Everyone loves a good mystery, and even more so if they're the one who gets to solve it. The detective genre has evolved a great deal since its point-and-click adventure game roots, and this list proves how much things have changed. In fact, the games that we're including in this list range from typical noir detective fare to the kinds of games that you'll probably tell us "don't count as detective games" in the comments!
Here's our reasoning, though: A detective game is about more than just a hard-boiled police guy in a trench coat and hat, who loves to grumble about grisly murders in the rain. Detectiving can be done by anyone with a need to uncover, discover, and answer questions, and many of the games we've chosen are about just that: Normal people, pulling threads until the whole thing unravels.
Whether you're a fan of detective work, or you devour mysteries of any kind, or even if you're a total investigation rookie, there are plenty of games on this gigantic list to suit your tastes. Let's get these cases cracking!
Unavowed (Switch eShop)
We'll start off this list with a slightly more typical detective romp, as Unavowed draws on the '90s point-and-click style of game to offer something that's familiar, yet different. Developed by the kings of the modern point-and-click, Wadjet Eye, Unavowed is all about waking up after One Hell Of A Night with zero memories, and using your detective skills to figure out what happened.
And, as it turns out, that "One Hell Of A Night" is more literal than metaphorical, because you didn't get black-out drunk... you got black-out possessed by a demon, and now you have to retrace your steps and figure out what's going on with the help of the Unavowed, the supernatural detectives of the underground. With some light RPG elements, like choosing your own party to adventure out into the field with, Unavowed is an incredibly well-made, polished, and modern take on an old genre.
Disco Elysium: The Final Cut (Switch eShop)
Perhaps one of the all-time greats in the modern detective oeuvre despite only being a handful of years old, Disco Elysium is more than just a mere detective game. Your character wakes up with a cracking headache, unsure where he is, who he is, or how to stop throwing up, and quickly you start to piece together events with the help of your stylish, intelligent, and infinitely patient sidekick, Kim Kitsuragi. And you'll soon wish you had just never gotten out of bed in the first place.
Disco Elysium can at times be intimidating, steeped as it is in its own deeply thoughtful political and philosophical leanings — but through its dry sense of humour and its utterly gorgeous, wholly unique palette-knife-painting aesthetics, it will win over just about anyone in the end.
Paradise Killer (Switch eShop)
Paradise Killer is the answer to the question: "What if there was a community of avant-garde, vaporwave drag queens who were prone to murder?" No one has ever asked that question, of course, but the answer is a searing neon murder-mystery set in a strange paradisiacal purgatory in which the rulers have been brutally killed... and it's up to you, Lady Love Dies, to find out whodunnit.
The game is presented as a non-linear, open world game, which means you can do things in any old order at any old time. If you wish, you can even start the murder trial right away! But this no-strings investigation style is both freeing and a little scary, with all the responsibility of investigating resting squarely on your shoulders instead of being gently poked along by the game design. We super believe in you, though.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc Anniversary Edition (Switch eShop)
The first of the Dan Gum Rompy games, Trigger Happy Havoc is an excellent start to the series. Set in a school/death camp operated by a maniacal teddy bear, THH is all about trying to survive a brutal killing game by trying to avoid being murdered by all the other students.
It's got elements of Battle Royale and the Zero Escape games, as all the students try to bump each other off to win the great big prize (their freedom), plus more than a bit of Saw in the way it leans into gore and gruesome deaths. Much like Ace Attorney, every murder also winds up in a Class Trial, which sees all of the students try to figure out who did the crime, and sentencing the culprit to yet another horrible death. Basically, you can murder as much as you like... but don't get caught!
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Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair Anniversary Edition (Switch eShop)
Arguably better in some ways than the first Doggone Romper game, Goodbye Despair takes the "teens murdering each other" plot to whole new places — including the setting itself, which is now a tropical island. Also, this time, all the girls are in bikinis for a significant chunk of the game.
Plenty of shocking twists, violent deaths, and confusing minigames await you in Goodbye Despair, from a weird snowboarding minigame that makes you steer into the answers to questions (because???) to the irritating Hangman's Gambit, which is about playing hangman with a mind-gun (don't ask).
Return of the Obra Dinn (Switch eShop)
Now, Return of the Obra Dinn is technically not a detective game. It's an insurance claims adjuster game. But describing one of the greatest detective games of all time as "an insurance claims adjuster game" will make precisely no one want to play it, and everyone should play it.
