When a one-man team creates a point-and-click adventure, you tend to get one of two extremes. Either an incredibly tight, incredibly short vignette game, or a rambling, sprawling, poorly illustrated jumble. Inspector Waffles does an incredibly impressive job of breaking those rules: it’s a full-length, hugely entertaining adventure, with some absolutely fantastic chunky pixel art.
Inspector Waffles is a drunken cop, a loner, unable to move on after an incident in which he feels he badly let down his former partner. He doesn’t play by the rules, goes in without a warrant, and is increasingly considered a liability despite once being considered one of the best detectives on the force. Which would all be quite the most extraordinary cliché were Waffles not… a cat.
Set in Cattown, this game exists in a possible future where cats and dogs have evolved into bipedal human-likes, but carried with them so many traits of their former selves. Policedogs are considered incredibly faithful and loyal, but sometimes looked down on by the policecats with their more temperamental natures and aloof approach. Waffles is a milkaholic, spending far too many of his nights drinking in bars, but when a box factory owner – Fluffy – is murdered he is straight on the case. However, against his will he’s partnered up with Spotty, a bouyantly enthusiastic snifferdog policedog, and so everything is set up for a buddy-cop tale with so very many dog and cat puns.
Given the premise, which is all executed really nicely, I was sure we were in for a lot of antagonism and sarcasm. Those are, of course, the core themes of almost every adventure game, whether they’re cartoon comic capers or hardened police dramas. Unlikeable central characters and sneering tones swamp the genre, to a demoralising degree. But yet, this is absolutely not the case in Inspector Waffles! This is a heartwarming story, of thoroughly decent characters being thoroughly decent to one another. And if there were nothing else, I’d still so hugely recommend it for that.
Thankfully there’s lots else. Lots of fun, good-natured writing, a collection of cartoonish baddies, and a fair few hours of puzzle solving and conversationing to enjoy. Clearly there’s a murder at the centre of the tail, and it’s excellent to report how respectfully it handles this. It didn’t need to! It’s a game about pixel drawings of cats and dogs, it could have been a throwaway plot point. But instead, without ever getting grim or morbid, it takes the matter seriously. Which is no mean feat in a story that’s going to involve secret underground lion cults, brainwashed bulldogs, and FBI giraffes.
I’m as disappointed as ever by the lack of meaningful interaction with the cursor. Like too many adventures, you just have the one mouse click for everything, not even a “look at”. It’s such a shame, as it diminishes so much atmosphere, removes so many opportunities for storytelling, and most importantly, removes a layer of player agency. I want to choose whether I look at or talk to the chicken, not just have it automated. However, I’ll grudgingly admit it’s a little more appropriate here, since this is an especially linear point-n-clicker. That’s no criticism, and a fine choice for telling the story the way creator Yann Margan wants to – but it’s helpful to know going in that you’re not going to be wandering around multiple locations solving multiple puzzles at any one time. This is much more scene by scene, and it’s a format I enjoy.
More than anything, I’m just so delighted by a game where the good guys are genuinely good. I desperately want to spoil the arc of one of the characters, because it underlines just how much this lovely little game eschews narrative cliché for the sake of positivity. I won’t, but imagine I had, and it completely convinced you.
The lift music throughout was certainly a little tiresome, but otherwise there’s such a great attitude and atmosphere here. It’s daft in the right ways, with some especially convoluted twists, but grounded where it counts. On one level, sure, it’s definitely a bunch of cat v dog observations, but it knows its own familiarity and gently plays with that. And at the end, as the credits rolled, I felt better than when I started. And that’s quite the achievement.