One of the things the Nintendo DS has been heralded for is its ability to handle decidedly PC-oriented genres such as strategy and adventure games. Well, at least strategy games. With the exception of last year's delightfully crazy Phoenix Wright, most of the attempts to bring adventure games to the DS haven't quite panned out, either because of short length, inadequate story, or off-kilter mechanics. Atlus' Touch Detective is no different. It starts out promisingly enough, with some cute, bizarre characters and a series of strange mysteries to solve via the DS's touch screen; but more than any other adventure game on the DS to date, Touch Detective suffers from archaic adventure game puzzle-solving, forcing you to pixel hunt and combine items until you're completely and utterly bored with the whole thing.
Touch Detective centers around a strange detective agency run by a young girl named Mackenzie. This bulging-eyed blonde lives in a house with a prim and proper butler type named Cromwell. You get the impression that Cromwell is sort of a parent type and Mackenzie is his ward, but this isn't one of those Inspector Gadget scenarios where the adult is a bumbling fool that everyone thinks is in charge, and the kid does all the work. Mackenzie is a detective, straight up, and Cromwell is effectively her manservant. These two are no stranger than the citizens of their town--if anything, they're normal in comparison. Mackenzie's main rival is a hot-headed, raven-haired chick named Chloe who always finds ways to interfere in her investigations; Funghi is Mackenzie's mushroom-man pet that follows her around wherever she goes and periodically takes part in puzzle-solving; and just about every case in the game seems to revolve around Mackenzie's dingbat friend Penelope. Oh, and there's a creepy fortune-teller, a chicken-lady condominium landlord, a reticent organ grinder, a giant shark-man who won't stop eating pastries, and a bunch of haunting skeleton people who look like something out of Edvard Munch's "The Scream."
As a detective, your job is to, of course, solve cases. But in a game this patently whimsical, it wouldn't make much sense to have you solving gritty murders or finding jade monkeys before the next full moon, or what have you. No, Mackenzie's cases take a decidedly oddball slant, tasking you with discovering why Penelope can't dream anymore, or how to save a snow fairy from certain doom in the middle of spring. Some of this stuff falls under the "weird for the sake of weird" anime trappings that a lot of these games tend to, but it's forgivable simply for the fact that the characters and dialogue are surprisingly endearing. The dialogue is filled with colorfully goofy moments and more uses of "...." than anything since Golgo 13, and the characters--while all decidedly cartoony--are likeable enough to want to stick with throughout the adventure. The game has a nice look to it as well, with characters and scenery that don't fall into the usual generic anime categories. It's original-looking art design that sets a nice mood for each case, and the soundtrack complements these scenes equally well.