There is a formula to most point-and-click adventure games: collect items, use and combine items (often with a raise of your eyebrows as you wonder in what universe those items could possibly relate in the slightest) and hopefully progress through the story. Therefore, to really stand out, each new entry into the genre needs to bring to the table its own unique personality and The Journey Down: Chapter One, a self-professed “classic point-and-click adventure with a black African twist”, does exactly that.
The story revolves around your hero, Bwana, a washed-up pilot that spends his life in the town of Kingsport Bay, St. Armando. Along with his adopted brother Kito, Bwana runs the local gas and charter business left to them by their adopted father Kaonandodo – or, he gives it a red hot go, at any rate. The business is failing, the brothers are behind on their power bills and so when a mysterious woman shows up on their doorstep asking for their help, it doesn’t take much convincing to get them to co-operate. Unfortunately, in a totally shocking and unforeseen turn of events, your plane is broken and before you can help her out you’re going to need to collect some appropriate materials to collect it – and that’s what you’ll spend the majority of this first chapter doing.
The Journey Down boasts a “black African twist”, something which, as you’d expect, is evident right from the get-go. The character designs are based on traditional African masks, and while they add to the game’s personality and uniqueness, they can also be quite jarring. Once you’ve seen a picture of the masks in real life, accessed by unlocking the ‘behind the scenes’ content when you finish the game, the whole thing makes sense. Before then, however, I was personally confused as to why they chose the facial aesthetic that they did – especially given that as a result, none of the characters have eyes, only holes where the eyes should be. It’s certainly unique, but it does seem to make the game somewhat more unintentionally macabre than the setting would suggest.
That said, once you see the inspiration for the character designs, it all makes a little more sense, and SkyGoblin should be applauded for their ability to make the characters so expressive without being able to rely on the eyes. In fact the behind the scenes content as a whole really adds to the game, and if nothing else, it’s worth finishing the chapter to get a look at some of the design sketches – they provide great insight into the process the game’s creation.
The developers have done a great job of setting the scene here, and Kingsport Bay feels exactly as it seems it should, a quiet shipping town with a hint of the Caribbean and a cast of characters that seem right at home. I couldn’t help but be struck by the fact that in a lot of ways, particularly regarding the soundtrack, the game reminded me a lot of the Monkey Island series. Kingsport Bay feels like Melee Island, and even the slightly bumbling ways of the main character felt familiar, though there are clear differences between Bwana and Guybrush Threepwood. Both are, of course, lovable in their own ways, and though everyone in the town seems to think of Bwana as less worthy of their time/charity than… pretty much everyone else on the island, he is charming, and definitely provides some amusing comments. Some excellent voice acting strengthens sharp, often very witty dialogue between all the characters–I found myself exploring all the conversation options just for entertainment, which is always a good sign.
This might seem like a strange attitude to have (even I can’t believe I’m saying it), but there were some points where I felt like the puzzles were a little too easily solved. Once you’ve played a few adventure games, you get into the groove, and you become used to going to ridiculous lengths to do things that should be simple – to be honest it becomes a little exciting, waiting to see how the creators want you to solve any given problem. While the puzzles in The Journey Down were all definitely logical, there were several instances in which I found myself expecting to have to do more to satisfy some requirements, and I just didn’t have to.
To use the least spoiler-y example I can think of, when someone asks me for extra virgin olive oil in a point-and-click adventure gamee, I don’t expect them to be satisfied with just ‘oil’. I expect to have to go through some excessive purification process in which I have to find oil that had been cleansed by a holy man, or to need to sacrifice someone’s first-born child for the sake of pure oil, or at least to have to find some olives to add to the oil – but there was none of that here. For some people, not being forced to go on a convoluted wild goose chase is probably a strength of the game. I’m sure that it’ll increase its appeal, in any case, but personally, I missed it.
The elements of this game come together in a way that all in all, should make for something rather spectacular, but it doesn’t quite reach the mark. Though the chapter is short I still found myself forgetting that there was actually an overarching plot, and while this is partly due to the engrossing nature of the setting, it was also because it was just a little hard to care. The game doesn’t do a great job of establishing who this mysterious woman is, or the part she plays in the bigger picture. That said, I still had a lot of fun with this game, and it definitely intrigued me enough that I’ll be looking out for the release of Chapter Two.
Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of The Journey Down: Chapter One by SkyGoblin.