Blue Toad Murder Files: The Mystery of the Concealing Flame
Episode three: revenge of the math.
There is a certain feeling that I have avoided for over 10 years. It's the unnerving sensation you get when you open an exam paper and are confronted with two trains leaving different cities at different speeds.
Some may relish having to crowbar their minds around imaginary public transport, but for me it provokes nothing but blank-eyed puzzle fear. For the exact same reason I have always done my utmost to avoid situations in which I have to take grain, chickens and hungry foxes across a river in a very small boat.
Patterns, logic and maths: all these things put a black hole in my stomach and, for a brief second at least, make me feel alone in a cruel and brutal world.
It's a feeling that returned with a vengeance as I was handed the pad in a four-man playthrough of the forthcoming third episode of the Blue Toad Murder Files - The Mystery of the Concealing Flame.
"We started with the idea of the whodunit, and the whodunit is like a big puzzle - you get a whole bunch of information and you sift through it to find the details you need to come up with the answer," design director Paul Woodbridge had explained before I was banished to one of Relentless' offices with a group of fellow journalists to confront my demons. "These lateral thinking logic puzzles lend themselves to that very well, and they're the sorts of things you can do together."
Mercifully it was that final detail, the co-operative nuance and strange balance of competition and camaraderie, which a pass-the-pad playthrough of Blue Toad engenders, that made my moment of puzzle-fail shame a temporary one.
Calmed by the buzz of activity elsewhere within the HQ of Relentless Software and aided by helpful fellow players, I very nearly managed to rearrange a flirty librarian's filing system successfully. I didn't do it, obviously, but I didn't kill anyone in the process either. It was actually rather fun. Later I even went on to successfully reorder some broken biscuits.
It helps that the game charms your socks off. Blue Toad's murder mystery pastiche takes the word 'quaint' to its very extremities, covering everything in such a veneer of antiquated Englishness that you'd be willing to forgive it even if the game itself had been caught redhanded in the library wielding a bloodied candlestick. It's Miss Marple meets Trumpton - a saccharine cartoon world of butchers, bakers, candlestick-makers and grumpy generals who need the ducks in their pond jigged around against a ticking clock.
Each episode is a crime mystery, as you will know if you have played through episode ones and two, reviewed just before Christmas. You move from character to character within the sleepy village of Little Riddle (episode three concerns the mastermind behind a raging inferno within the village) and each line of questioning prompts a puzzle - whether it's to do with the misremembered canine theft of sausages or men in primary-coloured waist-coats refusing to be associated with one other.
Standing proud and fairly loud over proceedings is one Tom Dussek - the man narrates in his deep bass tone, does the police in different voices and impersonates irritating old women as they give your faithful canine companion's testicles a good squeeze.
"There's just such a rich seam of character," he explains once the credits to episode three are rolling, fresh from an impersonation of the coquettish librarian flirting with wet-nosed Watson the dog. "Agatha Christie is massively popular around the world - so it plays well to all nationalities. English is Bowler hats, and English is Agatha Christie. Poirot even emigrated to come to England to solve crimes."