The Journey Down Chapter 3 Review

The Journey Down first came through my radar years ago when seeking out modern adventure games that weren’t trying to be nostalgia grabs or re-hashes from the past. Though rooted in the genre’s traditions, the first two chapters exemplified a tremendous amount of promise and originality that separated it from its contemporaries. I fell in love its self-proclaimed afro-caribbean vibe, mood setting soundtrack, lovable characters, and its ambitious overarching storyline. Now, five years after the release of its first chapter, The Journey Down Chapter 3 is here, and it delivers a satisfying conclusion to an already great modern adventure saga.

Picking up immediately where chapter 2 left off, Bawana, Kito, and Lina continue their journey, in search for a lost journal that contains secrets and research of an ancient culture that could be the key to a great and mysterious power.

In their search, they come across an abandoned mining facility that contains a secret plan for the big bad corporate St. Armando power company, to drill into the center of St. Armando, a giant metropolitan city, resulting in millions of deaths.

Bawana and Kito, split up from Lina,  while she continues to uncover mysteries in the underworld, and they head back to the overworld to find Professor Moorhead, a vital character from the first chapter.

Bawana joins sides with an underground resistance and band, the “Resistance Rockers,” and a news reporter tired of delivering propaganda, and eager for the “real scoop,” to expose St. Armadno Power Companies dirty secret.

Consistent from the previous two chapters, writer and artist Theodor Waern displays his ability to write a compelling story, that feature characters you’ll love and remember, like Waasi, the leader of the of the Resistance Rockers, all of which play an important part in progressing the story forward. Not to mention Bawana, our star, an often times bumbling goof ball, incidentally turned hero. This chapter, however, is the first time we get to take control of Lina,  which was a refreshing change of pace from the other games.

A welcoming return from the previous chapters is its incredible soundtrack. The production and emphasis on music is unmatched, especially when compared with most AAA studio games. From its perfectly encapsulating Lethal Weapon vibe in the Overworld, to its pirate-esque jig in the Underworld.

And just as varying as its musical arrangement, are its environments. From from the tropical Underworld, shifting into the overwhelmingly congested urban Overworld, the environments are well varied and have character all their own. But in contrast, the underworld lacked the finer, more realized detail of its counterpart. Particularly with some character models, which looked completely 2D and illustrated when compared with the 3D models of the other characters. The production of cutscenes and soundtrack are so high and polished, that seeing these moments felt uncharacteristic with the rest of the game.

One thing seems to be apparent in contrast to its previous chapters, and that is the emphasis on story over puzzles. Though they’re very thoughtfully designed, I never found myself completely stumped. Thankfully, the puzzles make coherent sense, and never fall under the “try every item in your inventory until something works” trope (excluding one puzzle that involves a sticker from a piece of fruit.)

But due to the ease of the puzzles, this may be a quick playthrough for some. The only times I had found myself stuck was because I had missed picking up a vital item somewhere. Of course, all adventure games vary in length depending on the player’s ability to solve the puzzles. But if you’re a veteran adventure gamer, you might blast through this one pretty quick.

It’s a refreshing relief to have a modern adventure game saga have not only a conclusion, but one that feels cohesive and satisfying — especially in a time where most adventure games are done episodically, many of which aren’t yet complete, or cop out for a more cryptic and “up-for-interpretation-style” ending. Other developers should take note on how to properly wrap up a story.

Paired with top-notch voice acting, polished and highly cinematic cutscenes, The Journey Down Chapter 3 is a thoroughly well crafted conclusion to a very fun and surprising saga. It’s impossible to recommend one chapter without recommending them all, since each is a vital continuation of the last, so I don’t recommend jumping into the series here. Those looking for a modern adventure game classic, that’s reminiscent of traditional storytelling, while still maintaining an identity separate from its inspirations, look no further: The Journey Down Saga is great. Sky Goblin have proved themselves exceptional storytellers and world builders with the series. I’m eager to see what they do next

It’s 2017 and Adventure Games Are Mainstream Again [WarpZoned Article]

TL;DR: I was given the opportunity to write an opinion piece on why I think Adventure Games will be mainstream again in 2017 for WarpZoned. Here it is.

I’ve been wanting to write this story for a while now, I’ve just been waiting for the right time. For the past year, I’ve been convinced that the adventure game genre is on the upturn for becoming mainstream again. And I believe most of that is owed to its influence on popular games of recent (Kentucky Route Zero, Night in the Woods, Firewatch). Whether or not the genre ever actually went away is up for debate.  I don’t really think it did, but I think the expectations of game sales became disproportionate as consoles grew in popularity, making adventure games seen as commercial failures in comparison of other huge AAA games sales. Adventure games, after all, were primarily only experienced on PC’s, which really narrowed the market for them.

With the recent release of Thimbleweed Park, Full Throttle Remaster, and titles by not-as-established-developers such as the Paradigm, The Journey Down, and a slew of others, I saw now as a pivotal moment to finally tackle this story. I really believe that 2017 will be the year for adventure games to “come back.”

Serendipitous enough, as I began drafting up the story a month back, John Scalzo of  WarpZoned reached out and asked if I wanted to contribute to their site. WarpZoned is a site that looks at how games of the past reflect forward on the games of the present, making the site a perfect fit for what what I was trying to convey in this article.

Further proving my point, days before my story went up, IGN posted an article on the 29 essential, must-play, adventure gamesIt’s really good, and I’m envious I didn’t do it first.

