Wot I Think: The Journey Down Chapter One

By John Walker on May 21st, 2012 at 9:00 pm.

It's hard to dislike these characters.

Former AGS adventure, The Journey Down, has now had its first (and so far only) chapter remade and re-released as a commercial product. How does it do going from retro-pixel adventure to something more modern, voiced and priced? Here’s Wot I Think.

It fascinates me yet again that it takes the small, indie developers to show that 2D point and click adventures can still look modern. With some very nicely rendered characters, and enough artistic flair, the game suffers nothing from not having 3D backgrounds or a camera on a spinning top. What was previously a lovingly crafted pixel-drawn game is now a lovingly crafted magic-science drawn game. And what previously had some rather dubiously typed out racial dialects now has some only slightly dubious racial dialects spoken. The tale isn’t greatly changed, with a few more puzzles thrown in, and the result is still a solid, if sometimes opaque, adventure.

Bwana is a Jamaican pilot, running a gas station in a borderline dystopian city, close to The Edge. He lives in the adjoining house, along with his childhood friend, engineer Kito, struggling to make a living in a city where people don’t seem to pay for gas much any more. An evil power company, also the owner of the local rail infrastructure, and perhaps the government too, is increasingly imposing restrictions on the residents of the town, and clamping down on any discussion of what might lie beyond The Edge.

A mysterious woman appears, interested in a book that might be in the attic of Bwana’s building, and in getting transport in their now pretty defunct plane. So this first chapter is about restoring the plane (from engines to steering wheel – no, they call it the steering wheel), via the magic of traditional point-n-click puzzling. So obviously to get a propeller you’re going to need to remove the fan from the ceiling using a fishing rod, that you need to get from the guy by scaring him with a rat. Remember the deal?

How these puzzles hang together for you is likely a personal thing. I found things a little overly disparate here, not as neatly signposted as in the original version, and sometimes just a bit too obscure. A lot run smoothly, but of course which falls into which camp can really depend on who you are and how your brain works. Impressively, there is someclue dropping built in on delays, meaning if you look at the same object enough times, eventually it will nudge you a little further. That’s great when it happens, but does rely on your already being on the right tracks. Not have a clue that the missing ingredient for the recipe is in a certain location in a certain place, and little is there to push you in that direction. But again, that’s fairly standard for the genre, and most attempts to address this end in the games becoming frustratingly simple. It demands you dig for that place of patience you might once have had, and keep sniffing around the locations.

I’m not sure how I feel about Bwama’s protests each time he encounters a more traditional puzzle. Shouting about how annoying they are isn’t a great plan immediately before then demanding the player do them anyway. Although there’s one moment that pays off on the gag that pretty much forgives it.

The actors brought in mostly do a good job, only let down by the recording quality. Most of the time it’s just fine, but oddly in the middle of conversations characters’ voices will dramatically change quality, as if they were recorded in a completely different place on a different day on different equipment. That may well be the case, of course, especially if pick-ups were needed, but it does make things feel a little amateur wherever it appears. And the accents themselves, that made the original text-only version seem a little… uncomfortable, certainly help by mostly appearing to be authentic. Exaggerated, but authentic. However, the one sticking point is the same as the most awkward character in the original – the Japanese-maybe chef who shrieks in an Ss and Ls muddled cod-Asian accent. It could be better.

Cutscenes are of special note, incredibly well rendered and remarkably professional for such a small indie team. And they don’t skimp either, with a lovely long final sequence to enjoy, setting things up for the next episode. And the character design is splendid, faces based on authentic masks from areas like Tanzania and Mozambique. But you know what? A bit of the charm is gone, with the loss of the pixels. Just a bit.

It’s not an exceptional adventure game, but it’s an interesting beginning to a series, and a great example of how neat a 2D adventure can still look. The characters are very likeable, and the setting – while now needing to be significantly fleshed out – is an interesting one. Ultimately the game’s main flaw is that, as elaborate as it may be, you’re basically fixing an aeroplane for a couple of hours. If the series can find a way to maintain its high standards, and allow the consequences of your actions to have more narrative impact, then this will have been the introduction to a classic series. A bloody expensive classic series.

