Last year’s The Case of the Golden Idol was a bona fide revelation for many adventure gamers. While similar to the mechanics first brought forth by Return of the Obra Dinn, Golden Idol’s fresh fill-in-the-blanks mystery solving enthusiastically won many over, earning Adventure Game Hotspot’s coveted Game of the Year honor for 2022. At the close of my review, I had only one wish: for more. Well, more is what we got, and it doesn’t disappoint.
Golden Idol Mysteries: The Spider of Lanka is a relatively short DLC chapter for the original game that adds three new scenes in a self-contained storyline that cleverly sets up the events we know so well. It’s a prequel to the main game, but due to its high difficulty and “side story” flavor, it’s very much something best played afterwards.
This game has almost all of the same appeal as its (required) predecessor, just in a slightly more challenging and bite-sized scope. The unique throwback art style returns, bolstered a bit by a slight visual upgrade with higher-fidelity character portraits and more fluid animation this time around. The new music really slaps, too, adding a ton of moody atmosphere to the markedly different setting. The Case of the Golden Idol primarily took place in a very Western European-centric set of manors and countrysides, but The Spider of Lanka is set in the cities of the fictional isle of Lanka, which feels a bit like a mixture of ancient Persia, India and Egypt. It’s a totally unique environment that ensures the experience doesn’t feel at all like a retread, even though some (mildly) familiar faces do turn up.
Where Golden Idol’s story took place over several decades, the entire tale of Spider of Lanka unfolds over the course of a single expedition, which naturally lessens its world-shaking impact a tad. This isn’t a knock against it, but the original game’s long-term character development and wide-reaching political consequences elevated it to being even more than the sum of its terrific parts. The Spider of Lanka simply doesn’t have enough story to build upon in similar ways (nor as many characters to juggle), but if you enjoyed Golden Idol’s gameplay as much as I did, you have very little to be concerned about. Spider of Lanka is a rock-solid expansion that ups the difficulty to challenge seasoned players, throwing in even grislier murders and some immensely clever conundrums to unravel.
Just like the first game, gameplay unfolds in two modes. In Exploration mode, you click on clues laid out around a frozen-in-time crime scene to gather up a vocabulary of relevant keywords. In Thinking mode, you’ll be dragging those words (mainly names, nouns and verbs) into a Mad Libs-style template to complete sentences that summarize all the important info. Usually this comes in the form of figuring out the identities of all present, living or otherwise, but also what some of them were up to prior to the murder, and whether they were connected.
Don’t expect anything resembling a tutorial case to get you up to speed. From the get-go, Spider of Lanka is clearly targeting experienced players. The first case is rather satisfying and surprisingly complex for taking place on a single screen. While most of the original game has you solving one or maybe two murders at a time, Spider of Lanka’s opening level throws you into the midst of a five-body massacre – and asks you to figure out not only the identities of each corpse, but also the order in which they met their ends, plus the rules for the made-up card game of Pajack while you’re at it. It’s a pleasantly grim and bonkers start to a pretty wild and fascinating tale that feels larger in scope than it actually is – mainly thanks to the writers at Color Gray Games having done such a stellar job at sprinkling potent bits of world-building detail throughout each scene, letting your mind fill in the blanks of Lanka’s rich history teased in various books and letters.
The second and third cases are much larger, and even more interesting. These unfold over several locations and require you to keep track of the varying agendas of about a half-dozen unscrupulous individuals, while also deciphering secret codes, identifying native arthropods, understanding the tangled web of an intricate sting operation, and deducing the logic and religious beliefs behind an ancient coming-of-age ritual that goes nightmarishly wrong. It’s great stuff, although the final case does end up being a bit of a slog at times.
The best cases of Spider of Lanka and Golden Idol ask players to solve some pseudo-optional challenges on the Thinking panel that flesh out the world and provide more clues for figuring out the main mystery, but in the final portion here, you’re tasked solely with filling in a very, very long summary of the entire adventure’s story. It provides some pretty interesting new context for past scenes, but the repetitiveness of dealing with such a wall of text leaves a little to be desired on the fun front. Thankfully, while the gameplay here isn’t as novel or exciting as the rest, the mystery itself is quite a doozy, with loads of “ah ha!” moments that make up for the minor tedium and bring the whole story to a satisfying, if slightly hurried, conclusion.
Overall, the difficulty feels tuned to perfection for veteran players, and while I spent several minutes feeling thoroughly stumped in each sequence, I only ever needed to consult the in-game hint system one time for a pretty minor push in the right direction. The feeling of going from “I have no idea what’s going on” to “this all makes perfect sense now” in Spider of Lanka offers a satisfaction that’s hard to overstate, with much of the narrative being almost overwhelmingly bewildering at first and then completely understandable in retrospect. That’s a tricky balance to strike, and I can only tip my hat to the developers for making it seem second nature.
The Spider of Lanka offers about three hours of play, which is around a third the size of the original (perhaps slightly more), but still very generous for its budget price tag, which brought me more enjoyment than quite a lot of full-sized games. Which once again brings me to my one and only request of the developers: can we have even more of this? Heck, as long as the quality stays this high, I’d be happy if Golden Idol sequels, expansions, spin-offs and imitators got mass-produced to the point of reaching the regularity of a daily sudoku or crossword puzzle. Should such a future come to pass, you can bet your boots I’d be there, dutifully filling out the details of each grisly murder with a contented smile on my face (and hopefully looking less creepy than that sounds).
Golden Idol Mysteries: The Spider of Lanka is not quite as grand in scope as the original game, but is still a must-play for Golden Idol fans hungry for more. From its minimalist, intrigue-laden storytelling to its haunting music and devious puzzles, this new DLC prequel chapter fully retains the charms of the original game’s novelty and adds new, twisty layers to its backstory. I can’t wait for what’s next.
This expansion to our 2022 Game of the Year proves that The Case of the Golden Idol was no fluke, making an undeniable argument for even further explorations into its addicting, vocabulary-themed approach to detective gameplay.
- More of the same phenomenal deduction mechanics from the main game
- Difficulty is well balanced to challenge veteran players
- Fantastic world-building
- Clever connections to original game story make it feel like a necessary expansion that was always meant to exist
- Understandably smaller scope prevents it from reaching the epic-scale heights of its predecessor’s storytelling
- Final case isn’t as much fun to solve as the first two
- Ending wraps up a lot of stuff in a bit of a hurry
Sean played his own copy of Golden Idol Mysteries: The Spider of Lanka on PC.