Jenny LeClue Detictivu (PC) review
"Just a small town girl, living in a murder-y world."
From the writer of the ďgames that Flobknocker bought kinda close to each other on a whim and decided to do a series on themĒ trilogy, comes the spiritual successor to the review that started it all.
A couple of years ago, I reviewed Oxenfree - a gorgeous, 2d adventure game, released by a little indie studio, with great writing, snappy gameplay, and creepy conspiracy mystery elements. Now Iím reviewing Jenny Leclue (detectivķ) a gorgeous, 2d adventure game, released by a little indie studio, with great writing, snappy gameplay, and creepy conspiracy mystery elements. Iím sensing a theme, here. When I first came across Jenny LeClue (detectivķ) on Steam, it was hardly under the most auspicious of circumstances, and I added it to my wishlist for shamefully shallow reasons. It was Halloween, and my penchant for spooky games to play in the dark led me through Steam's writhing, filthy guts, where I claimed a few nice little titles, but ultimately found Jenny LeClue and wishlisted it. The reason for that wishlist addition extended no further than "oh my goodness, that looks so cute." See? Inscrutible professionalism, right there. So, naturally, either the Steam black Friday sale or the Christmas sale rolls on by, and I find there's a modest discount on the game and buy it immediately. And that's how we got here, talking about this little gem.
See, as much as I love me some meaningless cuteness, it's not going to stop me from picking apart a game's mechanics or performance, or any of the important stuff like that. Thankfully, though, I don't have to do very much of that here: Jenny Leclue is a rock solid experience throughout. First, I'd like to talk about those visuals. While I've played other truly gorgeous games, I found the artstyle in Jenny LeClue (detectivķ) to have one of the most interesting and unusual looks I've yet seen. With slick, lineless art and sharp angles all over the place, the characters and world look reminiscent of Scooby-Doo Mystery Incorporated (maybe unavoidably, given Jenny's appearance and hobbies), mixed with Carmen Sandiego, all blended together with a thick coating of 50's googie and Hanna-Barbera cartoons. And that was far too many cartoon references in one line. Point is, Jenny LeClue looks good. With the downright funky artstyle they have, the tiny team at Mografi managed to create some lovely environments, from a dark and creepy graveyard, to a sun-soaked library in a quiet little all-American town, and even sinister laboratories. It's all really nice stuff, and then there's the characters themselves.
If I haven't made it abundantly clear yet, Jenny is utterly precious, and must be protected from the evils of the world at all costs. From the moment you reach the title screen, youíre greeted with the titular characterís adorable face, with different poses for the options in the main menu. Of course, the character designs donít stop being great once you get into the game, with characters like Jennyís mother looking believably weathered but kindly, Dean Strausberry as an immediately lovable, portly figure, and CJís sleep-deprived Doc Brown appearance. Itís all a delight to behold, and the characters are all supplied with a pleasant collection of animations to match, which range from general-purpose gestures and faces, to some specific reactions which seem to be unique. A pleasant sidenote is that the gameís art all seems to have either been made at 4K, or otherwise scales perfectly. Having subjected the game to a projector, I can say with certainty that the game looks stunning at higher resolutions.
So, given that it looks absolutely stunning, it would be remiss of me not to talk about the gameplay, which, thankfully, is almost as smooth sailing. For the most part, your interactions with the world come in the form of dialogue choices, a simple, but charming interrogation mechanic, searching the environment for doodads, puzzle solving, and hardcore sticker applying action. Like other games in its subgenre, I found the act of simply talking to other characters to be among the most compelling things in the game. Arthurtonís inhabitants are all charming figures to talk to, but the dialogue choices are also interesting for the fact that they seem to allow you to influence Jennyís character. While itís entirely possible to play the game as close to a goody-two-shoes as possible, itís also possible to play through as a total jerk. Iím not sure to what extent previous choices influence Jennyís demeanour throughout, but towards the end of the game, I felt like I wasnít playing the same cheerful little girl as I was at the start. A second playthrough might illuminate some differences, or otherwise the decidedly more snippy and reserved Jenny I ended up with at the end might just be a product of good writing. Beside the dialogue choices, Jenny LeClue (detectivķ) features some nicely integrated puzzles. A recurring favourite in the game is a rotating dial puzzle, where three circles within one another have to be lined up, but not all of them move independently of one another. Itís not the most fiendish puzzle of all, but I enjoyed dealing with the increasingly difficult instances, and given my disdain for the Professor Layton series, I appreciated the more casual difficulty. Thereís also a nice recurring puzzle where you have to twiddle the knobs on a machine to tune an errant radio signal and get a coded message. Itís all integrated into the story really quite admirably, and itís by no means the only tricks the game has up its sleeve. Besides this, there are a variety of more involved, larger-scale puzzles that pop up every so often, which I personally think are the best in the game. The searching the environment and interrogation mechanics are scattered around the game, with the former coming in optional and mandatory flavours, and the latter cropping up occasionally, where itís always story-critical. I bundle these two things together because functionally, they have a lot in common. Searching the environment involves a press of the square or X button, and brings up a magnifying glass which you can scan around you with, and find hidden objects, like important clues, or sick stickers. Interrogation works similarly, with the same magnifying glass, but involves a human subject, and plays out like a slow-motion, interactive version of Sherlockís rapid-fire deduction schtick. In these instances, you get to quiz people about various aspects of their appearance or clues on their person, leading to more of the gameís great dialogue.
