One of the first such games was 1985's Deja Vu, a tribute to hard-boiled detective novels. It was the perfect combination of genres, since detective work basically involves searching for clues, and inspired dozens of imitators.
Turns out that Nintendo's portable DS, with its touch-screen interface, is the ideal device for point-and-click puzzle solving - and older players who have been drawn to the DS enjoy the less frenetic gameplay of a well-told whodunit.
Phoenix Wright, Ace Attorney: Justice for All (Capcom, for the DS, $29.99): Phoenix Wright - whose first adventure was a cult hit for the DS in 2005 - is back to tackle four baffling new mysteries.
In each case, Phoenix is the defense attorney for some poor schmo who's been wrongly accused of murder. By scouring crime scenes, studying evidence and cross-examining prosecution witnesses, the valiant lawyer has to find the real killer and get his client off the hook. The cases are cleverly designed, with plenty of unexpected twists and unpredictable courtroom drama. Fans of the first game will be happy to find out that the writers haven't lost their off-kilter sense of humor, with lots of over-the-top dialogue and a sprinkling of pop-culture gags.
Justice for All adds a new "Psyche-Lock" system, in which you have to invade a witnesses' mind and unlock the deceptions that are obscuring the truth; it's appropriately goofy, but not the sort of substantial upgrade you'd like to see in a sequel. *** out of ****
Hotel Dusk: Room 215 (Nintendo, for the DS, $34.99): Kyle Hyde is a boozy ex-cop who's haunted by the shooting of his former partner, Brian Bradley - and the suspicion that Bradley, who disappeared into the Hudson River, isn't dead after all.
Hyde has become a traveling salesman, and his job takes him to a flophouse called Hotel Dusk where everyone seems to be hiding something. As Hyde interviews the gruff desk clerk, the spacey errand boy and an assortment of evasive guests, he discovers a 30-year-old mystery that may have a connection to the case that ended his NYPD career.
Since your actions are mostly limited to interrogating the hotel's denizens or snooping around for clues, Hotel Dusk won't appeal to trigger-happy gamers who are used to shooting first and never asking questions. But fans of classic film noir will enjoy this twisty, hard-boiled tale, with its snappy dialogue and well-integrated, logical puzzles. It looks stylish too, with its 2D, black-and-white characters superimposed over 3D, color images of the hotel. ***
Touch Detective (Atlus, for the DS, $29.99): And then there's Mackenzie, a young girl trying to keep her late father's detective agency afloat. She's a bit of a ditz, to be honest, and the cases she takes - like finding out who's been stealing a friend's dreams - are more whimsical than intriguing.
Indeed, any player who approaches these cases logically is at a disadvantage. For example, to get a crucial piece of evidence in the first case, you have to inflate a giant chicken-lady with a bicycle pump. That's typical of this game. If you can get on its weird wavelength, it can be fun, but most mystery lovers will find it exasperating. *