From the mind of Lucas Pope, the developer of Papers, Please, Obra Dinn is a game that can sound terribly dull on paper: A man boards a ship that has been missing for years, and has suddenly washed into port, only to find that the crew is all dead or missing. But with the help of a magic watch, he can witness their last moments of life in order to identify each corpse by name in his Big Book Of Sailors. And all this is done in the name of figuring out how much insurance to claim on the boat. Sure!
Buuuuut Obra Dinn is so much more than its story: It is a beautifully monochrome, gorgeously soundtracked series of vignettes that takes you to weird places, and asks you — wordlessly — to make incredible leaps of logic to figure out who is who on this strange, cursed boat. It's a must-play.
Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir & Famicom Detective Club: The Girl Who Stands Behind (Switch eShop)
We'll group these two surprising remakes together, not because they're bad on their own, but because the bumper pack is really the best way to witness these games.
Initially released on the Famicom as Japan-only narrative games, it would take over 30 years for the Famicom Detective Club games to be localised and remastered for Switch, which is the version we have here. Although the two FDC games show their age with their obtuse lack of signposting and puzzle solutions that make no bloody sense, they're surprisingly still a lot of fun to play through.
You'll be investigating two stories: In "The Missing Heir", it's the suspicious death of a wealthy matriarch, with a healthy dose of the supernatural, as people keep claiming to have seen her ghost. In "The Girl Who Stands Behind", you'll be looking into a mysterious school rumour, the death of a young girl, and the slow unravelling of a story that goes back longer than anyone realises.
Just don't ask too many questions about the detective being a 17-year-old kid with no experience... or memories.
What Remains of Edith Finch (Switch eShop)
What Remains of Edith Finch is a detective story... of sorts. This first-person narrative exploration game is all about exploring an abandoned house, and trying to piece together what happened to its previous owners and inhabitants, through examining the things they left behind, and reliving their deaths through short, fairytale-like vignettes.
It's never fully clear what happened to the individual Finch family members, who all die in strange and unusual ways thanks to the "family curse", but the open-ended vignettes are as beautiful and varied as the characters they are about.
It's also one of the very first games published by Annapurna Interactive, if that gives you a good sense of the vibe!
The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles (Switch)
Much like several of the games on this list, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is technically not a detective game — it's a lawyering game with investigative portions. But with
Sherlock Holmes legally distinct legendary detective Herlock Sholmes working with you, it's hard to say that this game isn't at least a little bit detectivey.
Ryunosuke's detective style is, admittedly, less about following the footprints with a magnifying glass until you stumble upon a shocking reveal, and more about gathering clues that don't mean much until you piece them together in court, with the help of witness testimony.
Still, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles (which is two games: Adventures and Resolve) builds on the more hands-off investigative work of the original Ace Attorney games with the use of Sholmes' gadgets, which are able to determine blood matches, skin prints, and various other things that would not have actually been possible in the Victorian era. It's fun, though, so who cares!
AI: The Somnium Files (Switch)
From the makers of cult classic games 999 and Virtue's Last Reward, as well as fellow list-mates Danganronpa, comes AI: The Somnium Files, a game that has — you guessed it — a bunch of grisly murders right at the beginning. It's almost like that's Spike Chunsoft's style, and we mean that in a positive way! They're very good at it!
Unlike Zero Escape and Danganronpa, The Somnium Files lets you take a more hands-on approach to altering the future, with sequences that involve controlling an AI eyeball who is also a sexy lady to explore people's dreams within a six-minute time limit. Use that six minutes well, and you could entirely change what happens next...
The Darkside Detective: A Fumble in the Dark (Switch eShop)
Aha! Another game with "Detective" in the title! That means it is indisputably a detective game, and we don't have to include any caveats!
"A Fumble in the Dark" is a direct sequel to the first Darkside Detective game, but we've put it first because it improves on its predecessor significantly, elevating the writing, world, and characters while maintaining the series' trademark colourful pixels. As Detective McQueen, the returning protagonist, you'll be searching for your missing partner in this Twin Peaks-esque setting... and you might have to venture into the supernatural realm to solve the case.
It's worth playing the first game before this one to get a real sense of all the returning characters, though.
Grim Fandango Remastered (Switch eShop)
One of the all-time GOATs of all time, Grim Fandango is LucasArts' and Double Fine's masterpiece of a point-and-click game that's aged surprisingly well.
