Game does good by invoking the spirit of Monkey Island and Grim Fandango making it feel nostalgic and yet being entirely up-to-date.
Okay enough of the quasi-journalism talk, let’s talk about this game. The Journey Down: Chapter 1 is the first part in a four-part adventure game, using good old fashioned point-and-click controls by Swedish Independent Developers, SkyGoblin.
The game starts out with a couple of thugs looking to find a book by searching a professor’s office in Agibo University in the sprawling city of St. Armond. Next we’re taken to Kaonandodo’s Gas and Charter, home and business of the aformentioned Kaonandodo, and his adopted sons Bwana and Kito. Kaonandodo seemed to have disappeared leaving Bwana and Kito to run the business, and it’s behind in it’s payments to the power company. When Lina the professor’s assistant comes by she’s searching for a book, presumably the same book the thugs were searching for. Going here for a possible spoiler – I won’t tell you where, but I will tell you that they find the book and that Lina needs Bwana to take her to the fabled Underland. In order to take her anywhere you and Kito must fix your plane that hasn’t flown in 20 years. Thus starts your adventure.
Remember above when I said the game invokes the spirit of such adventure game classics as The Secret of Monkey Island and Grim Fandango making it feel nostalgic and yet being up-to-date? This is what it feels like. It feels like a maybe mid-to-late 90’s Lucasarts adventure. The graphics are all high-definition, and a 2.5D presentation. (This usually means some combination of 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional graphics). The backgrounds are quite beautiful and the animations are well done. The cinematics also look professional and the musical score blends jazz and reggae rather effortlessly.
You basically use one cursor on everything, making it act like LucasArts “The Dig”, which makes it easy enough to use. Even though there isn’t an obvious hint system, there seems to be a subtle one, as you don’t seem to stay stuck for long when you do actually get stuck. Essentially after trying many different solutions, Bwana will gently try to point you in the right direction. This makes the game fun and not as frustrating as other point-and-click adventures. You primarily solve puzzles through inventory with a few on the spot puzzles thrown in. Using your inventory is as simple as dragging the icon of the inventory item onto the screen or clicking it to get a description.
I do have a few niggles about this game that would turn a 4.5 stars out of 5 game into a 5 (even though I don’t tend to use any particular rating system). Firstly the backgrounds as gorgeous as they are, often clash with the 3d models of the characters. The backgrounds look like they are out of a graphic novel, but the characters out of a modern 3d adventure. Secondly the voice acting for the most part is pretty good, although some of the minor characters aren’t that great. Even though Bwana and Kito’s voice acting is really good, Bwana’s Jamaican-style accent does get on your nerves after a while. (Maybe it’s just me, like I said it’s good, and the voice actor is good, but listening to the voice after 2-3 hours kind of gets wearisome.) Not to mention the conversations are pretty darn long, which is something that old adventure games seemed to do as well. It’s sort of like exposition in a movie, too much talking and not enough action (and playing). The music also nice and professional tends to get wearisome because we don’t seem to get a break. Using the inventory is a bit problematic as well, since in order to use an inventory item you have to drag it into the scene, rather than clicking it to activate it, then being able to free move around the screen and place it where you want. I suspect it’s because of porting to tablets and iOS devices because it’s based on a tap and/or drag.
Then are two really minor things, one is that it calls the brochures on the table “folders”. It may be in Sweden they are called folders. Here in the U.S. they would be flyers or brochures. The other is the name of the Underland. Usually here in the U.S. we refer to something like that as the Underworld. Usually it refers to either something like a mob sub-culture (criminal underworld), or maybe something like where the dead go, such as in Greek mythology. Maybe also in Sweden such things are called the Underland. Or I also like to think it’s on purpose since it’s Theador Waern’s story he can call it what he wants. But it’s something I thought I should mention. Those are the only things that bothered me about the game like I said, it’s a 4.5 out of 5 star game.
Hopefully no one will get angry at me for stating these supposed “cons” of the game. Considering that game reviews are generally opinions I feel it necessary to state even the negative opinions because maybe hopefully in the future it will help the developers overcome some of the problems that plague past games as well as informing the reader of something they thought might be a problem and knowing someone agrees with them and yet still approves of the game means that maybe they should approve of it too.
The first chapter only introduces you to the main characters as most of the action happens in Kingsport Bay around the city of St. Armand. You do get a decent back-story about what Lina is doing there, why people want this book, and why any mention of the Underland is forbidden. However they also don’t give away too much as this is the mystery that you’re ultimately supposed to unravel. I would say play it for nothing else then being original, if not for the fact it plays like an older adventure game. I realize that being original and paying homage is usually mutually exclusive but I think The Journey Down really blends both originality and nostalgia well. You should really play it for yourself. In fact if you go to the website you can play a free version (only for Windows as far as I know) which is sort of a pared down version of this game. It will at least give you an idea of what you get in the HD version. The HD Version also includes more puzzles and some more locations. Not to mention if you buy the HD version you’re not only paying for higher quality in the coming chapters, you’re also supporting independent developers who will continue to make these fantastic games for you.
If you like good old-fashioned point-and-click adventures with an original spin, give TJD a try you won’t be disappointed. The HD version of The Journey Down: Chapter 1 will be available Friday the 18th, for PC, Mac, and Linux, and later iOs and Android formats.