A great point and click adventure with a fresh aesthetic
As an adventure game, The Journey Down: Chapter One hits all the right notes. It has plenty of charm and character, a mysterious story, an unlikely hero that gets wrapped up in things he doesn’t understand, and puzzles that offer a perfect level of challenge, delivering a deeply satisfying “a-ha!” moment when solved. Oh – and did we mention that the game wraps all of this up in a uniquely African aesthetic?
While the first episode of The Journey Down succeeds by all of the measures that one might judge a graphic adventure, there’s no way to avoid bringing up the game’s unique art style and presentation. Character faces mimic the look of African tribal masks. The lead character, Bwana, and his brother Kito, both sport fittingly Caribbean accents. Overall, the presentation feels like a celebration of black culture and heritage, but at the same time, it never feels like its pandering. The story could have worked regardless of the aesthetic choices made – and I think that’s what makes them work so well.
The quality of the presentation certainly helps reinforce the right choice in aesthetics, too. Visuals in The Journey Down are a neat blend of 3D characters on top of hand-drawn 2D backgrounds – all of which look simply exquisite. And the sound design is a pretty good match for the most part, with a sort of jazzy island rhythm that changes to match each scene.
There aren’t too many locations to visit in Chapter One, so you’ll get to know each pretty well during the course of the episode. The story revolves around brothers Bwana and Kito, operators of a gas station and charter plane service – though the plane hasn’t gotten in the air much in the last few decades. After a visit from a woman who is looking for a mysterious book (which she finds in the brothers’ attic), the boys find themselves in the patronage of their first real client in years. Before they can her airborne, though, they’ll need to get the plane back in working order.
As you might expect from this set up, the majority of Chapter One is spent gathering the missing parts for your plane – though the means by which you’ll do that are anything but simple. Like the best adventure games, puzzles are wrapped inside of puzzles that are wrapped inside of even more puzzles. So to get yourself one piece of the plane, you might have to complete an intricate series of steps that will have you bouncing back and forth all over the map for a while.
Getting the engines, for example, means gaining access to a certain place. But to do that, you’ll have to figure out how to get there. Once you do, you’ll still need to get in. To do that, you’ll need to solve another quest that involves finding a bunch of items, each playing out like little puzzles on their own. Each missing plane item involves a multiple steps to acquire, giving you plenty of brain-tingling action for your buck.
But even for all its successes, The Journey Down isn’t without its flaws. Voice acting is something of a mixed bag here. Most of the characters are vibrant and full of personality, but a few manage to fall noticeably flat. Likewise, it seems as though there were two distinctly different audio sessions when voice work was recorded – one that sounds crystal clear, and one that sounds muddled, almost as if it were done over the phone. There’s one character in particular whose dialogue is entirely in this second camp – and a few of the others seem mixed between the two. In fact, there was one scene where a character’s audio switched from high quality to low in mid-conversation. It was a little jarring, and managed to yank us out of an otherwise engaging experience.
The only other real complaint to be had is that the mouths aren’t properly synced to what’s being said – but that’s easy enough to forgive. Likewise, the game is a little short – but considering this is only the first part in an episodic series, we really can’t hold that against them.
If the episodes that follow can live up to the quality realized in the first, The Journey Down will no doubt be the kind of series that point and click adventure fans will be eager to keep playing in the months to come. And with plenty of humor and neat puzzles, its unique aesthetic is just icing on the cake. If you’re a fan of classic adventure style gaming, be sure to pick this one up.
[While available on multiple platforms, our review was constructed using the PC version]