The Vita has been accused of screaming out for many things, but to our knowledge an episodic puzzle game where the puzzles are linked by a Summer Camp based narrative hasn’t been one of them. Regardless of whether gamers thought they wanted one however Lucid Games has gone and made it for them. It’s probably fair to say that Jacob Jones and the Bigfoot Mystery is reminiscent of the Professor Layton series in more than one way, but you have to admire the cojones of anyone who chooses to use a Summer Camp as a setting after the genius of Psychonauts. Camp Eagle Feather certainly seems to stand on its own feet though, and is full of personality, as well as personalities.
Hitting the Vita (and iOS) A Bump in the Night is only the first of five planned episodes for Jacob Jones, and like many other episodic games it suffers from having to serve as the introductory episode. The start of the game sets up your visit to Camp Eagle Feather, and with this followed by a series of quickfire character introductions at times this episode of Jacob Jones can feel like a bit like the video game equivalent of speed dating. Most of the characters you meet seem interesting enough, although Mr Grimmel comes across as a boringly stereotypical camp/High School P.E. teacher-bully and the less screen time for the excruciating Billy Jackson the better. Where depth can be presented there are several indications of possible greatness to come – giving the bespectacled ginger kid a tough New York accent is inspired, as was giving him a love of Death Metal and the alias ‘Deathkill’. The action finally gets going around halfway through the episode when you hook up with Biggie (the Bigfoot – see?) and kick off your investigation proper; it has to be hoped that in subsequent episodes the pacing can pick up a bit without this need to constantly say hi to everyone.
Of course, Jacob Jones and the Bigfoot Mystery is only going to be as good as its constituent puzzles, and in the main these deliver an appropriately taxing time. The puzzle ‘genres’ represented are fairly diverse, ranging from comprehension and observation through to the classic ‘rolling someone around to try to help them digest something inedible’ type (which seems strangely under-represented in many puzzle games). There are some real mind-benders here, and at least one of the puzzles feels very very cheap in how it sets you up to submit the wrong answer, but Lucid have tried to ensure that no-one gets stuck for long by including a hint system in the game. Essentially each puzzle comes with three levels of hints that you can buy, wonderfully depicted by having Jacob contact various people over his phone. Each one of these hints costs either one, two or three phone credits and often if you pony up the three credits the hint will lead you right into the puzzle’s solution. Extra phone credits are gained by picking up Jacob Jones’ version of collectables, empty soda cans. There are a hundred and thirty of these little beasts to find in Camp Eagle Feather and the surrounding area, giving you a few reasons to return to past screens.
The look employed in Jacob Jones is fairly unique, with the developers intentionally utilising a ‘vinyl toy’ look to produce a set of distinctive looking characters that should provide some figurine side-income if the series takes off. The style works well, and apart from the monstrous stumps that take the place of hands this direction is welcome. One can’t help but wonder however whether Vita owners have been short changed with the resolution of the game – something this simple should have been rendered crisply at native resolution on the device and at times it just feels as though it could have all felt a little sharper. In addition there are a small number of places where the textures don’t seem to merge exactly, although it’s all very minor stuff. It does feel slightly curmudgeonly to moan, especially bearing in mind the bargain bucket price, but it does make you wonder whether the Vita version was a late port over from the iOS development.
This little theory is given more credence when you look at the control system. Everything is entirely controlled by touch, from puzzle interaction to moving around your environment. These controls are responsive enough, and thankfully they don’t seem to cause any great difficulties within any of the puzzles, but one has to ask why Lucid Games couldn’t add in the ability to pan the camera with the right analogue stick in this Vita edition. This is especially apparent when hunting for soda cans; you regularly have to ‘pull’ the screen in a diagonal fashion to find a hidden can, which can then get messy as you try to hold the Vita, drag the screen and then tap the soda can. You can add in some more fun if the soda can is located near a terrain feature that can give you a response if you touch it – much joy can be had as ,in an entirely gammy way, you drag and tap trying to get the beast. Tilting the Vita works much better, revealing cans hidden slightly behind posts and so forth, although the odd tapping issue remains. Finally, some of the cans are hidden in an entirely evil way, at least one being almost impossible to find – thankfully you’ll only be wanting to find all of them for trophy purposes rather than requiring them for your playthrough.
Overall probably the greatest success of A Bump in the Night is taking Jacob and ensuring that his character is likable, rather than simply presenting him as one of those annoying know-it-all kids that you enjoyed not being friends with when you were younger. The storytelling may be linear but as we’ve seen with Telltale’s The Walking Dead that’s no obstacle for a good yarn. For well under the price of a pint (take note of the lack of a Vita-tax here other publishers!) Jacob Jones and the Bigfoot Mystery has got off to a good start with A Bump in the Night and as long as Lucid can keep the puzzles coming at a regular pace then Jacob should build the following he deserves.