By John Walker on December 2nd, 2013 at 9:00 pm.
Journey Of A Roach came out a couple of weeks back, and is now rather heavily discounted in Steam’s sale. Here’s wot I think of the peculiar mix of bugs and adventure:
Journey Of A Roach is so close to charming. It’s not charming. But it’s so close to it. It’s part adventure game, part sort-of-platform game, as you control a cockroach exploring an underground bunker in some manner of post-apocalyptic world. Your cockroach, being a cockroach, can walk up walls and onto ceilings, meaning as you approach the 3D levels, you have access to a lot more of them than you’d usually see. When it lets you.
You move about inside the game using WASD, or a controller (both work, but with the keyboard you can also use the mouse to to interact, and proves the better option), running up walls and around rooms, the game rolling the room to keep you ‘upright’ throughout. But apart from one rather dreadful section, this isn’t about dexterity – it’s about exploration.
The rules of point-n-click adventures apply here. Gather objects into your inventory, and use them in implausible ways in the environment. And for the most part, it does this pretty well. Yes, it’s obscure, but fairly often in the right way, that mad logic way that feels acceptable if you lived through the games of the 90s.
And it looks rather nice too, a hand-painted look to backgrounds, and cute, 3D rotoscopish roaches and other insects within. Things begin with our hero roach finding a growing flower in some soil, and the ensuing excitement sees him and his much beleaguered friend drawn into a strange, ant-controlled underground world, from which they’re trying to escape. This means making elaborate disguises, cheating at peculiar games, escaping from traps, and thwarting hapless enemies in all the ways an adventure game should. This is all communicated with words, but instead babbled nonsense sounds (well, I don’t speak Insect, but it sounded like nonsense to me), and very lovely little speech bubbles and thought bubbles showing images of what they want to achieve. So far, so quite nice.
The problem is, the game seems to undermine itself at every turn. Despite looking lovely, it insists on coming out of its perfectly capable in-game engine, to display cutscenes in lazy, poorly animated Flash animations. It looks cheap, likely because it was. The main engine clearly and capably handles the characters and animates them nicely, so why it does this so very often can only have been a cut corner.
Then comes the way you interact with the game. Objects you can use get a small floaty triangle by them, but only when you get close enough, and far too much of the game is spent zooming out to cheat/see all that you can use, to prevent pixel hunting. And when that environment might be hiding the thing you can use because you’re on the wrong surface, that gets pretty damned annoying.
Worst is the movement. Too often gaps you should clearly be able to crawl through are impassable, or the character will get stuck on the wrong wall, and be a pain to move. Also, you would imagine that with the roach you’d have access to all six walls of a room, but no. The game reasonably does away with the fourth wall, meaning your window into a room remains a window – that’s fair. And in some places it puts in obstacles to stop you accessing a wall it’s decided you don’t need. But so often it hasn’t, and there are arbitrary invisible blocks. These invariably force you through obstacles the rest of the game’s logic tells you you should be able to walk around, and that always feels crap. It’s maddening to find yourself hitting these barriers and not knowing why. It makes the game feel unfinished.
None of these is game-destroying, and it still offers some fun times. I rather liked the fly-gathering puzzles, and the final sequence is silly and entertaining. It’s also nice and smart with its audio, and the insectoid chattering is cute. It is, it has to be said, okay. Quite good. Not that bad. Horrid words to give a nice game, but true all the same.
Journey Of A Roach is on Steam, and is currently only £7.20 in the sale.