
Tin Man Games
Disclaimer: This review contains some spoilers for Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries up until season three.
A copy of Miss Fisher and the Deathly maze was provided in exchange for an honest review.
I have been a fan of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries ever since I heard about the Australian crime drama on The Toast in 2014. There’s a lot to love—intriguing mysteries, hot dudes, a protagonist who is unabashedly herself, AMAZING clothes. So when I saw the opportunity to review Tin Man Games’ video game adaptation of the series, I jumped at the chance. I may possibly be the most qualified woman in the world to do so, apart from Kerry Greenwood herself. Here are my Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries qualifications for your review, dear reader:
- Have watched every single episode of the show at least five times
- More than one item of Miss Fisher-inspired jewelry in my Etsy cart
- Read several of the books the TV series is based on, and have even thrown one across the room at 2 AM in glee when a sex scene was Too Much (it was So Much, oh my god, a clown was involved)
- Currently following all information about the planned Miss Fisher movie(s) obsessively—I think I’ve read the same piece about it at least three times because I get too excited and click
- Essie Davis is my queen and personal savior
- Am mad the costume exhibition only took place in Australia
- Have a Dungeons & Dragons character named Phryne Fisher and love her very much
Miss Fisher and the Deathly Maze takes place after season three of the show and takes us on a whole new story arc. It brings back Murdoch Foyle, the serial killer who murdered Phryne’s younger sister and who was left behind in season two after being foiled by Phryne yet again. The game is best described as a narrative-driven visual novel, though there are also some hidden object games thrown in there for variety. You play as, naturally, the beloved Phryne Fisher as she does her thing, which is primarily stumbling upon and solving murders with about the same amount of effort and panache she puts into hooking up with hotties.
There are five planned episodes of this game, each one with its own case to solve while Phryne searches for Foyle yet again. This game is and is meant for fans of the show more than fans of the books, using the likenesses, outfits, and characters from the TV series. As a Miss Fisher superfan, I am enjoying The Deathly Maze quite a lot. There is just the right amount of fanservice for any fan of the show, and there are several moments that gave me a lot of joy. At the same time, there were also some things about this game that I didn’t like simply because I am a superfan.
The first episode starts with Phryne and Jack at the theatre, this time for the opera. Like in “Ruddy Gore” in season one, a body shows up on stage, and it’s your job to find the killer. This episode was much weaker than the one to follow, in part because of the fact that it is so similar to “Ruddy Gore.” And while the writers seem to understand Phryne and Jack, and their dialogue is exactly what I expected and wanted, it doesn’t quite get the secondary characters as much. Aunt Prudence is too mean, and Hugh and Dot are season one Hugh and Dot, not season three, which took me out of the game a lot. Dot is religious, yes, but she’s never been as prim as this game portrays her, and it often feels like the game doesn’t understand her character or her character growth as well as it could.
It also brings back Hugh and Dot’s season three relationship-in-shambles subplot, which no one liked and was the result of the actor playing Hugh not being available to shoot most of the season. It was pretty lazy writing, did not feel true to the characters, and literally no one liked that part of the season. Plus it had been resolved by the season three finale, so it was incredibly frustrating for me as a fan to have to go over it again. Luckily, this seems to be resolved (again) by the second episode of the game, so hopefully that means it will be left behind for the remainder of the game.
Episode two is definitely the stronger of the two, with a much more unique case, a new setting, and a much better handle on the characters. The second episode also lets you play as Phryne, Jack, and Dot, which worked well with the narrative. Shifting to Jack’s perspective really kept the overall arc of the game fresh in the player’s mind even as Phryne was solving a new case elsewhere. It also lent itself to some clever storytelling, particularly in the way the game uses the telegram service.
And, of course, I love the fashion aspect to the game. There there is a mini game where you find pieces of Phryne’s outfits from the show and also get to dress her. As a fan of the show and especially its fashion, I was super into this. All the flirting (and not just with Jack, there are further opportunities in episode two–this is Phryne Fisher) is pretty much spot on and exactly what any fan of the show would want. You also get an opportunity to use Miss Fisher’s infamous little golden revolver, and I definitely took it.
However, while I do think this is a good Miss Fisher game, and it’s definitely one of the better TV/movie tie-in games that exist, I’m not sure that it’s a particularly good detective game. While mystery games aren’t quite as popular as they were in the ‘90s, largely because the genre lends itself really well to the point-and-click adventure games that were especially popular in that time period, I have played quite a few both when I was a kid and in more recent years. A good mystery game lets the player use their skills of observation to find clues, gives them the tools to figure out which clues are significant and which are not, rewards the player for making connections quickly, and lets the player figure out on their own not just what to ask, but who to ask, what to ask, and when and how to ask them to get the information that they need. Most importantly, a good detective game has actual stakes, where the player can pick the wrong person and face consequences for that.
One of the great things about Miss Fisher is that she doesn’t always get it right; she sometimes does follow bad leads and there are consequences for that. Yes, we always know that she’s gonna be OK and the murderer will get taken away in cuffs in the end, but how we get there isn’t quite so predictable. Miss Fisher and the Deathly Maze tries to capture this in the first episode, but ultimately I didn’t think it worked, because the skipped clue was too obvious, so it feels like a mistake that the player isn’t allowed to pursue such an obvious line of questioning, rather than a narratively-driven design choice.
The main issue I have with Miss Fisher and the Deathly Maze is that it’s very much there to hold the player’s hand. It doesn’t really feel like you’ve actually solved anything. You are often only able to make deductions when the game wants you to, you aren’t able to progress until you’ve found all the clues, and you aren’t able to ask people about things even if it’s blatantly obvious they’re significant. It feels more like the game is playing you rather than you playing the game, and while I think sometimes that is a valid experience, I was hoping for a bit more. Let me (possibly quite literally, I collect vintage hats) put my Phryne hat, and let me use my brain!
The game also doesn’t bring in all the aspects of the gameplay together in a way that I think is useful or cohesive. For example, you’re able to examine the surroundings for the purpose of finding outfit pieces or occasionally other things, but noticing something in the environment usually doesn’t have any purpose towards solving the mystery even though it probably should.
The deduction mechanic doesn’t work as well as it should either, as there was more than one occasion when pertinent information wasn’t included in a clue, and by the time I was actually able to make the deduction, I couldn’t remember which clue this piece of information went with. The deduction system simply isn’t robust enough to give the player any kind of intentionality. Most of the time, I found myself just randomly pairing up clues together to find the one that worked rather than going, “I know EXACTLY which clue marks this person as a lying liar.” That said, there is basically no way you’re not going to get the result that the game wants you to. And that’s fine, but if you’re looking for a challenging mystery game, Miss Fisher and the Deathly Maze is not it.
However, I’m still going to play the rest of the episodes. One thing this game is really good at is setting up the future episodes and making you want to play them. This game is basically “Phryne and Dot go on a road trip,” which is something that wasn’t necessarily possible with the show because of budget constraints, and I’m really excited for where they’re going in episode three.
Fans of the show will enjoy this game and be interested on going on this journey with these characters, but if you’re new to the series, this isn’t where I would start. It’s definitely a game that relies on fan literacy to be engaging. But this is the closest thing that fans are going to get to a season four of the show, and for that reason alone I’m going to keep playing.