Developer: Chillingo
Price: $0.99
Version Reviewed: 1.0
Device Reviewed On: iPod Touch

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Game Controls Rating: ★★★☆☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★★☆☆
Replay Value Rating: ★½☆☆☆

Overall Rating: ★★½☆☆

Before I review Chillingo’s new puzzle game, The Jim & Frank Mysteries: The Blood River Files, I need to make a confession: I have not played a Professor Layton games for more than 5 minutes. This is important, because, as anyone who’s even remotely familiar with the Professor Layton series will note, Jim & Frank Mysteries is a very definite imitation of that popular Nintendo DS franchise. The comparisons are expected, but I can’t provide them. All I can do is judge the game on its own merits.

And on its own merits, I did not like The Jim & Frank Mysteries: The Blood River Files.

In this pastiche of a puzzle game, you guide two teenaged buddies, Jim & Frank, through the cartoon town of Tinyville. Jim’s grandfather, who is apparently a very wealthy and influential man with the power to engage an entire town in his grand schemes, has set Jim on a birthday quest: follow a series of clues to arrive at a mysterious destination. Along the way, Jim & Frank must solve puzzles.

A lot of puzzles. It is the core of the game: solving a mixed bag of puzzles. Most of them will be recognizable to anyone familiar with classic brain teasers, and others will be familiar to anyone who has passed prealgebra. They’re generally enjoyable, though sometimes the touch controls leave something to be desired. They’re also wildly varying in difficulty; for example, there was one puzzle so ridiculously simple that it must have been a mistake in the design, yet other puzzles are so trickythat even buying both hints does not guide you to an easy answer. But in general, the puzzles are no better or worse than a dozen other brain teaser apps.

So, at its core, Jim & Frank Mysteries is a 99-cent bundle of puzzles. I’d buy that for a dollar. However, in order to play the puzzles, you have to put up with the rest of the game. The story and script, such as they are, quickly become irrelevant. There’s something about a mayor, a mine, and a werewolf, but it’s absolutely inessential to playing the puzzles; there’s no deduction on your part, nor choose-your-own-adventure moments that could lead to ruin. The story is just an annoying distraction between puzzle bits. Why are you playing a puzzle involving frogs? Because Jim sees a frog in a pond and decides to help it. Who knows– the frog may be part of grandpa’s quest!

The ‘meh’ writing is echoed by mediocre design. The background work is actually nice … so why do all of the characters look as though they were created by a class of amateur cartoonists? In both art and animation, the visuals fall flat. Is this bargain-bin, direct-to-DVD style what they consciously went for? I don’t know. But that’s what it ultimately feels like.

In the end, I don’t know who this game is for. The coming-of-age plot and cheap character designs might appeal to a kid, but a fair number of the puzzles would be too challenging for someone under ten. Besides, I see no indication on the iTunes page or the publisher’s website that this is meant to be a children’s game. If the puzzles were scaled to a child audience and the script revised a bit, this might have appeal as a nine-year-old boy’s adventure. As it stands, it’s got an uneven mix of puzzles that are too complex for a child, but characters, script, and story that will turn off any adult.

Posted in: Games, iPhone Apps and Games, Reviews

Tagged with: , , , , , ,