Kim has taken a while to getting around to playing the first episode of point-and-click adventure The Journey Down. But has it been worth the wait?
|Name:||The Journey Down|
|Release date:||May 2012|
|PEGI rating:||Not listed|
|Platforms:||iOS, Linux, Mac, PC|
|More information:||Official website|
The Journey Down: Chapter One was one of those games that sat in my Steam wishlist for a long time. I originally added it a while ago due to its lovely visuals and point-and-click premise but when finding something play, I’d regularly look it over before other titles caught my eye. I decided to finally snap it up after receiving notification that the first episode of Skygoblin’s adventure was on sale over Christmas and ended up completing the game in one sitting afterwards.
I’m not entirely sure why I hesitated in playing The Journey Down for so long, particularly when you consider that it contains something very reminiscent of Grim Fandango or The Secret of Monkey Island – two of my favourite entries in the genre. Its introduction is great and I was eager to get further in; but halfway through my playthrough, my attention started to wane and part of me was waiting for the experience to end. That’s not to say it’s a bad game: I wouldn’t not recommend it but it definitely has some flaws.
The Gas ‘n’ Charter is a rundown gas station in a shady corner of Kingsport Bay on the outskirts of St Armando. Previously owned by Captain Kaonandodo, the establishment is now looked after by laid-back Bwana and Kito since being abandoned by their adoptive father but they aren’t doing so well: behind on their bills, they’ve now been cut off by the electricity company. As such the pair jump at the chance to help out Lina, a young women searching for a lost book that may hold the illegal secret to reaching the Underland. Little do they know that they’re about to be taken far from their home and into corruption and danger…
The premise is a plot that could have been straight out of a LucasArts’ game.
The premise is a plot that could have been straight out of a LucasArts’ game and it pulled me in straight away. The user-interface also feels as if it’s from the classics: it’s all very simple and clicking on a hotspot elicits a response from Bwana or an interaction with an item. Your inventory is displayed in a bar at the bottom of the screen whenever the cursor is hovered over it and items can be dragged into the environment when they need to be used. The only problem with this set-up is that the inventory bar tends to pop up at unintentional moments and can get a little annoying.
Alongside The Journey Down’s familiar feel are the charming graphics. 3D characters appear on top of hand-drawn backgrounds, and the African artwork almost manages to do for this game what the Mexican calaca influences did for Grim Fandango. The faces of the characters mimic tribal masks and the two protagonists are based on statues from the Chokwe and Makonde tribes; so it’s somewhat jarring when you realise they have Jamaican accents. The Steam page for the title states that this is a ‘classic point-and-click series with an Afro-Caribbean twist’ but sadly it doesn’t run that deep: the release could have starred a protagonist from any country and the African designs are simply a style choice.
However, most players will be persuaded to overlook this inconsistency when they’re presented with the gorgeous night skyline during the opening scenes. St Armando shines brightly in the background and this sparkling view of city life contrasts wonderfully with the neglected Gas ‘n’ Charter in the foreground, stars overhead and water lapping at the shore. With this image in front of me I ventured forward, feeling as though the bustling metropolis was mine to explore.
After Lina calls the professor for whom she works, she discovers that his office has been ransacked by mobsters and she needs to get away and hide. It’s time for Bwana and Kito to step in – but unfortunately their plane hasn’t been flown in years and needs a variety of repairs before it will be ready to take off. It’s here where The Journey Down earns its comparison to The Secret of Monkey Island as the puzzles feel much like traditional fare. They’re all very light-hearted and humorous, extremely fitting with the protagonists’ personalities, although the solution for replacements for ladder rungs is a slightly ridiculous.
Puzzles are generally inventory-based and tend to be wrapped inside of even more puzzles: once you solve one, you’ll uncover a further obstacle. For example, to get an item needed to repair the aeroplane you’ll have to complete a series of tasks that will see you travelling back and forth all over Kingsport Bay for a while. You get this feeling that you’ll be able to take off, that Lina and the boys will be able to continue on their adventure, just as soon as you’ve figured out that next little challenge…
However, that outcome never materialises and players don’t get to explore the glittering metropolis they’re presented with at the beginning of the game. It’s here that my attention for The Journey Down started to falter: once I realised that I was simply solving puzzles in order to fix the plane and wouldn’t be seeing much more in this first episode, I started to lose interest.
There really is something likeable about this game; if only the characters and plot had had a little more space to develop.
Jeffrey Matulef made a good point in his review for Eurogamer: “Where Guybrush’s tongue-tied first meeting with Elaine instantly summed up who these characters were, Bwana’s initial encounter with his love interest is rife with noir potential but mostly limits itself to exposition following by her sitting in a chair saying, ‘Let me know when you’re ready.’” It’s such a shame as there really is something likeable about this game; if only the characters and plot had had a little more space to develop.
In many ways, Skygoblin’s remake of their free point-and-click game The Journey Down: Over the Edge provokes the same feelings as LucasArts’ releases. With a mysterious plot, silly humour, inventory puzzles and exotic locations, it’s no wonder that comparisons to the classics have been made. However, for me there just wasn’t enough story for two-and-a-half hours of gameplay and felt more like an extended prologue rather than the first episode in an adventure.
The second episode is available on Steam now and the third is now being worked on, after a successful Kickstarter campaign saw the developer raise 136% of their intended $35,748 target. I’m not in any immediate rush to make a further purchase but perhaps at some point in the future Chapter Two will also be added to my wishlist.