Duck Detective Is A Mystery Game About Quacking The Case As A Fact-Finding Fowl

Duck Detective Is A Mystery Game About Quacking The Case As A Fact-Finding Fowl

In all the marketing I’ve seen for Duck Detective: The Secret Salami, the same excited dot point catches my eye every time: the folks at developer Happy Broccoli Games (Kraken Academy) want you to know that this is a 2-3 hour-long game. As a player, I enjoy the sense of achievement of finishing a whole game in an afternoon; as a freelance critic, one whose pay is rarely dictated by how long or short the game I just reviewed was, I love to see that a game will roll credits in just a few hours. And indeed, Duck Detective wrapped up for me in about two-and-a-half leisurely hours. More attentive players could solve its central mystery faster than that, I think.

duck detective
Image: Happy Broccoli Games

The subtle art of deducktion

As the name suggests, Duck Detective: The Secret Salami is a funny little game about a duck who solves mysteries. The Duck Detective, stinging from his recent divorce and an empty wallet, takes on a job at a bus deployment hub run by a gruff grizzly bear (oddly, because of the deduction mechanics, it would be a spoiler for me to list the names of any of the characters other than the Duck Detective himself). Our fact-finding fowl is there because someone has reported a stolen lunch, the exact kind of low-stakes crime you might expect from a game like this. Soon, they stumble upon something more sinister happening among the staff – but not that much more sinister because this is a pretty lighthearted game. There’s interpersonal drama to unpack, some inconsequential conspiracies to mull over, and a “salami bandit” – who leaves behind high-quality imported salami as their calling card – to capture. It’s all very silly.

The entire game is set almost entirely inside one building consisting of five rooms and an outdoor space. You interview the office workers, get a sense of their personalities and aspirations, and observe the environment to pick up clues. From there, you go into the “Deducktion” menu (cute) to piece together the facts of the case and to figure out the names of every employee. These are mechanics we’ve seen in games like Case of the Golden Idol and Return of the Obra Dinn, but Duck Detective is much, much simpler. It’s fully voice-acted, has a distinctive visual style, and lots of cute touches to the environments and its mechanics. It really is a very small game, but it’s charming and stylish. The mystery itself is not hugely satisfying, but the characters are well-observed. It’s a souffle game – light and airy, skillfully removed from the oven at just the right moment before it has a chance to deflate.

Image: Happy Broccoli Games

Small, cute, funny, animals as a genre

As I played Duck Detective, I thought about the growing family of games it could roughly be said to belong to – the small, cute, funny animal game. Games with animal protagonists, a comical outlook, and a short playtime. The most obvious recent comparison is Frog Detective; the two games share a lot of DNA, although Duck Detective is more mechanically rich and a bit less ridiculous (no shade on Frog Detective, a great game in its own right). I also thought about this month’s Little Kitty, Big City, a very different kind of game that nevertheless has a lot of overlapping ambitions – cute animals, small-scale adventuring, and pleasantly easy gameplay. I also reflected on Lil Gator Game, which recently hit Game Pass and is quite delightful – a cute game about childhood with a light melancholic tinge to it. Later Alligator also featured a funny gator, plus a mystery, and took under three hours to beat. There’s a trend here!

Even if we narrow things specifically to birds, there are several examples of short, funny games from the last 10 years of indie games. I’ve seen a bird solve crimes across a short run-time in Aviary Attorney before. I know that if I ever set aside two hours for A Short Hike, I’ll have a nice time. I wonder whether the huge success of Untitled Goose Game led to an uptick in this trend, but maybe it was actually Hatoful Boyfriend, the pigeon dating sim that could be finished in under two hours. Perhaps all of this flows back to Octodad, an extremely clever game about embodying a specific weird, funny animal (sorry, correction: a regular, normal dad).

For indie developers, the appeal of being able to make and market something small, contained and funny is obvious – making a game as a small team is difficult, and the smaller your scope, the more viable the project. And if your main character is a funny animal, it builds in a certain marketing hook right away. This duck is solving crimes! But he’s also sad about his divorce! He’s cute, but with a little bit of an edge!

Another funny thing about this trend is that all of the games I’ve listed are, at a minimum, pretty good. Duck Detective is no exception. It’s light and breezy compared to the games that most clearly inspired it, but it’s a charming way to spend half an afternoon. Would I feel the same way if the game was called Doug Detective, and featured a middle-aged man investigating other humans? Maybe not! But a duck that solves crimes and gets a bit excited whenever anyone mentions bread? That’s a much easier sell.

Duck Detective: The Secret Salami is available on PC and Switch on May 23. An Xbox version is also coming soon. A Switch code was provided by the developer for review.

Image: Happy Broccoli Games, Kotaku Australia

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