Jacob Jones and the Bigfoot Mystery is a story-laden puzzle game akin to the tales of Professor Layton. However, like the titular character himself, this game has a bit of growing up to do before it can stand toe to toe with its rival.
Jacob Jones is a young boy who lives with his parents while they're trekking into the wilderness to discover new species. Unfortunately that kind of lifestyle doesn't allow for much of a social life so his parents send him to summer camp in hopes that he'll get some friends his own age. Like most kids in this situation Jacob is wary at first but soon resigns himself to his fate and does his best to get used to his new surroundings. The premise is somewhat reminiscent of Double Fine's Costume Quest, with its small children as central characters and relatively family friendly content. Even though my comedy tastes are decidedly not family friendly, there were nonetheless still a couple laughs to be had over the course of Episode 1. My favorite moment is when the kids at camp stumble upon an old record and are totally clueless as to what it's for.
There's nothing really riveting about the narrative but it is cute and enjoyable nonetheless, and a major reason for this is the presentation. Visually, the world of Jacob Jones is charming with a kind of hand-made appeal that comes through well. The characters that inhabit the world have some oddities to them, like walking animations which seem to move much faster than the character's actual leg movements should allow, and a vertical seam that gives the impression they were all cast from plastic, but the design is still great for the most part. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the technical aspects of the presentation; I noticed numerous framerate hitches, even to the extent that the visuals randomly pause for a split second. The soundtrack is unmemorable, but the voice acting is surprisingly robust and well done for a budget title like this. Walking around and talking to the campers and the counselors reminded me quite a bit of Psychonauts' charm (yes, another Double Fine game).
Alright, so the world is well designed and the characters are fun, but there's gameplay beyond just wandering and interacting with your fellow characters, right? Well, yes. I earlier mentioned the Professor Layton series, and for good reason; puzzles are interspersed throughout all of the summer camp shenanigans. Some of them feel a tad bit arbitrary (like deciding you direly need to rationalize the details in a kid's spooky campfire story) but most of the puzzles are still interesting little brainteasers that are worthy of your time. A couple of the puzzles actually gave me considerable pause for thought (partly because I'm dumb, but also, unfortunately, because a few are poorly set up and difficult to solve even when you know the rules). In one instance in particular the touch controls are also a bit finicky.
How many attempts you take at a puzzle dictates the score you ultimately receive. If you get stuck without hope there are three different “call a friend” type hints you can use. I love the idea of a little kid calling their big brother to solve a puzzle or going on Twitter. Using these hints takes up points that you earn by finding used soda cans around the campsite and presumably putting them in the recycling bin. If the hints aren't enough to get you through there are also three free skips available. All in all the puzzles are fun, but also relatively uninspired and sometimes feel too much like busy work.
Although I wasn't too enthused by the puzzles Jacob Jones, I'm not disappointed in my purchase. For $3 I got about two and a half hours of content, which is not bad at all. I even skipped two of the puzzles since I didn't happen upon them during my playthrough, so there's a bit more in there for the completionists among you. So if you're bored with the usual seasonal lull in gaming and want to tease your brain for a few hours then this might be the game for you. Hopefully as the series continues it can improve from being reasonably fun to something truly great and memorable.
This review is based on a digital copy of Jacob Jones and the Bigfoot Mystery: Episode 1 for the PlayStation Vita.