Jake Hunter: Detective Chronicles Review for the Nintendo DS (NDS)

Jake Hunter: Detective Chronicles Review for the Nintendo DS (NDS)

Less Talk. More Rock!

It’s understandable why interactive novels are not a hot commodity in the gaming market; anyone can curl up with a good book if they want to read vast expanses of text. On the whole, gamers want to actually PLAY a game when they sit down and fire up their favorite systems. Sure, we’ve all come to expect a certain level of plot structure and crafty dialogue to give the gameplay some deeper meaning, but games with too much storytelling and not enough action tend to defeat the purpose.

Jake Hunter: Detective Chronicles screenshot

Last year’s Hotel Dusk: Room 215 proved the idea of an interactive, noir-styled detective story on the DS had some merit; yet even with a superb plot and decent gameplay, the reading intensive title had its fair share of dull moments. Then there’s Jake Hunter: Detective Chronicles – a game that seems hardly like a game at all. Rather than rolling boil, the latest interactive crime drama to hit the DS essentially simmers down to an uninspired, choose your own adventure title. However, player input apparently has little bearing on the final outcome of each case; there’s so much handholding involved the game practically plays itself. It’s like the developers forgot to take off the training wheels.

There’s not a lot of mystery to Hunter as a character. He’s your typical well-manicured, chain-smoking private investigator who finds himself on the beat with a trio of tough cases. Hunter fits the stereotype impeccably. If the game featured voice work, you’d half expect him to bust out phrases like, “it was a dark, stormy night in Aspicio City…” in that classic detective drawl. While not quite as corny, his narratives border on violently cliché. Hunter’s somberness and the game’s serious tone can also get overly heavy at times, for the otherwise light mystery fare.

Three cases are included on the cart, and they can be played in any order. With support from his compassionate assistant and a few other re-occurring characters, Hunter winds up investigating a strangling in Aspicio City’s Central Park, a missing persons case in the Depono harbor city, and a killer on the loose at the Ceteri raceway. Each case takes around two hours to complete, and they’re easily wrapped-up in a single sitting apiece. The mysteries themselves are not particularly unique in any way, but they’re strong enough to hold your interest for the few hours it takes to wade through them.

Jake Hunter: Detective Chronicles screenshot

The game’s locations are pleasantly detailed, but they’re limited to 2D backdrops. A few animated cutscenes in each case liven up the experience. There’s not much else happening in the visual department. The same bland, non-animated character portraits are recycled throughout the game, which is disappointing to say the least.

As a piece of interactive fiction, Jake Hunter isn’t quite recommendable. The fiction portion of the equation isn’t horrible, but it’s also not anything special. The cases are rather predictable, and the presentation lacks excitement. Also, the interactive elements falls horrendously short of what average gamers are going to expect from a title – even for a game that is clearly reading intensive. Adding insult to injury, the gameplay is so paper-thin it’s hard to really call it much of a game.

Jake Hunter: Detective Chronicles screenshot

Most of the “gameplay” involves scrolling through tons of dialogue. As you move around to different locations, you’ll be able to inspect each area and interact with people by selecting options from menu trees. Usually you’ll ask questions; sometimes you’ll answer them. It’s mostly a matter of exhausting all conversation and exploration options in one spot and moving on. You won’t be able to progress until you’ve gathered enough clues to trigger the next sequence in the game. On rare occasions, you’ll access a minimalistic inventory to hand out business cards, make a call on your cell phone, or use other items, but this is severely limited in scope. There’s no backtracking involved, since the game lets you know when you’ve still got something to do in a particular spot. In a few instances, Hunter will find himself in some dangerous situations that involve minimal combat. Rather than implementing touch screen controls or another mechanic, these brief encounters are settled by selecting your actions from yet another dull menu. Combat is limited to punching and kicking, and it’s hard to tell if your selections truly have any real impact on the result of the encounter.

The only interesting part of the gameplay comes from multiple choice memory quizzes that crop up at the end of each chapter in a case. This is nothing new, as it was used heavily in Hotel Dusk. It’s a sad a day when taking a test is the most fun a player has in a game. Still, it’s nominally entertaining to pull up mental tidbits from what happened in the previous chapter. Presumably, getting too many of the questions wrong will end the game, yet this isn’t much of a threat. The questions are not challenging in any regard, and you get another shot at any you mess up on the first try.

Jake Hunter: Detective Chronicles screenshot

There’s another issue worth mentioning. Booze and cigarettes practically go hand-in-hand with detective stories, and it makes sense they’re included in Jake Hunter. The problem is cigarette smoking is rampant throughout the game, and it even goes to the extent of crossing the line into in-game brand advertising for Marlboro. There’s no real need for players to know Hunter’s favorite brand of smokes. Pressing the L button at almost any time will cause Hunter to light up a cigarette – you’re treated to a special “smoking” screen – and mull over the clues at hand. While smoking, Hunter’s brief internal narrative will give players clues on what to do next, but he also talks about how great it is to light up. The way he describes the act of smoking in cool and relaxing terms is shameful. This might be an entertaining feature for mature players who know better, but it’s just not appropriate considering the game’s teen audience. It makes you wonder whether Phillip Morris kicked some money to the game developers to try to entice new young customers to get hooked on their poison.

Jake Hunter could have been a good game if players were offered more to stay entertained with than a few multiple choice questions and a middling story. A little extra effort in the presentation, some added challenge, and better use of the DS capabilities for touch-based gameplay could go a long way here.

The game looks alright but lacks common sense elements that would give it an extra slick polish. 2.5 Control
ZZzzzZZZZzzz. Too many menus; not enough gameplay. 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Cheesy detective-style tunes rendered as chiptune Muzak. 2.5

Play Value
Three cases on one cart is a good value, but more gameplay is required beyond reading and poking at menus.

2.6 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.

Game Features:

  • Episode 1: The Petty Murder of a Fragile Heart. A murder has taken place in Aspicio City’s peaceful Central Park. Jake’s longtime friend, Detective Scott Kingsley, implores Jake to help solve the case. Can Jake uncover the killer’s true motive?
  • Episode 2: Seaside City Conspiracy: On a quiet night, Jake gets a call out of the blue as a hysterical man pleads with Jake to find his missing girlfriend, Eva, in the harbor city of Depono. What seemed to be a routine missing persons case will lead him down a dark path of deception.
  • Episode 3: Crash and Burn. A story about love, betrayal, and death in the fast lane. Jake Hunter’s skills will be put to the test, as he attempts to solve a murder case at the top racing circuit in Ceteri, where rivals, ex-lovers, and friends are all suspects.

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