With an apologetic tip of the long, fancy hat to original author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, we think it's fair to say that Sherlock Holmes' many adaptations have supplanted the original text in terms of prominence. Most luridly, of course, there is Steven Moffat's Sherlock, as well as similarly contemporary take Elementary, plus the Robert Downey Jr. Hollywood interpretation. Going back further we have Jeremy Brett and Basil Rathbone's iconic portrayals, and who could forget Tantei Opera Milky Holmes?
What we're getting at here is that any take on Sherlock Holmes detached from all of these previous presentations is necessarily going to take inspiration from its predecessors and must work hard to find its own identity. Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments feels like a hodge-podge of characterisation and direction, borrowing liberally from the aesthetics of Guy Ritchie's efforts while incorporating elements of the BBC Sherlock series for the deduction sequences. And, despite the somewhat unavoidable feeling of unoriginality, it all works rather brilliantly.
The first thing that struck us about this anthology was its excellent graphics; the game was very much a looker on PC and that's true on Switch as well. This is no lazy half-baked port; Crimes and Punishments runs at a locked 30fps and looks, quite frankly, like a million dollars. Of course it's a relative downgrade from the heftier consoles but it's still deeply impressive. Environments are detail-rich and beautiful, with impressive depth of colour and lighting. Character models are superbly detailed, too; and they need to be, as small blemishes and other details can make or break your solving of a case, here.
Flitting back and forth between locations as Sherlock, you'll speak to witnesses, examine victims, interrogate suspects and use good old deductive reasoning to try and get to the bottom of six different cases. These aren't entirely linear, either — while there is a prescribed correct "path" through each case, you'll need to use your own intuition and deduction to piece together the truth yourself. Situations will arise where the wrong option, or simply moving too slowly, will cut off a potential lead — and you don't get a do-over. This leads to an experience that feels more organically like a detective game than any we've played before (outside perhaps of the PC-only The Painscreek Killings).
You can move around each scene in third-person, or switch to first- for a more immersive experience. We found, though, that we needed Holmes and his fetching (and customisable) hat on screen at all times; we just enjoyed his impeccable dress sense. Examining a crime scene is as simple as approaching objects of interest and tapping 'A' when prompted, enabling you to get a close look to pick out details à la Ace Attorney.
It's also possible to hit the 'L' button to trigger a "detective mode" style feature that will highlight details that others besides Sherlock may not have noticed; this avoids feeling too perfunctory because you are required to linger on the suspicious detail in order for it to trigger, which causes related deductions to form on screen (rather like a toned-down, less bombastic version of BBC Sherlock's take on the "Mind Palace").
Once you've gathered enough facts, you're able to hit 'Y' to go into Deduction mode in order to try and piece them together. Cleverly though, while your assessments may well be logical, they may not be correct, and the game won't tell you that until each chapter is over. You're committed to your decisions in such a way that it's very much incentivised to do the best detective work you can rather than brute-force your way through. This makes you a better player and the game a better, well, game.
It isn't perfect. The six cases run roughly two hours apiece and are barely connected besides a minuscule amount of foreshadowing for the finale (which we didn't find especially climactic to begin with). This isn't a problem per se — a 12-hour game (at minimum) isn't exactly what we'd call short, but the piecemeal structure is a little less interesting than the connective tissue of the already-mentioned Ace Attorney titles. There are also a number of quite difficult puzzles, which quite frankly we didn't get a lot of joy from. At the risk of being accused of being "casual", we were glad that the option to simply skip these sequences without penalty was available; we wanted to solve crimes, not rotate abstract shapes! We also found the loading sequences rather lengthy and frequent, but it's a slower-paced game and a good-looking one, too, so it didn't bother us unduly.
Overall, this is the best Sherlock Holmes game we've encountered and a very auspicious debut for the consulting detective on Switch. This is far from a lazy downgrade, with developer Frogwares presenting a full-featured and compelling experience from start to perhaps-too-soon finish. It looks great and plays brilliantly, with only occasional annoyances and some weak (though thankfully skippable) puzzles to knock it down a peg. The fact that the game is willing to allow you to get it wrong means it feels less prescribed and inevitable as other titles in the detective genre, and that's quite refreshing. A little ironic that it took one of the form's oldest characters to finally land such a novel approach.