Having reviewed all three of Rafael Valim Fernandes’s games on the Xbox, it feels like we’re watching someone learning games in real-time. Over the past eighteen-months, he has put out The Rabbit Crazy Adventure, Gabriel’s Worlds The Adventure and now The Fast Journey, and each one takes a few baby-steps onward from the last. None of them are good – not yet – but you can see everything developing, from the art to the level design to the narrative. It’s fascinating to see them improve with each release. If he keeps going at this rate then he’ll make his own Ori and the Will of the Wisps soon enough.
The Fast Journey, like his other games, is a short platforming game that won’t take you more than forty-five minutes to beat. This time you’re a frog, pulling on the Rambo headband once the love of your life, Polly, is captured by bad guys. We won’t question the damsel-in-distress tropes – The Fast Journey has bigger problems than that.
The platforming is your typical Mario-style fare. Rafa the Frog can jump and double-jump as standard, bopping enemies on the head to kill them. But the jumping is ropy. The double-jump, for example, is an erratic beast, triggering when it feels like. There may be some rules under-the-hood that we’re not quite grasping, but the double-jump is particularly unlikely to play ball when we’re in a flashing state of immunity (after hitting an enemy, perhaps). We couldn’t tell you why that is: it’s a wee mystery.
Collision-detection is all over the shop too. Bottom-bounce an enemy, and we’re back to that invisible rulebook. If you’re jumping onto a flying enemy, you probably don’t want to do it from the floor. You can’t get a decent-enough upward arc to actually hit them without them hitting you. Which is obviously a bag of arse. But jumping from above has its own problems, as there’s a very precise sweet-spot that you can hit and do damage. If you’re off by a pixel or two, then you’re losing a heart.
Luckily, the ranged combat is here to save the day. Lances are tucked into parts of the environment, and they warm the heart. You only get a few with each pick-up, so you have to conserve them wisely, but they’re absolute beasts. They not only have a kind of sonic boom around them, making them an extra-wide projectile, but they blast through enemies too. If there are five or six in a row, the lance will obliterate them all.
We’re not going to lie, they feel great, and make short order of pretty much anything that you come up against. It’s almost a shame that you can’t use them all the time, as they make The Fast Journey so much goofier. But then the game would be even easier than it already is, and that might be a problem.
Because, you see, The Fast Journey takes cues from its title and is extremely fast to finish. It’s twelve levels long, and those levels take no more than four minutes to complete. We died a fair few times, but the deaths fell into three categories: there were deaths from the double-jump not triggering; there were deaths from the achievement banner overlaying onto spikes (2000G!); and there were deaths from us failing to notice spikes, because they’re grey against grey backgrounds. At no point did we die because of enemies or a complicated series of jumps. The Fast Journey doesn’t really threaten you in that way.
There’s no better emblem of The Fast Journey’s lack of challenge than the bosses. There are three of them, at the end of each sequence of four levels, and they were no doubt painstakingly designed by Rafael Valim Fernandes. But we couldn’t have told you what they do, at least not based on our first playthrough. Because we pumped lances into them and they died within the first few seconds. We like that The Fast Journey knows this is a problem, so makes the last boss immune to lances. You have to bottom-bounce to kill it, but it turns out to be easy as pie anyway.
We mentioned that The Fast Journey was a step up from the other Rafael Valim Fernandes games, and that’s down to the lances, sure, but also the level design. It’s still not a patch on any platformer with a decent-sized team, but there are genuinely some level layouts that get a bit imaginative and tricksy. That wasn’t present in The Rabbit Crazy Adventure or Gabriel’s Worlds The Adventure, and it’s where we can see a future for these games that’s a little rosier. As long as the collision-detection, double-jumps, bosses and lack of challenge get addressed, of course.
Some levels offer multiple routes, with harder, more precise platforms allowing you to bypass the slower routes down below. The twelve levels have their fair share of obstacles, meaning that you’re not getting particularly bored with what confronts you. They’re nothing imaginative, but they keep things varied: there are toucans that are a cross between enemy and bottom-bounce platforms, thwomps, flaming platforms and rotating balls and chains. The Fast Journey uses them in sequence, testing your finger dexterity, and they’re a step up from some other budget titles, including the developer’s own.
But while The Fast Journey is definitely a decent-sized leap on from The Rabbit Crazy Adventure and Gabriel’s Worlds The Adventure, it still doesn’t meet our personal quality bar for what should be on the Xbox Store. The basic controls don’t function as they should, tying one hand behind our back as we play. The art is getting there, but it’s still a little too frayed round the edges. And there’s the sense that everything’s rushed, as if the actual ‘fast journey’ was the one experienced by the dev. Twelve tiny levels with skippable bosses isn’t much, even for £4.59.
At least to us, The Fast Journey didn’t feel like a complete game. It felt like a stepping stone for a dev who will probably go onto better things in the future. For now, you can consider this as the barest scrap of a game, and move on (fast).