Anyway, I’ve rambled enough. Here’s the article: “It’s 2017 and Adventure Games Are Mainstream Again.”

A massive shout out to John Scalzo for giving me the chance to write this, and also, for being a really cohesive, somewhat hands-off, editor.

What do you think?  Are adventure games finally becoming a norm again? Do you even know what I’m talking about? Let me know in the comments.

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You’re friend,
Kurt

Opinion: Thimbleweed Park relies too heavily on nostalgia

[This is a spoiler free article on Thimbleweed Park. This is not a review.]

Upon its Kickstarter announcement, Thimbleweed Park is a game that I’ve been looking forward to since late 2014. At its heart, it’s a nostalgia project. Like so many other Kickstarters for point-and-click adventure games, it used the nostalgia of the genre’s heyday to sell itself: a self-proclaimed “LucasArts adventure game you’ve never played before.” But what separates this adventure game Kickstarter from all the others are its developers: Ron Gilbert—arguably the godfather of the graphic point-and-click adventure game—and Gary Winnick. The duo that brought us the 1987 classic Maniac Mansion.

To say it simply, adventure games are my favorite genre, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit just how excited I was to get this game. But after putting 6.5 hours into Thimbleweed Park, I’m left with a conflicting judgment: Where should the line be drawn between trying to develop a good game, and simultaneously make something that embraces the nostalgic roots that influenced a game’s existence in the first place? Even more importantly, where do I stand with judging the developers who’ve practically created the genre?

Within moments of starting the game, you are immediately reminded that you’re playing a pixelated point-and-click adventure game. Ron Gilbert wastes no time breaking the fourth wall, and has his characters cracking jokes about the tropes of classic adventure games. At first, this got a chuckle out of me. But it didn’t take long until I realized this would be a common theme in most of the conversations I would have in the game. So much to the point that I was being taken out of the experience, and felt completely removed from the narrative of the story: solving a murder in the small town of Thimbleweed Park.

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Being taken out of the game is a frustrating contradiction to what has made this genre so important to me. I love adventure games for their immersion. Because they’re a “play-at-your-own-pace” style of gaming, and rely almost solely on story and atmosphere to drive the player forward, it forces the player to step into the world, rather than speed through it. It influences the player to relax when other games heighten them. I’ve always preferred adventure games over other genres for this reason.

Gilbert’s constant wink at the players almost feels like he has to remind you that he was one of the creators of the genre. Like he’s giving you a proud shoulder nudge, met with an exaggerated smirk, and saying “yeah, that was me. I created that.”  It feels like he’s trying to prove his worth to the audience, as if they forgot about him, which clearly isn’t the case, given that the Kickstarter’s success could be directly owed to his name being attached to it.

It’s strange—the constant reminder of the basic mechanics of the genre feels like it could be intended to tell a new audience the rules of the genre, like saying “this game was expertly designed to have no dead-ends or deaths.” It’s something longtime fans already know, but it equally feels like it could be patronizing to a new audience of the genre. It doesn’t allow them to figure out how the game works on their own. Whether or not that was the developer’s intention? I don’t know. I’m speaking not only as a player, but also a long-time fan of the genre, and I’m annoyed on both ends. It alienates newcomers.

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Give yourself a nice pat on the back, Gilbert.

Contrary to what I’ve said, I’m enjoying the game quite a bit. Actually, it’s really good. Its pacing is like none other I’ve played in its genre. It moves fast, while still giving the player time to experience their environment and discover at their own pace. Its soundtrack sets the mood immediately; the settings are wonderfully varied and well crafted; and the characters are unforgettable. And as the game progresses, the references become much less frequent.

But despite all that I like about it, the experience has left me asking: how much nostalgia is too much? Where is that line drawn between trying to please fans, and making a good game? In this case, Thimbleweed Park is good, but I can’t help wonder if I’d be enjoying it more if it just took a step back from itself.

I also think it’s safe to assume Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick made this purely to satisfy their own need to make a game in the genre that they helped create. And with that respect, I totally get it: artists and creators should make what they want to play. At the end of the day, Gilbert is the artist, and artists can do whatever the they damn want. He did, after all, create the engine Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion (SCUMM) that all Lucasarts point-and-click games were made with in the 90’s. So more power to him.

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Get it?

Thimbleweed Park does, however, represent some of its nostalgic references right. X-Files and Twin Peaks are deliberate influences, but take a back seat in developing mood, atmosphere, and story, opposed to telling the player that they were influences within the game. Also, there’s good references to past adventure games, specifically when a character refers to his cousin Bernard (a lead character in both previous Gilbert projects Maniac Mansion and Day of the Tentacle) is a quick nod to previous installments in Gilbert’s works, but done right.

Gilbert and Winnick set out to make a game that would reward longtime fans, and by doing so, risked alienating a new audience. And whether or not that was their intention, or should have even taken that risk, is debatable. I just didn’t expect that I would be one of those feeling alienated.

I also have to admit that I have an ongoing dilemma with nostalgia, and our reliance on it to make something interesting, like we’re not capable of accepting new ideas unless it refers to something we already know and love. Someday down the road if I have the time, I’d like to elaborate more on our obsession with nostalgia.

So how about you? Do you utterly disagree with me and love a good fan pleaser? Or is there another game of recent times that has made you feel same way?

A list of adventure games of recent years that I love:
The Dream Machine
The Journey Down
Kentucky Route Zero
Machinarium

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-Kurt