2013-03-25

The Journey Down

Today I played a relatively new adventure game called The Journey Down. I bought it based mostly on the screenshots, because it looks pretty amazing, and as far as visuals, dialogue, voice acting and music goes, it's absolutely brilliant. So it's just a pity it's not much good as a game.

It's not that there's anything particularly wrong with it as far as generic adventure games go, the real problem is that it just embraces all the dumb and lazy conventions of the genre. Those who like "classic" adventure games with wacky puzzle solutions will probably love it.

And there is certainly a lot to love about it. The character designs are unique and interesting, the scenery is delightful, the voice acting is actually good, and even the dialogue is mostly pretty good, particularly the main character Bwana's. If it were presented as a cartoon instead of as a game I probably wouldn't have anything to complain about at all. I'd watch that.

Where it falls down is in the actual gameplay. "Adventure game logic", puzzle solutions like using a ceiling fan instead of an aeroplane propeller and having that just work fine or painting the canap├ęs because they're the wrong colour are a staple of the genre, but they are and always have been dumb.

A lot of the time you find yourself doing things without any real reason and only later do you discover what it was you needed to do that for. This is avoided in some places — for example, you can't take the lemon slice until you have a reason to need one and Bwana only takes the cheese from the fridge to prevent Kito from getting it, then finds an alternative use for it later — but other times you just revert to taking any random bit of garbage you happen across for no reason and then having it coincidentally become useful later on.

There are also a couple of generic puzzles slotted in, like a rotating tile puzzle to open a door for no reason. Bwana actually comments on a couple of these as being stupid and how he hates puzzles, and bypasses a couple of them without forcing you to solve it, but all that really shows is that the designers knew it was a cop-out and included it anyway.

It's unfortunate that so many adventure games bind themselves to these conventions that have no basis in good game design and are just there because they always have been. There are adventure games that have moved beyond this sort of thing, but the ones that seem to be best promoted and most successful are the ones like this that really just exist to cater to the audience of people who want to relive the adventure games they used to play, rather than improving the genre.

But if that's your kind of thing the game's available on Steam, and it really is very good except for the actual game bit.


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