Manny Calavera, the skull lad on the box art, is stuck at a dead-end job in the underworld, but he accidentally stumbles upon a grand conspiracy of soul-laundering, and spends the next four years attempting to save souls and kick butt in order to stop the evil mafia boss, Hector LeMans.
The combination of traditional noir writing, Day of the Dead-style skulls everywhere, and Tim Schafer's trademark creative direction make Grim Fandango one of the most beloved adventure games ever, and this polished-up version on the Switch is much more palatable than having to play with the clunky controls of the original PC version.
Tangle Tower (Switch eShop)
Short, sweet, and stunningly animated, Tangle Tower is a murder-mystery from the minds behind Snipperclips, one of the Switch's launch games. It's technically the third in the Detective Grimoire series, but it's far and away the best of the bunch, and requires no prior knowledge.
You are, of course, Detective Grimoire, and you're here at the titular Tangle Tower to tease out the answers behind the murder of Freya Fellow, who looks like she was murdered by her own painting. With fantastic voice acting and tricky, inventive puzzles all the way through, it's a joy to play Tangle Tower from beginning to end.
-cries in Deadly Premonition-
Herlock Sholmes is satisfied with this list.
Famicom tantei are my favorite games from Nintendo!
The great Ace Attorney was also fantastic, except for the fourth case in the first game.
Thimbleweed park was ok, but has an extremely good endibg.
Love the original Phoenix Wright triology.
Ai the somnium files was allright.
Layton mystery journey was not as fun as the anime adaption. Katrielle works better animated. Got the Japanese BDs.
LA Noire had a interesting story but boring gameplay. Turned me of from ever checking out 3D GTA games.
Batman the telltale game is the worst Switch game I own. Unless they patched it later, the save function stopped working at chapter 3!
I never truly realized until I saw this list that this is in fact my favorite game genre. Will have to try out more of these, such as Gnosia
I highly, HIGHLY recommend Return of the Obra Dinn. This game had me constantly thinking between sessions (Basically at work) on how to fill in the blanks. There's also a unique charm to the presentation style.
I recommend going in as blind as possible.
Kate, I love your writing. I've never seen the word "listmate" before, despite being quite the wordmonger, but I see myself using it quite a bit going forward. And the Lovecraft with Poirot angle was genius.
Still though, I think this list concept was mainly another excuse to talk about about Great Ace Attorney Chronicles, haha. But there's nothing wrong with that.
The Suicide of Rachel Foster is a great addition to the genre IMO.
I really like Heaven's Vault, but it's definitely more of a "mystery" game than "Detective". It's also pretty slow-paced if you want to see everything (and will take multiple plays). You can definitely miss things along the way and not be able to go back. But for all of that, you slowly get better at translating the old language and can learn more about the story and universe.
I enjoyed Jenny LeClue and look forward to the sequel. My only small gripe was that it felt a bit short, but it's often on sale for a couple of dollars.
Overall - good list with a lot of options.
I really enjoyed L.A. Noire. It can move slow at times, but the story was cool and the detective work seems more realistic then some of the other games on the list.
How well does Disco Elysium run on the Switch? I know in the NL review they wrote it had "slight" issues. Has it been patched? Does it matter?
I know from experience that when a professional reviewer mentions slight performance issues it is sometimes so minor that I don't care or I hardly notice and I shouldn't worry about it too much. My standards are low.
Will get Gnosia and Heaven's vault soon. Lots of games I love on this list. Great Ace Atorney, Obra Dinn and AI are wonderful.
I'm intrigued by the fact that Damn Can Romping 3 isn't on here when 'your' review suggested that was the best 🤔
Grim fandango is a masterpiece.
@Astral-Grain I feel you...if getting your clues from your morning coffee isn't stellar detective work, then I don't know what is.
@Thomystic if this were an actual interrogation I would be sweatin like mad
@AJWolfTill aw heck, you're right. Maybe I'll add it when I've recovered from writing all 36 entries
Recent update seems to have nixed the performance issues.
Runs without a hitch now
I'm currently playing Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments and it's turning out to be one of my favorite detective games in quite a while. IMHO a better game than what this article's slightly dismissive write-up seems to suggest.
I think you missed 'Rainswept - A Murder Mystery Adventure'. I personally have not finished it, but so far its alright.
@Rambler Thanks for replying! I'll definitely check it out (eventually lol)
Sherlock holmes, La Noire and the witcher.
