Jennifer Wilde: Unlikely Revolutionaries Review
Detective duos are always best when they’re mismatched, either in personality or beliefs. Mulder and Scully. Booth and Brennan. Those guys that hung out in Baker Street whose names escape me. Their success often hung on their differences. But other than Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), there hasn’t been a significant detective pairing that featured a ghost — a spooky spook, if you will. Step forward Jennifer Wilde: Unlikely Revolutionaries, which features the unlikely pairing of a fictional French 1920s artist Jennifer Chevalier, and the ghost of Oscar Wilde. The clue may be in the subtitle, but it doesn’t make it any less weird.
When Jennifer’s father is killed in a car accident, she assumes foul play. The chance find of a locket when going through papa’s belongings summons the Irish poet to her side for reasons that are pretty murky and remain so for the four-hour duration. Nevertheless, he seems pretty happy to hang around and offer support while she digs into whether the accident was premeditated.
As the images will attest, Jennifer Wilde is beautiful. Black and white hand-drawn characters and backdrops are meticulously detailed, cleverly disguising the fact that the gameplay is almost entirely 2D. Comic book-style panels pop forth in cutscenes to add dynamism and the inventory system is similarly panelled: many of the puzzles invite you to slot a series of stills into the right order to deduce how events unfolded. Some of the panels can occasionally be combined to fill in gaps in the story (usually denoted by a blank silhouette) and there are inventory items that may be used to answer questions characters ask, but there is no need to methodically combine objects. This isn’t King’s Quest, and for that at least, we can be grateful.
Story-wise, Jennifer hops from France to England and Ireland and there are some interesting nods to the evolution of the IRA and SIS, but other than a few pithy putdowns and the fact that he’s a ghost, Wilde offers very little in terms of personality or reason to be in the game. It felt like the ghost could have been pretty much any character — real or imagined — and there wouldn’t have been much difference. That said, one interesting use of a ghost is your ability to switch between Jennifer and Wilde at any point. Given that only Jennifer can see ghosts (and much of the game involves you questioning other spirits), it allows you to access places as Wilde that Jennifer can’t, look over the shoulder of detectives who want to hide their files from you, or use your spirit powers to manipulate electricity.
The only reason I can see for the inclusion of Wilde himself rather than another ghost is to draw parallels between his life and that of another character in the game. Yet this is only touched on indirectly, not overtly. Indeed, at the very start you have the option to suggest Jennifer’s sexuality in a dialogue response, but this appears to have no effect elsewhere, nor is it mentioned at any other point in the story. It feels a little like queerbaiting, which is a shame, as I genuinely don’t believe this is the developer’s intention as much as an oversight.
Speaking of dialogue options, in keeping with most games in this genre, they exist to be exhausted and nothing more. When you find a new piece of information, another option may appear in the available choices when you return to chat to someone, but otherwise most conversations offer two to three responses that you’ll cycle through, and that’s it. The ending may be altered by a couple of final choices, but otherwise this is by-the-numbers progression.
There are a number of odd design choices which I found detracted from my experience of Jennifer Wilde. The first is sound. There are lovely snippets of music hall tracks in some of the cutscenes, but otherwise the soundscape is limited to background noise: a car engine; street hubbub; the crackling of electricity. Sometimes there’s very little sound, and sometimes nothing at all. Given that the dialogue isn’t voiced, it feels bizarre sitting in silence at a given location, just clicking through text when simple underscoring would have massively enhanced the atmosphere. Autosaving causes a hugely intrusive Jennifer Wilde logo to appear in the bottom left, while selecting a dialogue option isn’t done with a mouse click but by holding down the left button. There are a few typos, especially early on, and these niggles all work to diminish what is clearly a lovingly crafted adventure game.
It also suffers from the same issue that some other point-and-clicks fall into: linearity to the point of breaking logic. At one point I had to use Wilde’s ability to manipulate electricity to start a car. However, I couldn’t do this initially until I’d completed a few other puzzles. The reason isn’t explained, and in terms of puzzle sequence it makes no sense why the other puzzles couldn’t have come after this. Instead, I was left bemused and — like at other points in the game — I found myself revisiting the same places and trying the same thing over and over until it worked. Luckily, the small number of locations and the ability to jump straight to them at any point via the map dampens the pain somewhat.
All told, Jennifer Wilde has the makings of a decent adventure game but it’s hampered by too many quirks to fully recommend it. The conclusion feels more inconsequential than it deserves, Wilde himself — a man who left behind a rich array of plays, essays and poetry — is reduced to a simulacrum, and despite Jennifer’s globetrotting, the atmosphere never manages to match the wonderful visuals. As Wilde himself said: “The critic has to educate the public; the artist has to educate the critic.” Given the door is left open for a sequel, I sincerely hope I get the chance to be thoroughly educated a second time around.
You can subscribe to Jump Chat Roll on your favourite podcast players including:
Let us know in the comments if you enjoyed this podcast, and if there are any topics you'd like to hear us tackle in future episodes!