The Journey Down: Chapter One (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Rudy Lavaux 01.08.2018

Review for The Journey Down: Chapter One on Nintendo Switch

The Journey Down is meant to be a love letter to the classic point-and-click adventure games, the development of which spanned a surprisingly long time, with the first chapter being released in 2012, the second in 2014, and the final one in 2017. Initially developed by SkyGoblin for PC, counting only four people completely devoted to this endeavour, which also explains the long development process, the full experience has started in more recent months to be deployed across other platforms, primarily consoles. The Nintendo Switch being the successful platform that it is proving to be for indie developers such as this one, on top of being an ideal platform for handheld point-and-click games with its inclusion of a touch screen, all three chapters were obviously planned for it and are already available at time of writing. Cubed3 is about to look at the complete story, starting, of course, with The Journey Down: Chapter One.

Bwana, the playable protagonist of this story, and Kito, his sidekick, run a plane charter and gas station business in the bay harbour of the beautiful St. Armando city in the Caribbean, although they haven't actually flown their plane, ever. In comes Lina, a researcher working for a famous professor who is after a book called The Journey Down, which, her research has led her to believe, has to be in possession of the two aforementioned men. This turns out to be true and sets the group on a quest to the legendary territory called the Underland, only if they can get their plane started to take Lina there, in exchange for a sizeable pay off, of course, to help them cover their electricity bill. Not being very good at what they do, but having only as much intelligence as the player will be able to communicate to Bwana through their actions and choices, they will have to look for parts to fix the plane before their quest can even start.

While playing The Journey Down, it is hard not to notice some similarities with some classic LucasArts point-and-click graphical adventure games of yesteryears, in particular, the Monkey Island games and Grim Fandango. Grim Fandango used a contemporary setting coated in a Mexican Dia de Los Muertos cultural backdrop, complete with relevant faces on its characters and voiceover work heavy on Latino accents. The Journey Down also uses a contemporary setting coated in a Caribbean cultural backdrop, complete with (relevant?) African masks on its characters and a voiceover full of different accents that correspond to its cast of characters, but mostly Caribbean ones.

Screenshot for The Journey Down: Chapter One on Nintendo Switch

Anyone who's seen Cool Runnings before, as they should, will know what to expect here. It fits just as well, although the choice of African masks can be a bit disturbing and they are not exactly commonplace in the Caribbean, so their reason for being there at all isn't justified by the plot itself like was the case in Grim Fandango. With that being said, however, those masks being used don't get in the way of what the game is trying to deliver, but it is just a little thing that is worth a mention, since it does stick out a bit.

Bwana goes around talking to people, collecting objects that will help achieve the goals that will move the plot forward in classic point-and-click adventure style, solving puzzles to do so that involve finding the right object for the right task, which as is customary with the genre is easier said than done since, exactly like the games it takes inspiration from, this one can have some rather convoluted and far-fetched riddles to solve and, in some cases, the odd tiny object hidden in plain sight that is required to move the plot forward but which is easily missed, not unlike Thimbleweed Park, although not nearly as potentially frustrating because as the graphics are more detailed, since they are not trying to replicate an older style, it means that objects are well defined, so paying attention should be enough to make out individual objects in the scenery. Other modern games in the genre, however, usually have a subtle hint system to help getting unstuck, but The Journey Down unfortunately doesn't.

Screenshot for The Journey Down: Chapter One on Nintendo Switch

Having said that, however, puzzles are, by genre standards and especially for fans thereof, fairly manageable. It all plays very nicely on Switch, although just like other point-and-click games on the platform, a proper pointing system using the Joy-Con's gyro wasn't implemented, yet again. The upcoming Okami HD boasts such a system, which, although it shouldn't prove quite as accurate or fast as the IR pointing of the Wii Remote, should offer precise enough pointer controls for couch play sessions, so it is hard not to wish that this control option was included instead of relying rather on a slow moving cursor controlled by the joystick. In handheld mode, however, touch screen controls are supported and this one allows the Switch tablet part to be held in-hand with no controllers connected to it, either physically or wirelessly, which makes it super comfortable to play in portable mode, with the one little issue being that hovering the cursor around with the finger pressed down on the screen, to look for elements that can be interacted with, prevents the player from seeing what is displayed underneath said finger. In short, it's the Thimbleweed Park situation all over again, down to the T (no pun intended) but the bottom line is that handheld play is the recommended way to best enjoy this title.

In terms of presentation, The Journey Down uses a curious mix of styles. Important story scenes are completely CG FMV, while actual gameplay parts use the more classic approach of LucasArts releases, using still backgrounds.

Screenshot for The Journey Down: Chapter One on Nintendo Switch

The backgrounds themselves are part hand-drawn, part FMV in the case of moving objects, such as machinery or the water of the harbour. The characters, however, are pre-rendered CG-animated sprites à la Donkey Kong Country, albeit very much higher in resolution, obviously. The difference between each style is obvious, but it all, nevertheless, comes together better than expected when just reading about how it's all made. Being sprites, however, the characters do not have any lip-syncing but rather a looping lip movement animation with some general purpose body movements to be used accordingly.

The Journey Down: Chapter One nails a lot of the right ingredients down with a pleasant atmosphere, great audio, and a pleasant - if a bit weird, at first - art style, but the main problem with this first chapter is the lack of actual plot development. It is all over fairly quickly, in fact, before any real sense of the story can be had since it just lays down the basic background of the story and each character's motivations... and leaves everything else to be discovered in the two sequels, which means that taken on its own merits this chapter alone comes off as a bit stale, although the writing remains decent enough and dialogue about as witty as could be expected from a LucasArts-inspired title, but falls a bit short in the story delivery department. Taken as just the prologue to what will hopefully turn out like a much better overall narrative, however, assuming that any potential buyer of this first episode is also looking to get the rest of them, as they should, then the plot pill becomes a bit easier to swallow and digest.

Screenshot for The Journey Down: Chapter One on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

The Journey Down: Chapter One limits itself to simply laying down the premise of a promising narrative but, unfortunately, limits itself to just that and is altogether over fairly quickly. It does nothing else wrong in terms of gameplay or presentation, though, even if the choice of character art is a bit out of left field and hard to adjust to, at first. Player interactions with the humorous plot and colourful cast of NPCs are what build the sympathy towards Bwana, the protagonist, and his companions. Here's hoping that the one thing that falls a bit short here builds up more in the sequels.

Developer

SkyGoblin

Publisher

BlitWorks

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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