The Journey Down: Chapter One
First posted on 26 May 2012. Last updated on 26 May 2012.
|Bwana and Kito operate a gas station for a living.|
|Bwana meets Lina who seeks his help about a banned book.|
|Is he to be trusted?|
|Bwana remembers his adopted father.|
|The game harkens to the styling of classic adventure games.|
Contemporary adventure games have come to adopt a few established styling. Some make an impression by focusing on delivering great graphics, while others rely on nostalgia inspired by old school games from the golden age of the adventure genre. The Journey Down, from indie developer SkyGoblin, falls squarely on the latter.
The Journey Down: Chapter One is the first chapter in a planned quadrilogy of games. The series is also a remake of a freeware game called The Journey Down: Over the Edge, previously released in 2010 and originally built using Adventure Game Studio (a popular and free adventure game creation toolkit used by aspiring game developers). Since then, the game has been reworked, expanded, and remade into a commercial game series by the same developer, motivated by the critical acclaims that it has received for the original work.
The Journey Down: Chapter One tells the story of Bwana and Kito, who run a gas station for boats at a bay in the fictional city of St. Armando. It is not a very lucrative business, as they constantly run out of cash and have recently failed to pay their bills such that the power company has even shut down the power to their business. Their daily life is turned upside down when a woman named Lina enters their dreary world. She tries to get hold of a special book. This book, belonging to Bwana and Kito's adoptive father Kaonandodo, contains lost information about a place called Underland. However, all knowledge about this place is banned, and it is illegal to traffic such a book. In fact, Kaonandodo has mysteriously vanished some years ago while trying to find Underland, leaving Bwana and Kito to manage the gas station by themselves.
Bwana is the main character of which the player assumes control in the game. Responding to Lina's plead, Bwana and Kito agree to fix up an old seaplane in order to escape from some mysterious thugs who are after them and to also help Lina find Underland. Bwana and Kito's motivations to go on the quest are, however, mostly financial, as Lina promises that they will be well compensated for helping her out.
When compared to the original freeware release, this remake is a dramatic improvement. All of the scenes in the remake are recognizable when compared to their original counterparts, but they are of much higher visual quality. Many locations in the remake have animations, such as waving water or burning candles, that make the scenes come alive. The static parts of the scenes are still a bit sketchy, often painted with only a limited color palette. The character models are well done and seem very lifelike. Created originally in 3D, these models are tweaked before being transformed into 2D sprites that are used in the game. Due to this hybrid graphical styling, small glitches are sometimes visible when these characters interact with 2D objects in the scenes. As expected, some of the game's cut scenes use pre-rendered animations which are of somewhat higher quality. It is noteworthy that the all of the characters in the game are drawn with very characteristic faces, though some look better than others. Their looks remind me of those from Grim Fandango or a twist of a Tim Burton animated film. According to the developer, the faces are styled after African masks, giving the game a distinctive look.
While the original game has no voiceovers, the remake features a fantastic voice cast. It is always a huge risk for indie developers to include voices for the characters in their games, as they can easily undermine the overall quality of the games if the voices are not done correctly. The use of voices in this remake also addresses any complaint that the original game feels too silent with just subtitled dialog. With few exceptions, the voiceovers are very well done. The reworked jazz and reggae music deserves praise too, as it really fits well with the mysterious world inhabited by these characters.
All of the puzzles in the game are logically structured, and the solutions to these puzzles make sense for the most part in hindsight. Some of the riddles play to the game's humor, and their solutions reflect this tone accordingly. While an experienced player will not likely find them very difficult, the riddles are far from trivial as many of them are quite clever. Every object that can be picked up in the game serves a purpose, and most hotspots do so as well. The game tries to sidestep the common problem in adventure games when the player can grab a lot of objects without knowing when or how to use them. It does this by having Bwana refuse to pick up the object of interest immediately but instead describe it so to alert the player of its eventual importance. Later on when that object is needed, the player can return to pick it up and use it. A few new scenes and puzzles have also been added to the remake that are not in the original.
On some levels, the game can be seen as a spiritual successor to the LucasArts inspired adventure games of yore. It follows the same design philosophy that the player cannot die or hit a dead end. All actions are triggered and controlled by a single mouse button. The inventory is found at the bottom of the screen. Options to saving and loading are found at the top of the screen. To use an object from the inventory, the object needs to be dragged in place. Left-clicking on an object in the inventory brings up a description. Alas, right-clicking is not supported separately, though this absence may have to do with porting the game to mobile platform where such gesture is not possible. In the original game, text descriptions accompany all exits in a scene. In this game, only arrows are shown with no text telling to where they lead.
The Journey Down: Chapter One has peaked my interest in the series, mainly because of its unique style and atmosphere. It also appeals to my memories of classic adventure games. Most importantly, this game proves that a small indie developer can indeed deliver a quality game that focuses on the experience for the gamer and not the budget of the game.