The last time most people would have encountered the adventures of a cute, wide-eyed boy going on an adventure with someone named Biggie, it would have been during a wildly funny, predictably controversial episode of South Park. There is no summoning dead rappers in Jacob Jones and the Bigfoot Mystery, and the overall atmosphere is entirely more innocent, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t just as enjoyable as seeing little kids reel off the lyrics to “Going Back to Cali”.
Jacob Jones, and his parents, are introduced to us in an excellent opening sequence that follows their car journey to Camp Eagle Feather, the kooky summer camp that serves as the main setting for the adventure. Straight off the bat the script is razor sharp and very funny, with some excellent voice acting that gives life to the characters. Jacob himself is all big, Powerpuff Girl eyes and eminent likeability, whilst his bohemian parents with their love of nature and ornithology are well removed from the usual American apple pie goodness one may expect.
At the camp, Jacob is introduced to a succession of brilliantly realised denizens, each with their own unique styles and foibles. From the drill sergeant that is the phys-ed counsellor, to the loveable Hans who has an obsession with gophers that apes Bill Murray’s mole-hunting groundsman in Caddyshack, the grown ups are a motley bunch, with the other kids a veritable rogues gallery of genuinely amusing stereotypes. A dark haired emo chick who swears by her beloved “Moonlight” novels, the dopey, Ralph Wiggum-esque Billy, and a cocky, metal-obsessed ginger known as Deathkill – all of the individuals you meet are brought to life courtesy of a writing team that can count George Poles amongst its numbers, the same BAFTA award-winning talent who worked on the excellent Horrible Histories. The plot moves along at a fair old click, really becoming interesting when Jacob stumbles upon the Bigfoot of the title – an enormous yet surprisingly cute beast who loves to sing. With his new monster pal in tow and his gang of misfit buddies, Jacob uses his aptitude for puzzles to uncover the mysteries of Camp Eagle Feather. Why are the counsellors intent on fattening up the children? And just what are the origins of the warbling behemoth, Biggie?
There is no getting away from the fact that, structurally at least, Jacob Jones owes a huge debt to Level-5 and their Professor Layton mysteries. Gameplay comes in the form of exploring your environs and chatting to other characters, with the aim of triggering puzzles that advance the plot. There is a very similar hint system, with these favours paid for with discarded tin cans you find hidden away in the scenery, as opposed to coins. What developers Lucid have crafted here, however, is far more than a mere clone. They have taken a time-honoured formula and made it vibrant, charming and vital. It is what Professor Layton would be like if his adventures were on the Cartoon Network.
Booting up the game, you are presented with the Unreal logo, something of a shock when you consider the type of game we are dealing with. Once you see the action unfold, however, it makes perfect sense. Jacob Jones looks sublime – a living, moving, walking, talking 3D cartoon world packed full of colour and detail. The tilting abilities of the console are put to splendid use – you can use it to see behind, around and underneath objects to seek out those precious tin cans. With touch screen controls employed to excellent effect to navigate Jacob around camp and to initiate and solve the puzzles, the OLED screen really shows you what it can do, and then some.
Puzzles come thick and fast, most of them given a pun-tastic title, and all are controlled entirely by your touch. There are puzzles of logic, lateral thinking, and mathematics, and every one of them relates to a specific event in the unwinding story. One minute you could be dividing a pizza up to cater to the tastes of Jacob and his mates, the next minute you have to untangle a Gordian Knot of rope to free Biggie from a trap. When the kids settle down in their bunks to tell spooky ghost stories, Jacob has to solve puzzles based upon the creepy tales. It works brilliantly well, because the puzzles are tautly designed and seldom do you find that you are baffled by their obtuse nature. Completing a puzzle awards merit points, which, like Layton’s Picarats, reduce in value each time you make a mistake. The hint system is three-tiered – you can check a parody Twitter-esque app which gives clues as to how the puzzle is solved, or make phonecalls to your uncle or brother, with each level costing an incremental number of your phone credits, which are topped up by hunting down the plentiful tin cans. Sometimes, using the three-credit phonecall to “Big Bro” effectively reveals the solution to the puzzle in its entirety – so please make sure you only use this in dire emergencies, lest you cheat yourself out of the warm glow that comes from using your own powers of deduction to find the correct answer.
Elsewhere there is a bird-watching side-quest to have some fun with, and there are a series of Trophies to obtain, some of which are awarded for meeting certain conditions within individual puzzles. This isn’t a huge undertaking and will only last a few hours at a push, but it is an episodic game which Lucid will be drip-feeding us per chapter, so the promise of more compulsive Jacob and Biggie fun is in the offing.
VERDICT: Creating a new IP that people are going to buy into is difficult, but Lucid have just about pulled it off with Jacob Jones. Built entirely from the ground up, with a superbly whimsical story and well implemented point and click puzzle gameplay, this is a universe gamers will look forward to revisiting on an episodic basis. It looks utterly sublime, and has voice actors that don’t make you want to stick knitting needles into your ears. Equally at home in the grasp of a pre-teen kiddy or your elderly aunt, this easily accessible, fun and well-crafted download is exactly the sort of thing that handhelds were made for (it is no coincidence that an iOS version is being released too), and it will be a treat finding out what happens next.
VERY GOOD. An 8/10 is only awarded to a game we consider truly worthy of your hard-earned cash. This game is only held back by a smattering of minor or middling issues and comes highly recommended.