Murder! Sap everywhere! Yes, sap, as it’s rare plants that are being brutally destroyed and there’s only one wise-cracking anthropomorphised rooster who can investigate this fowl play. Created by little indie Italian studio Footprints Games, Detective Gallo is a comic-noir adventure inspired by the classics and successfully crowdfunded a couple of years ago. The result is a solid point-and-click experience that particularly excels in its art style and sense of humour. While it feels slight in scope, there’ll be egg on the face of any adventure game fan who decides to skip this one.
The game begins with a smoky, boozy title sequence, but don’t be deceived. Detective Gallo may like to think he’s straight out of The Big Sleep, but the colourful scenery and plant-based plot put a quick stop to that notion. We first meet our titular private eye – stocky, brimmed hat, hands in pockets – being chucked out of a club for lack of money. Sauntering back to his office, Gallo encounters a stuttering millionaire by the name of Phil Cloro. With his huge glasses and portly belly, Cloro breaks down in tears as he tells Gallo that his majestic prized plants have been butchered by an unknown assailant. It’s clear that greenery is important to most folks, since Gallo himself carries around a silent cactus named Thorn as his partner. After some financial persuasion, Gallo agrees to accept the case.
It’s here that we find out the first rule of Gallo: be competent, critical and careful. A sensible guideline, but you’ll soon discover that there’s no limit to the number of rules in this rooster’s roster… or much concern for the logic of them. “If you don’t remember something, remember a way to remember it,” goes rule 100. “The most disgusting things are always the ones you need the most,” states rule 288. Gallo is bound to these principles, though he has far less concern for more common things like politeness. He’s grumpy, sarcastic and blunt, all of which are heightened when talking to Candy Bop, the sweet shop owner who has an unhealthy obsession with our detective. Despite it all, Gallo’s sardonic wit and genuine desire to solve crime makes him a great protagonist.
With a mystery (and cash) in hand, Gallo makes his way over to the crime scene to suss things out. Through the early stages of the investigation, the game does a great job of quickly introducing you to the mechanics while simultaneously advancing the story. Left-click is the primary interaction, like picking up objects or opening doors, and right-click is used to inspect. Items stored in the inventory can be used in the environment or combined together. Spacebar will highlight all interactive elements. It’s simple stuff and doesn’t try to break the tried and tested mould; anyone familiar with point-and-clicks will know what to expect.
Playing P.I. is certainly nothing new when it comes to adventure games – the occupation fits the genre perfectly. Nevertheless, beginning with its odd premise, Detective Gallo subverts expectations and continues to sprinkle weirdness throughout. It’s at its best when doing so and probably could have leaned into it more. Two scenes especially stand out for their memorable outlandishness: one where you concoct a cocktail to extract information from someone’s mind, another where you infiltrate a mysterious crowd helmed by an audacious leader. More quirkiness is provided by a taxi driver who radically changes profession and a sunglass-donning undercover cactus. While not laugh-out-loud funny, there’s enough charm throughout to keep you amused and entertained.
In his quest for clues, Gallo traverses all over his neighbourhood to work out not only who wrecked Cloro’s plants, but how they did it. Some environments are better structured and utilised than others. The office plays host to a neat puzzle where you need to force the electric company to cut your power, then deal with the outcome in pitch black. Elsewhere, on the borders of the town dump, you’ll need to think outside of the box to dispatch the high-tech security without raising suspicion. On the other hand, Everything for Everybody – a supposedly round-the-clock store run by a scheming bird – is more like a dumping ground for miscellaneous objects to be picked up and used, rather than being presented as a natural part of the story.
There’s a lot of backtracking required, exacerbated by the fact that there’s not a huge number of locations to visit. Granted, it doesn’t require too many clicks to move between the different places, and you can double-click on the edge of the screen to fast travel, but it gets a bit bothersome as you progress through the game’s roughly six-hour runtime and constantly go back and forth between areas you’ve seen many times already. Some new environments open as you progress, which helps combat the staleness, but I wish there was more scale to the world because it all feels a bit physically tight.
Compact as it is, this world is created with wonderful 2D animation. The smooth, high-resolution hand-painted artwork wouldn’t look out of place on a Saturday morning cartoon, aided by architecture purposely veering off at odd angles. It’s constantly nighttime, but there’s no shortage of colour. The teal sky, twinkly stars and large moon work well against the city scenes below, like the grubbiness of the main street or the terracotta-hued earth surrounding the dump. Such settings provide noticeable contrast to the shop front, which is lined with coins and crystals to look extravagantly garish. There’s lots of custom animations when Gallo interacts with things too, along with ambient touches like flashing signs and hovering flies, which go a long way to keeping the visuals interesting even on repeat visits. My only disappointment was the thin black bars at the top and bottom of the screen – when a game looks this good, I want all my monitor’s real estate used!
Balancing difficulty is always tricky, especially when different players have varying tolerance for esoteric solutions, but for the most part Detective Gallo succeeds. The puzzle complexity slowly but surely ramps up, allowing your brain to smoothly change gears as you play. There are a couple of missteps, however. Firstly, items that could easily be a solution (like when you need to open or smash something) are refused without a valid reason. Secondly, sometimes you’ll know what you need to do but will be unable to do so until you’ve triggered something else (perhaps through dialogue). That said, these are small quibbles in what I thought were otherwise well-crafted conundrums. Whether it’s figuring out the combination to a safe, graffitiing an ode to yourself, or dealing with a weapon-wielding criminal, most obstacles feel logical (within the context of such a bizarre world), satisfying to solve and offer a decent amount of variety. There’s no overt hint system, but a quick check of your notebook will display the broad objective, while sometimes you can glean information by ringing your trusty informant.
All of the characters, most of them feathered, are fully voiced. Gallo probably has the best voice, which is handy since you’ll be hearing him the most. It’s deep, yet has a spark to it, delivering lines like “I’ll come with the speed of the law: slow and unrelenting” excellently. On the other end of the cool spectrum is Cloro, a nervous bumbler who always sounds like he’s on the edge of a breakdown. Another favourite is the storekeeper, whose wise guy voice perfectly matches his constant devilish grin. There are a couple of duds, however. Baby-Punk is a tiny wannabe gangster with a pacifier in his mouth – it definitely sounds like he’s sucking on one, so props to that I suppose, but it’s more grating than anything. Also, a small number of financial backers get cameos, which are brief enough to be forgivable but still stick out like sore thumbs.
The score throughout is wonderful, and there’s enough of it that it always feels fresh. Some scenes opt for the more typical jazzy noir numbers, with slow saxophones and strings setting a moody tone. You can’t help but get caught up in the gumshoe vibe when those tracks play. But there’s more to the music than the evocative tunes that are intrinsically linked to detective noir. Trumpets and electric guitars provide tension and pace in more intense moments, while slow percussion plays for the more mellow ones. Despite the mixture of sounds and styles, it all fits together and makes a complete package. Top marks for the soundtrack.
Even with its limited scope, Detective Gallo ends before wearing out its welcome with the case reaching a natural conclusion. I certainly would have been happy to play more if there was enough to see and do, so hopefully there will be a sequel to satisfy that thirst. Gallo himself makes for a great protagonist, with his no-nonsense personality, wise cracks and personal code of ethics, and the eclectic poultry cast around him are fun to spend time with too. The excellent soundtrack and art elevate this adventure, but the solid puzzles and quirky sense of humour play their parts as well. If you’re looking for a classic-styled point-and-click that delivers a job well done, don’t hesitate to crack out your magnifying glass and dive into Detective Gallo.