When Jim and Frank Mysteries – The Blood River Files was released, I immediately started hearing comparisons to the Professor Layton series of games for the Nintendo DS. Having never played a Professsor Layton title before, I cannot speak to the these similarities. What I can say is that I found Jim and Frank to be a throroughly entertaining, but sometimes frustrating puzzle game.
The game follows the adventures of two friends: Jim and Frank, whom you must help in their quest to uncover the mystery behind the Blood River Files. You do this by solving a series of puzzles which span all sorts of genres, from logic puzzles, to math problems, to sliding puzzles, and even a flight control-like mini-game. Along the way you have the opportunity to find hidden bills (called eurekas) which can be used to purchase up to two hints for any puzzle, or allow you to outright skip a puzzle, which will cost you a lot more. There are loads of these eurekas to find, so you should have more than enough to get you through the game should you need a hint or two. Unfortunately the majority of the puzzles tended to be fairly easy, not requiring any hints at all. I found that most challenging puzzles were actually difficult due to slightly confusing instructions, rather than being inherently difficult.
There is a really nice notepad feature you can use to jot down ideas while trying to solve the puzzles, it’s partially transparent, so you can use it while still seeing the puzzle below. This is particularly useful as it allows you to make notes “on” the puzzle as you try to work it out. One minor annoyance was the inability to keep the puzzle’s instruction text up, while you are taking notes, since the instructions are only visible while you’re holding your finger on the button next to them. It would be nice if this button could be changed to be more like a light switch to “permanently” toggle the visibility, rather than acting like a “dead man’s switch”.
Jim and Frank features a walking gameplay mechanic, but the only purpose it seems to serve is to let you move the game along on at your own pace. You are never presented which a choice of directions to move, and even when you have to backtrack 5 screens to get to another location, you have to hit the footsteps icon on each screen on your way back. Other than giving you a better idea of the layout of the town, the only purpose this seems to serve is to give you more time on any give screen to find the eurekas. It would be a bit better if the game took place in more of an open world rather than on-rails; give us some forks in the road where you actually have to make choices of directions.
I found the dialog, while sometimes bordering on the absurd, to be rather humorous and really kept me interested in the storyline. The voice acting in the game is excellent, but unfortunately mostly only appears at the beginning, the end and very sporadically throughout the game. It would have been nice if this was used throughout the entire game, because at times when the dialog spanned more than one “word balloon” you had to read REALLY quickly, otherwise you’d miss most of the first “bubble’s” text. I wont give anything away, but in the final scene of the game, the words and audio get way out of sync, with the audio being much ahead of the text.
Overall, I found Jim and Frank to be a rather enjoyable experience. Sure, there are a few flaws, but the difficulty of the puzzles aside, all of them can easily be fixed with an update. It took me about 10.5 hours to play through the core game and the special bonus puzzles, but there are some additional Crystal Achievements still to be won. This game is easily worth it’s 99¢ price tag (I did not try the iPad release) and I’m hoping that the title does well, as I’d love to see a follow-up (with more difficult puzzles of course).