by Joe Orchard
Arthur K. Finklestein, a children’s author, best known for his Jenny LeClue series of detective stories, is in a bit of a pickle. Over thirty entries deep in the series, the public have begun to grow tired of Jenny’s formulaic adventures; the low stakes, the idyllic setting of Arthurton, the happy endings. Sales of Jenny’s adventures are down, which raises the ire of Arthur’s publisher. The message is clear: either Jenny’s adventures grow up with their audience, or they will come to an abrupt end. Despite Arthur’s reservations, one thing is certain: somebody has to die.
This opening is the first sign that, as point-and-click adventure games go, Jenny LeClue – Detectivú, is something a little bit different.
From here, we find ourselves in the shoes of Jenny herself, exploring the campus of Arthurton University, and meeting a handful of the inhabitants. The game is fully voice acted, and very well at that. Characters are likeable and coherent – no weird intonations or inflections here – and even during the more expository dialogue, the player is kept firmly grounded in Jenny LeClue’s world. (A special mention here for the Stuart Krug in the role of crazed conspiracy theorist CJ, who is played as Doc Brown from Back to the Future, but with a looser grasp on reality.)
The game looks and sounds lovely, a diverse array of hand-drawn character models and environments exuding charm and atmosphere throughout. For a small town, Arthurton is surprisingly varied in its locations, from the campus buildings to the scenic woodland and creepy graveyard, you are rarely in the same place for long, and each locale is a delight to explore. Big, clean, chunky title cards pop up with a thrilling musical sting whenever a new case is discovered for Jenny to solve, and all the details for each case are recorded in Jenny’s trusty journal.
While the journal is functionally a menu screen, the presentation elevates even this mundane aspect. Jenny’s case notes are a whirl of coloured felt-tips and can be decorated with stickers that can be found hidden throughout the game. The game’s other secret collectibles, postcard scraps, are also kept here, waiting to be reassembled via a jigsaw puzzle mini game. These add a little extra background to the world of Arthurton, and are a pleasant diversion. The whole thing is a perfect reflection of Jenny’s character, simultaneously thorough and organised, but with a sprinkling of childlike whimsy.
Tonally, the game strikes an excellent balance. The meta-narrative of Arthur reluctantly introducing more darkness into Arthurton in order to appease his publishers is used to good effect, his narration frequently cautioning Jenny of rash actions and chiding her for any ethical indiscretions. This allows for some playful self-awareness, as Jenny questions why she always has to take the long route to her objectives, and whether one should really have to go to so much trouble just to, say, open a door.
One thing that may disappoint some fans of the genre, though, is the puzzles. If you’re after your classic ‘Find A, combine with B, bake in oven C to make a key for door D’ formula, then you may be left wanting. Puzzles in Jenny LeClue are more wordsearch than cryptic crossword.
In any given section, everything you need to complete the task at hand will usually be hidden on one screen. Solving things is simply a case of finding all the clues and choosing which to ignore. In both instances, the game does not allow you to fail. Play doesn’t progress until all the clues have been found, and should you put the wrong clues together, Jenny will simply tell you why that’s not the right answer, and let you have another try. While arguably over-simplistic from a gameplay perspective, this does underscore the notion that Jenny is a genius detective, complete with Sherlock-esque notation swirling about the screen to show Jenny’s working.
Jenny LeClue, then, is not a challenge to be overcome, but more of a narrative experience that unfolds before you, allowing just enough interaction that you feel that you are helping Jenny out without presenting you with the kind of brick wall ‘What do I do now?’ moments that are synonymous with the point-and-click genre. Once you accept this, the game settles into an agreeable loop of detective work, exploration and narrative advancement that, for me at least, was effortlessly engaging.
My favourite adventure games (the Monkey Islands and Broken Swords of the world) have a few common traits. A likeable protagonist, an engaging plot, puzzles that drive you just the right amount of crazy and a tone balanced comfortably between sincerity and irreverence. Jenny LeClue has nearly all of these things.
Jenny LeClue – Detectivú could easily come across as a game that is very much style over substance. While it can sometimes feel like quite a passive experience, it really doesn’t matter. I devoured this game and, come the end, I only wanted more. Here’s hoping that the next part of Jenny’s story proves to be every bit the page-turner that this was.
At time of writing, Jenny LeClue – Detectivú is available on Nintendo Switch for a little under £3, and with some spooky locales and optional Hallowe’en costumes available throughout the game, now seems like an excellent time to acquaint yourself with my new favourite child detective.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
Pick up Jenny LeClue – Detectivú here: