Developer: Lucid Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Europe
£1.59 seemed like a fortune when we were kids, but it wasn't so long ago that two sovs or less couldn't buy you anything worthwhile. Thankfully the rise of the App Store, boutique development and episodic games changed all that, meaning that we can spend little or no money on some exciting games across numerous devices.
Jacob Jones & The Bigfoot Mystery is one such example. £1.59 will net you the first episode of a charming puzzle game series, running on the Unreal Engine, that tells the story of a young boy who makes an improbable pal while on his summer holidays.
After being dropped off at Camp Eagle Feather by his adventuring parents, the eponymous Jacob Jones starts making some new friends and slowly acclimatising to his new surroundings. All the classic archetypes are present and correct, from the goth girl to the jock and hardnut P.E. teacher, who all boast their own strong personalities and memorable performances. However, his most noteworthy new compatriot turns out to be none other than Bigfoot, who lays the groundwork for an overarching mystery surrounding an enigmatic LP record. Just go with it.
The script and storyline has been penned by children's TV writer George Poles (Chucklevision, Horrible Histories), who provides a whimsical lighthearted tale and some memorable interactions between characters. Strong if occasionally grating voice acting brings the cast to life, and though belly laughs are at a premium, there's plenty of gentle humour aimed squarely at a family audience. The overarching hook takes a while to get going, but is compelling enough to keep you engaged throughout its 2-3 hours.
Camp Eagle Feather and its inhabitants are rendered in the Unreal Engine, which makes full use of the Vita's vibrant OLED screen with crisp and colourful 3D visuals. Instead of concentrating on photorealistic detail, Lucid Games have instead opted for a charming stylised aesthetic with simple yet expressive models and facial animations. Some awkward walking animations aside - the old chestnut of legs moving faster than the character - this is a cracking use of Epic's engine for the price.
You'll explore the 3D surroundings by tapping and swiping the touchscreen, taking time to converse with your fellow campers, but sooner or later you'll run into an assortment of puzzles that form the crux of Jacob Jones' real gameplay experience. Favouring the Professor Layton approach to puzzling, Jacob Jones offers up nearly two-dozen minigames that revolve around familiar logic solutions. Each game feels distinct and uses touchscreen inputs well, beyond a couple of slightly finicky offenders that might work better on a larger iPad screen. It's a relatively strong offering, but experienced genre fans will quickly realise that most of them are derivations of age-old classic solutions rather than anything particularly new or groundbreaking. It's clear that Jacob Jones falls back on its entertaining characters and art style rather than innovating in the puzzle department.
Though good performance is only rewarded by arbitrary 'merit' points that don't seem to feature into a larger unlock system, narrative or rewards, I was impressed by how well they're worked into key moments in the storyline rather than serving as totally random diversions. They feel relevant as opposed to Due to a slightly non-linear structure, you can also complete the first episode without experiencing all of the 20(ish) minigames and freely return to polish off those you missed for extra trophies.
The challenge curve is apt for mildly skilled puzzle fans, but a robust hint system is available for younger or less patient players. Picking up rubbish scattered around the camp (which utilises tilt functionality in a pleasantly interactive way) awards you phone credits to call family members for incrementally more useful intel. Puzzles can also be skipped outright by spending one of the limited 'puzzle passes' should the solution totally elude you.
Episode 1's biggest weakness is arguably unavoidable: it's just the first part of a larger series. As such, it spends much of its time setting up the overarching premise and introducing characters, which eats into the two to three hour runtime and makes the abrupt ending feel just a little too jarring.
But, hey, it costs £1.59 on Vita. It's a great start for what could be a fun little adventure, and we hope that future episodes give us plenty more puzzles and twists to sink our teeth into now that Episode 1 has laid the groundwork.
- Heartwarming tale and memorable characters
- Some solid if familiar puzzles
- Delightful stylised visuals backed up by Unreal-powered grunt
- Many puzzles can feel overly derivative, little in the way of innovation
- Some awkward animations, voice acting can occasionally grate
- Takes valuable time setting up premise and characters before the abrupt ending (future episodes can hit the ground running)
The Short Version: Jacob Jones And The Bigfoot Mystery provides some fun (if familiar) puzzles, likeable characters and the start of what promises to be a charming little yarn for a bargain price. It's great to see Sony supporting boutique releases like this.