221 B. Baker St.
by Sculptured Software, Inc.
19808 Nordhoff Place
Chatsworth, CA 91311
Low resolution $39.95
Reviewed by Steve Panak
One of the favorite forms of entertainment is the mystery. Whether it be an Agatha Christie whodunit or a riotous Pink Panther comedy, the written word or the silver screen, people just can't seem to get enough of it. Unfortunately for mystery and computer lovers, software has, for the most part, failed to enrich their lives with death and despair. Until now.
221 B. Baker Street pits software sleuths against one another and themselves in a race to solve a murder using the least number of clues. After booting up the autoloading disk, up to four players first choose a game persona. You could be Holmes or Watson, Irene Adler or Inspector Lestrade. You then decide whether the program will refer to you by your own name or that of your character, and whether you wish clues to be given in code. If you choose coded clues, the hints are scrambled so the other players can't use them, and won't have to avert their eyes from the screen as your clues are displayed. This feature can also be used to add another dimension to the game, that of cryptography-trying to decipher the other players' clues to gain an advantage. The option to change your code midstream makes decryption all the more difficult. After setting all the preliminary options, you select one of the 30 cases and start pounding the streets for clues.
The highly detailed screen, depicting streets and buildings, scrolls smoothly, displaying only a portion of the city at any one time. As each player begins his turn, the image of his character fills the bottom of the screen, along with an inventory of the items he possesses. Pressing the space bar to roll the die, you move your man up to the maximum allowed spaces. One complaint I had here was the fact that, while you can retrace your steps if you make a wrong turn, you cannot do so if you've moved your total allotment of spaces. This was occasionally annoying and could have been easily remedied.
After a couple of rolls, you'll reach one of the many buildings in the town, where you'll receive a clue. This pattern is repeated until you amass what you consider to be enough clues, whereupon you hightail it back to Baker Street to give the solution to the crime. You solve the crime by answering a series of multiple-choice questions, and then you receive an explanation of the motive behind the murder. The first to solve the crime wins, and a ranking is assigned depending on the number of clues it took to reach the solution.
To spice up play, the board is covered with a number of special items and buildings. Secret tunnels and a carriage service speed you about town. You must get to Scotland Yard and receive a badge before you are allowed to offer your solution. These badges can also be used to lock a location, thwarting the access of other players to valuable clues. Keys are required to unlock locations, and can be obtained at the locksmith's (naturally).
Documentation is quite extensive. A manual contains full instruction on the operation of the program, as well as playing tips and tables to decipher the codes. These keys are placed in the center of the book for easy copying. A separate casebook contains short scenarios setting up each of the 30 cases, which must be read before attempting to solve each crime. Fortunately, all the written materials are intelligently executed and engaging, and the manual and the separate machine specific reference card are spiced up with quotes from the works of Sherlock Holmes. A pad of worksheets, on which players may make notes on their journeys, is thoughtfully provided.
The program itself is enjoyable to play, although it truly shines when played by more than one person. It most closely resembles, as one might guess, the board game Clue, except that the solution of these crimes requires a different style of deduction. However, for adults at least, the solutions should be no problem, as the clues leading you to the murderer, the motive and the weapon are quite simple. For example, the clue indicating that Lord Longsworth was the killer was the phrase "the opposite of short." Still, the chase throughout the town is good fun, and some bit of strategy is required, to assure efficient use of moves. The 30 cases keep the game interesting for some time, although, as you might expect, the basic framework of each game is identical. For those that really love the game, additional data disks are promised.
Overall, I found 221 B. Baker Street to be fun to play, but not very challenging. It is probably best suited for younger players, probably preteens, and is best played in a group setting rather than alone. Still, it should come as no mystery that budding armchair detectives will love it.