“Out of Cash, Out of Luck, But Not Out of Stupid Ideas”
In the last few weeks, there have been several announcements from well-known ex-Sierra designers – first from Al Lowe and Jane Jensen and later from Scott Murphy and Mark Crowe, detailing ways they’re each planning to contribute to a comeback of sorts for the old-school point-and-click adventure game genre. Even here at BNBGAMING HQ, we’ve had discussions on whether a return to the glory days of sprites and parser-based interfaces is feasible in the current market climate, as some of us still carry a torch that shines brightly for these games of yesteryear.
Swedish developer SkyGoblin has now announced a new point-and-click franchise, The Journey Down, which is kicking off next month already with its first chapter. Planned as a multi-part release with four chapters telling the story, The Journey Down combines quality writing, likeable characters and good production values to throw you right back to the ’90s, into the midst of the hustle and bustle of adventure games’ heyday.
The game centers around Bwana and Kito, two likeable losers who operate the run-down dockside gas ‘n’ charter joint, suitably named “Gas ‘n’ Charter”, in the fictional city of St. Armando. The game opens as Bwana and Kito’s place is left in the dark without power due to the pair being up to their eyeballs in debt to the Armando Electric Co. Within minutes, the two become embroiled in a mysterious government cover-up, as an unusual customer visits their establishment. Can they get to the bottom of the conspiracy that’s tightening around them? Can they find a trace of their vanished adoptive father, Kaonandodo? And – most importantly – can they make good on their promise to protect the lovely Lina, when all they own is an old airplane without propeller, throttle, or engines?
Having played the first entry in this new series, I can relay several key pieces of info, which will bode well to veterans of the genre.
First off, the game’s graphical style is unique, yet identifiably familiar. Handsomely hand-drawn character art melds with computer-enhanced background effects, such as the rippling water in the bay next to the Gas ‘n’ Charter. Character designs are heavily influenced by traditional African folklore and art, as most characters’ faces are actually African tribal masks. Even though the facial exaggeration and markings are at first off-putting in their alien-ness, one quickly gets used to and warms up to these characters.
Voice characterization also helps in this department. All of the dialogue is spoken, which helps to accept the hyper-stylized facial features even faster. Especially Bwana’s overly dramatic, heavily accented African drawl, with all of his “man”s and “lady”s, is easy to crack a smile at. The writing also helps, which is engaging and surprisingly intuitive. Much of the title’s music, fittingly enough, consists of funky reggae tracks to highlight the tongue-in-cheek, easy-going nature depicted by its protagonists.
But, as most adventure fanatics will attest, the most important thing isn’t the graphics or music, but whether or not the developers got the general feel of the game right. In this regard, The Journey Down plays its biggest ace in the hole: all of the pieces of the puzzle fit together to create just the right kind of atmosphere; the environments feel warm and inviting; and the puzzles are intuitive yet fiendishly difficult, with all the classic inventory puzzles that you could possibly want. Best of all, the developers aren’t holding your hand by providing an in-game walkthrough guide, as has become the practice in some recent games of this type. This game is all you; take it or leave it. Playing it, I got the feeling of being back in ’95 being mesmerized by LucasArts’ classics The Dig and Full Throttle, or out to sea in ’96 with Sierra On-Line’s Leisure Suit Larry title, Love For Sail. High words of praise, indeed!
The first chapter is releasing in May, with following chapters releasing approximately eight months after one another, the developer informed us. When asked about the distribution model, we were told that it would be exclusively handled through online distribution sites, and that the target price, while not finalized yet, would be in the $10-$15 range. While the game is currently very close to final, it is important to note that those who played the 2010 retro version, however, will have a ton of improvements to look forward to. While the retro version specifically appealed to the retro crowd with its 320×240 resolution, the new version is a full HD (720p) remake with extended gameplay and detail, e.g., more locations, new characters, extra puzzles, over 50 minutes of original music and a fully voiced cast.