Love these games.
Unavowed is a lot of fun! I played it over Christmas - great setting and art, great story (especially if you like eg. Dresden Files) with branching paths, and for me it was at that Just Right point and click difficulty level where it isn't so easy that it feels like I'm playing Powerpoint and mindlessly clicking, but also not so hard that I go look up solutions in frustration.
Edith Finch brought me to ps4 some years ago and that’s still one of my absolutely best games. I have recommended it to many friends and this far everyone have loved it. Giant sparrow games are quality. The best of Annapurna’s games except for Gorgoa which is a nice game from Annapurna which’s not Sparrow’s..
@Fizza herlock sholmes from the great ace attorney?
@Tobiaku "The great Ace Attorney was also fantastic, except for the fourth case in the first game."
The best feature about TGAA was that every case was tied to each other on both games. It was like the writers made the first game knowing already the entire script of the second. That 4th case of the first game was a build up for the 2nd case of the second game. I thougnt that it was the usual filler case like what happens on the previous games, but it blew my mind when all the dots were connected later.
@BananaMetallurgica Elementary, my dear Naruhodo.
@Savage_Joe I know that, I have finished both games, but case 4 was still an absolute stinker. I guessed who actually did and how they did it before the trial and spent the trials hoping they would change it from what I guessed, but it still ended up almost like I guessed it and except for some feminist stuff in the first chapter of the second game it was also the least fun chapter as far as comedy goes in my opinion so ehh. I reallly did not like that particular chapter.
Murder by numbers might be the worst game I've played on the console, suprising to see it here honestly.
I still need to play FDC!
High recommendation for Obra Dinn. It can get hard, but it’s a fascinating and enveloping game. Very original, great premise, and wonderfully unexpected turns as it unravels.
As an Ace Attorney noob, is The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles an ok point to jump in, or is it better to try out the OG trilogy first?
So glad I’m not the only one that considers Witcher 3 a detective game too. Seriously, the Wraith in the Well in White Orchard was my first “holy pies Sam, I’m playing Supernatural the video game…:” moment. So awesome. Could seriously play a series of quests like that on infinite repeat. Whole game and DLC was truly amazing! And Hearts of Stone is likely the best story written for a game….
I just ordered the Paradise Killer physical edition the other day, because you know I need more murder-prone vaporwave drag queens in my life.
This is a great list, I haven't played too many of these games but I love all the ones I have played. Except for Batman Enemy Within. I really didn't get along with that game.
Seems like all the detective games were listed (there’s really not many to begin with) with the exception of ABC Murders and Hercule Poirot: - The First Cases which is weird considering you cracked that HP Lovecraft “joke”. I’ve played both btw being a Poirot fan and they were decent at best.
The fact that Layton's Mystery Journey is the only Layton game on Switch still is a tragedy! I did enjoy that game a lot to be honest, but Professor Layton is one of my favorite series and I hate how dormant it's been since the 3ds ended.
Ai Somnium Files is amazing. So is Obra Dinn.
On the other hand, Katrielle Layton whatever whatever is the only truly bad game in that entire franchise. I grit my teeth and muscled through it. At least the anime is pretty good!
Would LOVE to see a Layton collection on Switch.
No Detective Di on this list? And...and... isn't Overboard the exact opposite of a detective game? Even though is it rather good...
L.A. Noire is one of the best video games of all time. You will never play another game like it. I would also thoroughly recommend it if you are interested in the time period. The game developers do an amazing job creating a faithful recreation of late 1940s Los Angeles.
@KateGray What about Observer? Seems like a decent fit for the list.
My 10 year old daugher loves Jenny LeClue and Tangle Tower.
Great list! Already have a few of these (albeit some on other platforms, like Obra Dinn, Grim Fandango and the Darkside Detective games on Mac) but there's a whole lot that I hadn't ever considered before, that I'm quite keen to check out on Switch, for that "lounging on the couch" comfort factor so important to solving mysteries.
I would say it's an excellent place to start, maybe even the best. Other than a few Easter eggs in the background you wouldn't be at any disadvantage. It's a self contained story that starts and ends strong.
Biggest risk would be loosing the advancements and QOL of TGAA if you then went on to play the original trilogy.
This article is filled to the brim with great information. And there are a few games I was on the fence about that I didn't realize had a demo. It seems I might have some research to do.
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