The brisk and chilly atmosphere of death permeates The Last Case of Benedict Fox as the titular character, a detective by trade, investigates a winding tale rife with murder, the occult, and the fantastical world beyond the living. Of course, it is Benedict’s “companion” that ultimately transforms this game from being just any ordinary Metroidvania. This demonic partner constantly whispers in his ear offering him both advice and context to the greater supernatural world he is traversing through. But more than that, the entity offers Benedict power over the otherworldly shadows that lurk in Limbo.
Set in the mid-1920s, Benedict is brought to a decrepit mansion where he becomes the chief investigator of a murder that will ultimately offer him more than he bargained for. And thanks to his otherworldly companion, each cold corpse on the ground is a gateway to the deceased person’s “limbo” realm. It’s this strange alternate dimension where Benedict can explore the life of the case subjects at hand while battling shadowy foes.
Benedict will start in the Mansion as a sort of hub in the mortal plane. Of course, there are secrets and details to uncover in the mansion. But many of the clues to unlocking these elements are held in the limbo dimensions which are initially accessed by Benedict through interacting with a corpse. Once in limbo, Benedict can unlock anchors throughout the labyrinthine passageways that act as both fast travel points and a place to heal. Speaking of fast travel, you can travel to any anchor you’ve unlocked at any point by simply opening your map and selecting the point you wish to head to. This convenience is an incredibly welcome feature.
"Stylistically, the world is vivid, colorful, and frightening when it needs to be. The detail and artistry behind the game’s presentation are markedly evident and are easy to appreciate."
By design, The Last Case of Benedict Fox is a 2.5D Metroidvania akin to other modern titles in the same niche genre like Ori and the Blind Forest. There’s a certain grandeur offered by the game’s visual appeal. The noir setting is on point and highly atmospheric. Stylistically, the world is vivid, colorful, and frightening when it needs to be. The detail and artistry behind the game’s presentation are markedly evident and are easy to appreciate. The limbo realms are an eclectic collection of hellish landscapes and scenery from each person’s life. Many times, I found myself just gazing at the foreground and all of the oddities marking the landscape.
As you traverse each limbo, you’ll encounter hostile shadowy creatures. Benedict has two basic attacks. He can slash at his enemies with a knife for melee hits. He’s also packing a flare gun that can typically take out basic enemies with one shot. At the start of the game, until Benedict is able to make upgrades later, he only has one shot. You can refill his singular flare gun round by using melee attacks. Benedict can also use his companion to parry enemy attacks which will become highly necessary.
Combat is, perhaps, Benedict Fox’s weakest element. It’s not very fluid and enemy movements, especially in groups, are often highly imperceptible. Attacking enemies doesn’t always stagger them, they can still follow through with devastating attacks while being assaulted themselves. At a couple of points in the game, multiple creatures rushed me backing me up against a wall. I’d parry one only to be hit by the second. Then I’d jump in an attempt to leap over them only to be smacked back down. Combat can be frustrating if not approached methodically and with a bit of patience. Benedict will also be capable of performing a finishing move on some enemies that are staggered, but if there are other enemies around, engaging in the finishing move only opens him up to attack. Yes, he can be hit while performing the finisher, unfortunately.
"Combat is, perhaps, Benedict Fox’s weakest element."
As you progress in Benedict’s journey, he’ll be able to upgrade his companion’s abilities by receiving tattoos from a mysterious woman. Benedict pays for these tattoos with ink that you collect from slaying creatures out in limbo. Keep in mind, that if you die while carrying ink, you will lose it. But if you find an anchor, you can “secure” ink to keep it protected. These tattoo upgrades will give Benedict other offensive abilities. Tentacles will emerge from him that can slam enemies or pound the ground depending on the ability you’ve unlocked. This is where things can get a bit more interesting, and these powers will make life a tad easier.
The journey is ultimately guided by the investigative trail so-to-speak. As you uncover relics, notes, or other noteworthy clues while progressing through limbo, you may need to hop back to the mortal plane to progress. For instance, in limbo you might find an area that looks like a ruined version of the same study in the mansion in the mortal plane and you located a code for the desk drawer. So, you can then return to the mortal plane, go to the mansion’s study, and use that solution on the desk drawer. Other times, your companion will speak to you as you make progress in limbo alerting you to “new life” present in the mansion meaning that there is someone new in the mortal plane you can speak to. It’s important to really pay attention to the dialogue and clues throughout the world in order to know what your next move is.
Of course, if you enjoy a good puzzle, The Last Case of Benedict Fox is right up your alley. One of the game’s biggest hooks will be using a cipher tied to both letters and numbers to unlock areas within limbo. You’ll have to use the combination of a device and a diary page with all the symbols’ numeric equivalents in order to solve the cipher lock at hand. These aren’t just throwaway puzzles for the sake of adding variety to the game. They have significance and stimulate your brain enough to think about each entry you punch in for a solution. I found that making progress through the use of puzzles, a dab of basic mathematics, and the cipher is a quality and engaging mechanic.
"If you enjoy a good puzzle, The Last Case of Benedict Fox is right up your alley."
The platforming elements of Benedict Fox are smooth and intuitive. Eventually, Benedict will be able to double jump with the help of his companion. Once this ability is gained, the world within limbo opens up even more. The more abilities you unlock, the more areas you can access. For instance, there is a ground-pounding ability you will eventually gain that not only serves as an attack but also a method of breaking through weak floor boards to areas below. I really have no complaints here as the controls are tight and responsive. Any time I missed a jump, fell into a pool of ink, or slid into the maw of a ravenous man-eating plant, I knew that it was my fault alone.
The story at the center of Benedict Fox is engaging and steeped in mystery. Each new discovery leads you down a twisted trail involving an occult organization and the livelihoods of the individuals’ deaths you now investigate. It’s easy to soak up the lore behind each new relic you find as everything within the world of Benedict Fox is saturated in history and the connectivity it all has to other aspects of the narrative. This is one title that I found to be more engrossing the further I went.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox Series X.
Beautiful, mysterious, eclectic world; Fluid platforming controls; Engaging narrative.
Disjointed and frustrating combat mechanics.