Point and click adventures have been around for many a year, with classics like Monkey Island and, my personal favourite, Sam & Max being amongst the best of the genre. More recently though, there’s a been a ton of different takes involving all sorts of concepts and the latest one to hit the Xbox One store is the first chapter of SkyGoblin’s The Journey Down trilogy. Initially releasing on the PC well over five years ago, does The Journey Down still hold up nowadays and, if so, can it stick out in an ever-growing crowd?
Well, having an African-Caribbean incarnation of Dumb and Dumber as the main protagonists certainly helps!
The Journey Down: Chapter One introduces us to Bwana and his sidekick Kito, who are working at their very own gas station in a shady part of Kingsport Bay, on the outskirts of St. Armando. Business isn’t exactly thriving in this area and as a result they are struggling to make enough cash to get by. Fortunately, a woman called Lina hands them a lifeline, promising decent payment for a long forgotten journal and transportation to her next destination, unveiling the secrets of the mysterious Underland. What Bwana and Kito don’t know is that some powerful people are after it too and their journey could see them mixed up in a world of danger.
Despite the trouble on the horizon, the initial chapter doesn’t feature much action, with the narrative more focussed on getting an insight into the back-story of the main characters, their current lifestyle and those around them, all whilst attempting to fix a seaplane. There’s a lot of silly humour during the conversational interactions from start to finish and it’s clear that Bwana really isn’t the brightest spark. The script works well in setting up slapstick situations, but without the funny parts, there’s very little excitement.
Bwana is the character you’ll be ordering around as you click on various parts of the environments to find items of interest. Not only are these useful to overcome problems, but also bring the ability to combine items with each other – for example, placing cheese down to lure a mouse into a river, or using a radiator to turn frozen bread into toast.
Then there are the mini-games/puzzles, which quite frankly are in short supply throughout. The only memorable puzzle is akin to the classic Amiga game Pipe Mania, where in this case you have to rotate tiles to arrange wires, ensuring they’re all connected properly. It’s a shame that there aren’t more overall, however I do appreciate the faux puzzle that leads to Bwana – almost certainly in sync with the player – getting annoyed at it, before whacking a lever that makes it work. There’s a real sense of ‘been there and done that’, about it.
Each of the environments you’ll traverse through have been hand-painted to a more than decent standard. These range from the innards of the seaplane and a massive yacht, to the dockside café and metropolis backdrop, and it’s the little details in the textures which help to bring them to life. The unique design of the characters is interesting, as the heads are based on tradition African tribe masks, adding to the overall theme greatly.
On a technical front, the clicking mechanism in order to leave an area for the next is very iffy, with some occasions requiring three or four attempts to get Bwana to move anywhere. The animations aren’t particular great either, running at a rather low frame-rate and looking outdated. And whilst many of the voiceovers are spot on, suiting the characters, there are a few really poor voices in terms of sound quality, sounding muffled even. The music is suited well though, featuring a mix of jazz and reggae for a chilled out vibe that fits Bwana and Kito’s laid back nature.
Whilst The Journey Down: Chapter One does a decent job of setting the stage and explaining what’s going on in Kingsport Bay, it doesn’t ever truly shine. The humour is definitely its strongest asset, alongside a unique cast of characters, but these are counteracted by the infrequent mini-games, technical problems and poor quality of certain audio. Solving the inventory based puzzles is good though and the African-Caribbean theme makes a nice change.
Given that the average playthrough is over in less than two hours, I’m hesitant to recommend a purchase of The Journey Down: Chapter One without a sale price. It’s fun, but it hasn’t aged well.