David is a proudly queer performing artist and software developer. He spends most of his downtime with a controller in his hands and a lazy beagle on his lap.
March 24, 2021
“There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” It’s Tuesday morning. The dawn sun filters through the slatted blinds, stirring dust motes and illuminating the unkempt mess that is Inspector Waffles’ office. Stacks of yellowed documents teeter on chairs, wilted pot plants drape themselves across the unswept floor, and a snoring, half-drunk cat slumps over the desk, reeking of whiskey and sour milk. His dreams are haunted by taunts, old friends, regrets – this is a regular morning for Inspector Waffles, infamous feline detective. Will he conquer his demons and solve a gruesome, unexpected murder? Or will a cat literally have his tongue?
As you might have noticed from the adorable trailer above, Inspector Waffles is certainly not all gritty doom-and-gloom. Waffles is quickly partnered with enthusiastic sniffer-dog Spotty who not only proves an adorably dopey sidekick, but has the ability to pick up any unusual scents in a location. The back-and-forth between the pair and their growing relationship is a wonderfully wholesome running storyline with a satisfying payoff. You’ll explore various locations around the city, collect evidence and piece together clue fragments. Inspector Waffles is a true point-and-click adventure in classic Sierra-style. You click on elements in each scene to interact with them, and you can check Waffles’ inventory and notebook at any time to combine or use items. Using the tools at your disposal, you guide Waffles to solve environmental puzzles and uncover more details about the game’s central crime, a CEO’s murder.
Puzzles in Inspector Waffles are short, fun, and simple, with help aplenty should you get stuck. You’ll be completing elaborate trade sequences to bribe secretaries, assembling MacGuyver-style contraptions to unlock doors, and presenting evidence to press reluctant witnesses. Waffles’ mother is always a quick phone call away when the next objective is a little unclear, but if you’ve ever played an adventure game before you won’t be needing her. There are no red herrings or ridiculous “moon” logic leaps to be found here. Usually, you can solve puzzles quickly with some exploration, tinkering with your inventory, or simple trial-and-error. There’s even a setting to highlight clues needed to progress during dialogue. While the base difficulty definitely errs on the side of too easy, there are some optional collectables in the form of “Woolball” cards that can alter the game’s ending and are a little trickier to find for someone craving more thought-provoking puzzle solving. More experienced adventure game veterans will breeze through the story without much trouble.
The pixelated art style contributes to Inspector Waffles’ simpler difficulty, with each scenario only being able to contain a finite number of interactable objects. This, however, is an incredibly clever design choice. The blocky character models and abstract shapes representing each scene allow for just enough structure for the player’s imagination to fill in the blanks. This also reduces the level of “pixel-hunting” required, a welcome blessing for any point-and-click adventure game. Paired with its fabulously jazzy noir soundtrack and unashamedly camp animal puns, there’s a unique level of charm and atmosphere in Inspector Waffles that really resonates.
Cutscenes feature some special hand-drawn artwork to emphasise dramatic moments, such as flashbacks to Waffles’ traumatic past. While the artwork is gorgeous, only employing it for specific cutscenes does feel a little jarring. Waffles and the various pals and miscreants he encounters are imbued with emotion and energy in each of the static images – we see every whisker of regret and pain on his furry face, and the maniacal villain Snowball is painted as an almost Disney-esque megalomaniac. This, unfortunately, forces some personality whiplash when the visuals transition back to the simplistic pixel art present during gameplay. The static characters rely heavily on dialogue to express their unique and outlandish personalities, which makes the cutscene artwork feel inconsistent and out of place. It might have been more effective to save the artwork as some kind of reward to be earned, like the secret ending unlocked by collecting the game’s eight hidden “Woolball” cards.
Where Inspector Waffles truly shines is in its dedication to theme. The story revolves around murder, investigation, corruption, and mystery, all in a city entirely populated by anthropomorphic animals. The commitment to worldbuilding is extreme and hilarious. There’s a dog slum neighbourhood full of hot dog sellers, Waffles has a milk-drinking problem, and the entire plot revolves around a mega-corporation that makes boxes: not boxes for storage, they’re boxes for the cats to play in. The tongue-in-cheek references, excruciating puns, and delightfully zoological puzzle solutions play beautifully off the rather dark subject material (there are several murders to solve, after all). This sense of fun makes investigating the world of Inspector Waffles a joy, with a sense that there’s always going to be something witty to find in every scene.
It took me around three hours to finish all five chapters of Inspector Waffles, which felt about right for the story it wants to tell. As the work of a solo developer (supported by some talented artists), it’s clearly a labour of love, and an absolute romp from start to finish. With witty writing, lovable characters, and a charming animal-noir world, this is one adventure with a few more than nine lives in it.
It’s fur real: Inspector Waffles is a paw-sitively claw-ssic point-and-click adventure with an atmosphere that’ll leave you feline fine. While its difficulty may be better suited to kittens and the inconsistent artstyle may cat-ch you off guard, there’s a purrfectly charming story to experience here. With hissterical puns and a visual and meowsical design that can only be described as the cat’s pyjamas, Inspector Waffles is far from a catastrophe: as essential as catnip for fans of the point-and-click adventure genre.