And then, of course, thereís your journal, which contains details about the case and Jennyís thoughts. This can be accessed at almost all times in the game, and can be plastered with the aforementioned sick stickers.
If I had to condense my thoughts about the gameplay down to a single sentiment, itís that the gameplay in Jenny LeClue is what Night in the Woods should have been: concise and consistent, with nary an extraneous mechanic. Itís not all plain sailing though, but Iíll get to that.
Before I start putting some crosses on the gameís so far spotless record, itíd be remiss of me not to mention the great writing and what lies in the gameís near future. First, and most important, is that there will be a sequel. Barring tragic circumstances, this is all but a certainty, as the game was funded on kickstarter, and passed the two games goal. Thereís also a clear promise from the developers on the Steam page that this is the first part of a two-game collection. In practice, this means that while Jenny LeClue (detectivķ) offers a great experience by itself, the game ends on a particularly pointed hook for the second game, and you might therefore want to wait until the second game launches. Besides that, itís worth knowing that thereís full voice acting planned for the future, which should in and of itself make a second playthrough worthwhile, because the writing I keep mentioning is great. When I mention the writing, Iím not just talking about the dialogue - though thatís great, too - no, Iím on about the whole setup, and how the mystery unfolds. From an intro with a shady figure in a trenchcoat, to a secret, deep underground facility and a mining disaster, Jenny LeClue spins a genuinely intriguing and endearingly kooky narrative. While it never feels like a truly real place, Arthurton is nonetheless an interesting town, and a great setting for the game: a quintessential ďquiet little townĒ with its own history, eccentric locals, and amenities. Itís a deliberate pastiche of all the disproportionately crime-ridden little towns in cosy detective stories youíd read as a kid, and it immediately sells you on the atmosphere of the game. Then, of course, thereís the characters themselves, who have some particularly great dialogue. Jenny herself, naturally, has the majority of the dialogue in the game, and - at least for my playthrough - I found that her character went through a fairly profound arc. Starting out the game as a cheerful, murder-fixated little detectivette, Jennyís world is well and truly turned upside down by the first real murder of her career, and the subsequent investigation of her mother. With her fatherís disappearance still a sore spot, and what few relationships she has now thoroughly strained, Jenny suddenly finds herself in well above her head.
Throughout my playthrough, I watched a tiny, wide-eyed, gap-toothed girl lose everything, flounder around, stumble on a massive conspiracy, harden herself, and eventually become the serious detective she was always meant to be. The supporting cast also have some great lines and development, too, with Kieth as Jennyís ever-tolerant friend, and Susan Glatz as Jennyís affluent cousin-come-sidekick. Thereís even a great character moment with Jennyís mother later on in the game, which I wonít spoil. Point is, theyíre all characters I loved spending time with, and I canít wait to dive into the sequel when it comes out.
At this point, itíd be easy to hand this game a glowing score and walk away whistling, but thereís just a couple of nagging details here that save Jenny LeClue from a perfect rating.
I donít feel good about handing out a dressing down on a game this good, but it has to be done. While most of my other issues with the game stem from stylistic, narrative, or other more subjective quibbles, poor performance is something that nobody likes, and Iím afraid that Jenny LeClue simply falls foul in that regard. Iíll freely admit that running this game in 4K isnít representative of the majority of PC players, but with that said, I experienced significant, frequent, and unexplained stutter issues throughout. With not one 3D object in sight, my GTX 1080 should have been able to absolutely eat this game for breakfast (it runs on an iphone, for crying out loud), but instead, the game delivered frames at a sometimes wildly inconsistent rate. This issue seemed to pop up most often when I moved the camera diagonally, and if I had to guess, Iíd say that my hard drive might have been at fault, but thatís no excuse. The bottom line is that I had issues running it, on a PC that can run Quantum Break. That shouldnít be the case.
