“Out of Cash, Out of Luck, But Not Out of Stupid Ideas”
Swedish developer SkyGoblin has kicked off a new point-and-click franchise, The Journey Down, an episodic adventure. Planned 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 – the lovely damsel in distress, Lina. Together, they’ll need to get to the bottom of the conspiracy that’s tightening around them, find a trace of their vanished adoptive father, Kaonandodo, and – most importantly – make good on their promise to protect their new (and only) client, even when all they own is an old airplane without propeller, throttle, or engines.
The game boasts a unique yet identifiably familiar graphical style. 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 his overuse of words like “man” and “lady”, is easy to crack a smile at. The writing 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 best card: all 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, 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. These are some of the highest words of praise I could give Journey Down!
The Final Verdict
The story’s further chapters are slated to release approximately eight months after one another, the developer informed us. I can’t help but feel a little disappointed at this wait time, as the game was a bit on the short side, and by the time the end credits roll, you’re really looking forward to digging further into the unraveling mystery. I would have gladly put more of my wait time up front, if it meant being able to play this game in perhaps two installments instead of four.
Another important piece of info to be aware of, while not changing my overall opinion of the game, is that the voice acting, apart from the leads who are solid and funny across the board, is pretty hit-or-miss; while there weren’t too many supporting characters this time around, their voice talents could have used a bit more fine-tuning. Overall, however, The Journey Down paints a picture that has piqued my interest, and I’m looking forward to what’s in store next for Bwana and co.!