Journey: The Heart of Gaia is a well-crafted and fantastical journey that hits all the sweet spots

A stranger arrives at the museum one evening, but he’s not there to look at artifacts. Before Liz can react, the man kidnaps her and escapes into the night. The kidnapping doesn’t go according to plan, though, and Liz soon finds herself trapped in a mysterious world filled with colorful plants and unusual creatures. So begins the strange but extremely enjoyable steampunk fantasy adventure Journey: The Heart of Gaia.

Journey: The Heart of Gaia

At its core, Journey: Heart of Gaia is an adventure game, not a hidden object game, and it keeps most of its puzzles focused on inventory items and repairing broken machines with the power of technology or the mysterious ways of magic. It all begins in the Mushroom Forest, the first of seven chapters that set a playful sort of tone for the game to come. Each section is comprised of a handful of scenes you can travel between freely, utilizing a map to hop from area to area. You’ll move around a lot, searching the landscape for items to grab, things to interact with, and new areas to explore.

Mini-games are a big part of Heart of Gaia, and just about every time you complete an objective you’ll need to solve one to progress. They’re mostly confined to familiar brain teasers such as tile swapping, jigsaw puzzles, or tangrams, and the challenge level is just right to give you something to think about without leaving you stuck. A skip button slowly charges at the top of the screen, so even if you can’t solve the mini-game, there’s an escape route!

One of the best features of Journey: Heart of Gaia is the skill system it employs early on. Unlike some adventure game heroes, Liz doesn’t have the strength of a thousand bears or the telekinetic powers of a mental master. To make up for her lack of supernatural talents, you’ll come across three characters in the game that will lend a hand. Using these skills is a lot like activating abilities in a role playing game. If something looks too heavy for Liz to lift, for example, click on Grump’s Strength icon and have him lift it for you. It adds a nice feeling of teamwork to the game, but more importantly it makes Liz more charismatic, and her plight of being trapped in a weird world pursued by a madman more relatable.

Journey: The Heart of Gaia

The hint system in Heart of Gaia leaves a little to be desired, but the game makes up for those shortcomings by including icons on the fast travel map to show you where to go next as well as handy “location complete” markers that let you know when you can pass by a scene. If you choose Advanced mode, however, the puzzles will be more difficult, hints limited and slower to recharge, and locations won’t inform you when you’ve completed them. Good for some extra challenge, but even Casual mode will have you scratching your head from time to time.

Journey: Heart of Gaia is simply a delightful game. The story is well-developed, the setting is creative and fun, and the puzzles are designed to be challenging without resorting to obtuse solutions. And big bonus points for being one of the daring casual adventure games to ditch the doom and gloom haunted house atmosphere!