The crushing aspect here is just how much this short chapter costs. At £10 (GamersGate, Desura), I think SkyGoblin are really pushing their luck. And with it not being immediately apparent how many chapters there will be, it’s not possible to know what sort of investment you’re being asked for here. Even if it were only four chapters, that would still make this one of the most expensive adventure games in many years. With a five-part season pass for a Telltale game generally costing around £16, I really think they’ve made a mistake. Which is a great shame. You can of course still get the original version of the game for free.

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19 Comments »

  1. misterT0AST says:

    The macabre masks the characters have for heads remind me of rudimentary 3d skulls.

    And the fact that this is a 3d adventure game, set in a brightly colored, folkloristic world with characters with skull-like heads reminds me of something.

  2. Torgen says:

    Is that the bartender from The Love Boat in the second picture? Looks charming. Seeing how I paid $15 for From Dust, and even though half the game was missing, I didn’t mind “that” much since it was an interesting concept, I might pick this up for an American tenner when the opportunity presents itself, just to encourage more chapters.

    (I really wish we would get the other half of From Dust, to flesh out all the missing things like totems not even having names, much less any effects.)

  3. Rikard Peterson says:

    I agree that the price is on the high end for a game this short, but aside from that, I’m in love with this game. It’s great to have a main character that lovely. You just want to spend time with him.

    And the music! It’s just great. That’s probably a large part of what sold me on the game. (I’m a music teacher, and I played a bit of it to a non-game-playing colleagues of mine. She agreed that it was great and asked me if she could borrow the CD.)

    For me, the puzzles were just right. I never was truly stuck, but I got to feel clever a couple of times when I got an idea that turned out to be the right solution.

    If they can keep it up for the remaining three chapters, The Journey Down will have earned a place as one of my favourite games of all time.

  4. Mistabashi says:

    I think £6.99 would have been a better price point for this kind of thing – it’s small enough for an impulse purchase but not too small that you’re giving it away. Looks cool though, and I never did play the original so I’ll probably pick it up at some point.

  5. Hodge says:

    Yeah, that price is a real eye-opener. Especially when, as you say, the (wonderful) original version can still be had for free.

    I don’t really understand why they’re remaking it in the first place. The stylized character designs worked fine at the original resolution, so the graphics benefit little from the upgrading. Going straight into the second episode with the upgraded engine would have made more sense.

    Still, I wish them luck with it, it’s a series I’d like to see continue.

  6. caddyB says:

    I’ll have to wait for a sale on this one, with the finals at hand I don’t have much time to play ( or work ) so real, actual money is hard to come by for two months or so.

    It looks lovely though.

  7. Navagon says:

    Yeah, the price is a sticking point. Also there’s the fact that we’re not exactly guaranteed to see the series completed. You mentioned Telltale, but not that Telltale are one of the very, very few who have made episodic gaming work. Even Valve failed miserably at it.

  8. HaVoK308 says:

    $5 would be a better asking price. I’ll pass for now. Perhaps when all the episodes are complete there will be a discounted price. Of course that would probably upset those who paid this price.

  9. DickSocrates says:

    Why, oh, why has this episode nonsense taken off? Just make your game and then release it!

    • Mistabashi says:

      Perhaps because making a game is a huge undertaking, both in terms of finance and man hours, so making it in smaller chunks and selling the first part to finance the following parts is a logical way of getting your game out there?

  10. CaLe says:

    I cannot stand the voice work, or just the audio in general. Too bad because I do like the art style.

  11. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    I really liked the demo. I, however, doubt I’ll ever agree to fork over that much money for one part of how many of one game. Not that I’m unwiling to pay a decent amount of money for the whole package, mind. Aside from the cost of that single part, I’m not really into the episodic thing.

  12. GibletHead2000 says:

    I agree completely on the price. I looked long and hard at this game, being something of a fan of adventures. I dug around on the site for a while as I thought maybe they weren’t communicating the price very well, and actually I’d get the series for £10 but only the first episode was ready.

    Alas not, it would appear that it’s £10 for the episode. With so many good, cheap games out there, I just can’t bring myself to stick that down on a single episode, despite being a big fan of adventure games.

  13. Big McLargeHuge says:

    Why is this on every site known to man except steam?

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