That aside, itís time to address that thing about it running on an iphone, because Iím convinced that one of the only deficiencies in the gameplay is a result of that iphone port. While a lot of the other mechanics are more involved, there are nevertheless, sections where you simply push the Cross/A button to make things happen. Itís meant to be either an indicator of effort, or a further demonstration of Jennyís observational prowess, but like in my review of Virginia, the overall result is just a cutscene that you have to push a button to make happen. Itís ďPress F to pay respectsĒ played out as a recurring mechanic, and I suspect that itís either something that might be more compelling in the iphone port, or something that might have originally been more complex, simplified for touch controls. The long and short of it is that these sequences donít add anything to the game, and simply removing them or making them more involved would fix the issue. Thereís also the issue of difficulty in the game, insofar as I would have appreciated some more of it. As it stands, the game wonít let you come out of some of the sections without completing it correctly. While I appreciate that this is targeted towards an audience looking for a more relaxing title, I think an option to turn on failures would make the gameplay just that little bit more interesting. With some extra work, it would be possible to mix the failures into the narrative, or have the game close off some routes if you fail an interrogation or miss a detail, resulting in a version of Jenny who isnít always perfect, but gets there in the end, or who bungles through on luck alone. As it is, I know thereís things Iíve missed, and there has to be content exclusive to some choices, but I would have appreciated a way to do better or worse, and have it affect the outcome. It doesnít have to result in a bad ending, and would ideally be optional, but I think the game would benefit from such a feature. Finally, thereís the framing device for the game, and I feel like a real pedant pulling this one up. You have to understand that for as beefy as this segment is, all these complaints are minor, and of those complaints, this is almost certainly the most insignificant of them all, but I canít say that I enjoyed the framing device of a childrensí author all that much. Arthur J Finklestein is a fun character, and, being the author of Jennyís story, has divine power over her fate. From our perspective as players, Arthur makes for an interesting foil and returning character throughout, but I feel that his inclusion frequently hurt the narrative. At the end of some segments in the game, there are bits where you play as Arthur himself, and sometimes have to make decisions about the outcome of the story: while that makes for an interesting choice scenario, Iím afraid I found myself rather pulled out of the experience by it. The metanarrative of an author wrestling against publisher interference, and against unruly characters is certainly an interesting way of framing the story, but the segments often come at crucial moments in the story, and the interactive element doesnít really do much for me. Sadly, I found myself rather wishing that the segments would just end. In fact, as cute a device as Finklestein makes, I wonder if Jenny LeClue (detectivķ) wouldnít work better if the developers just played the story completely straight. The narrative and gameplay are strong enough by themselves, and Iíve played games with far more abstract visuals and storylines that didnít need a framing device. As an alternative, I think if the segments really needed to be split up, then perhaps a Hanna-Barbera-style Saturday morning cartoon might make for a less intrusive bookend to the gameís chapters. There could even be some fun in there with the announcer saying things like ďWill Jenny finally bond with Susie? Who is the man in black? Why is CJís fashion sense so terrible? Tune in next week for Jenny LeClue! detectivķ!Ē
Alternately, my tastes could be terrible, and anything I say about narrative devices should be discarded immediately.
At the end of this all, I find myself pondering the gameís overall place in the grand scheme of things. While I would truly love for this game to get a deep foothold and become a leading light in its genre, I feel like something as tidily contained and adorable as this might just not have the wider appeal that it deserves, given the clear talent involved in it. Thatís not necessarily a bad thing at all, mind you - the game more than cleared its kickstarter goal - but I could see this reaching a cult status with just a bit more polish, and being talked about in the right circles. While I relished my time with the diminutive, titular detective, I feel that just a bit of work in some key areas would have yielded a greater following than it has. Itís a great game, and well worth your time, and all my gripes aside, if they stick the landing on the second game, then Iíll be sure to let you folks know. Until then, Iíll be writing a review I should have written years ago.
Now, if youíll excuse me, I have a murder to investigate.
Community review by Flobknocker (January 29, 2020)
Flobknocker is the nonsensical nom-de-plume of a British guy who occasionally writes about videogames, and who belongs to a mysterious cult that all gather round a helmet every weekend to perform rituals in the hope of bringing about a new Motorstorm game
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