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

Preview: Moss

Among Skyrim VR, the Until Dawn first-person horror prequel The Inpatient, some racing game, and others, the only PSVR game that was on display that made me turn my head twice starred a tiny mouse that was communicating with the player using sign language. It resembled an art style and aesthetic similar to the comic book Mouse Guard, and featured a cute mouse communicating in a way I hadn’t seen in a game yet. That’s the game I wanted play. That’s what I wanted my first PSVR experience to be. It was called Moss.

Upon placing the VR headset on, I entered a woodland scene. From the leaves, the mouse named Quill entered and looked at me. She gestured below to a body of water in front of her. I looked down to find a Miyazaki-esque glowing blue figure looking back at me. It shifted and moved with my movements.  I then realized that I also had control of Quill. I was able to turn and look at the woods behind me, lean forward close to Quill, and peak around corners to reveal areas I couldn’t see before, but I couldn’t move the body of the spirit thing I inhabited; I could only move Quill.

I moved Quill from the left of the screen towards the right, executing Nathan Drake-style jumps and maneuvers up stones, under fallen branches, and leaping across small gaps to the next screen. Quill was faced with a gap she could not jump. As the spirit-like being I was playing, I was able to move the Dualshock 4 which simulated a floating orb on screen, that I could use to manipulate certain terrain and items that had a soft blue glow. Using the triggers, I grabbed onto a large block that I could slide into the gap Quill could not clear, allowing her to finally progress.

Quill and I went through large metal doors into an elaborate dungeon. Mechanical beetles awaited Quill. Armed with a small wooden sword, Quill was able to fight them off. The beetles could also be grabbed and shifted around using the orb.

From the ground I was able to pull out a collapsed staircase that I could also rotate, making it possible for Quill to progress to a higher platform and deeper into the dungeon. After a more complex puzzle that involved rotating and shifting a structure while simultaneously moving Quill through it, the demo ended.

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The rep told me the game was still in its very early stages of development, but it was clear developer Polyarc had a promising game in its hands. It combined the action platformer with VR puzzle solving seamlessly, and had presented a cute main character with unique characteristics that I felt inclined to help.

I was’t able to see just how Quill’s sign language would play a role in the game, but the act in creating a main character that communicated that way excited me, and left me inspired for what it could possibly do for the ASL community.

I don’t own PSVR, nor do I see the possibility of having one in the near future. But no game on the PSVR showroom floor that day enticed me more to get one than Moss.

Whether or not the VR seemed absolutely crucial to the game, I don’t know. But being able to lean in closer to the levels, and look around certain structures, possibly foreshadowed later puzzles that would make it very hard to accomplish without VR.

Moss is currently in development set to be released this winter.

Preview: Super Mario Odyssey

Like a strange sense of Deja Vu, stepping into Super Mario Odyssey was equally as familiar as it was new. Upon placing the Joy Cons in my hands, and pushing forward on the analog stick, followed by a three jump combo, everything just felt right. It was like seeing an old friend who had grown up over the years, but still had all the quarks that made them unique in the first place. This is a Mario I welcome back with open arms.

I played Super Mario Odyssey in docked mode. The rep insisted that I played the game using motion controls, never really making it clear that all the motion control functions were available as buttons.

I don’t hate on motion controls. In this game, however, I felt absolutely no need to use them. In Splatoon 2 and Breath of the Wild, the motion controls enhance the player’s performance, making for more accurate shots that are otherwise too precise to achieve on an analog stick alone. In Super Mario Odyssey, I felt like I was brought back to the early days of the Wii, when every game’s motion controls were focused on vigorously shaking all the time, just for the sake that you could. Thankfully for Odyssey, motion controls aren’t a requirement. I’ll be playing this one with a grip or Pro Controller.

Of the two levels available to play, I chose the Sand Kingdom level, which takes place in a desert known as Tostarena. A world influenced by Mexican Day of the Dead culture, populated with mariachi skeletons. Being able to freely move around and roam wherever I wanted was immediately reminiscent of Super Mario Sunshine and Galaxy. However, I found this experience weighing more towards Sunshine because of the more grounded terrain and level design.  The design did a good job pushing the player forward to the other end, opposed to leaving the world massively open. It was a good balance of exploration but straightforward narrow design.

I used Mario’s hat, also known as Cappy, to take control of bullet bills and fly through obstacle courses. I went through a green pipe that transferred Mario into pixelated Super Mario Bros. 1 form onto a wall, A Link Between Worlds-style.

All-in-all, it felt like Mario. It controlled exactly as it has in all previous 3D Mario games. A new move added to Mario’s roster is a tumbling crouch roll. Mario squats into a ball, and by shaking the controllers, fiercely rolls forward smashing through enemies and obstacles

Though I’ve been a massive fan of the most recent Mario games like Super Mario 3D Land and World, it’s about damn time Nintendo has has taken the wants of its audience in consideration. It’s undeniable that consumers, myself included, have wanted a more mature control structure for Mario again. And again, I’m not putting down Land and World, but this is the Mario game we need right now. Aside from its loyal core audience, Nintendo has struggled to keep the attention of the every day gamer. From the brief time I had with this Odyssey, I have utmost confidence that this will satisfy our needs of real modern Mario game.

I wasn’t able to check out New Donk City, or try on any of the outfits that the game had to offer–which is a new addition to the series. But all those things would have been an enhanced bonus to an already seemingly great game. I  won’t fully know until October 27.

Kurt Indovina
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Preview: Skyrim Switch

It works. It works really well. I can’t help but have had skepticism of how the massive open world rpg would play on the Switch, but it just works, and without skipping a beat. Skyrim’s been remastered, repurposed, and re-released over and over again since 2011. So upon seeing its appearance on Nintendo’s initial Switch launch trailer back in October 2016, I blown away at the idea of having a game as demanding as Skyrim—even from six years ago—in your hands on the go, but I had to see it to believe it.

Nearly a year later, I was able to test it out for myself. At the Nintendo booth it was only available to be shown in handheld mode, and this seemed entirely intentional. Nintendo and Bethesda wanted this game to be seen in a way that Skyrim hasn’t been seen before, and in such away that was bound to impress even the most salty Nintendo hater. With that said, I had no comparison to how it looked in docked mode versus handheld mode.

In handheld mode it played very smooth. It’s obvious that this is not the HD remaster that was released for the PS4 and XBONE earlier this year. But that’s okay. That’s forgivable in exchange for a well performing game that’s as loaded as Skyrim on the go. That said, the game definitely lacked some of the visual graphical depth that we’ve grown used to. Some of the textures to me seemed a little flat; a tad muddy. Shadows weren’t very apparent, and the field of view did not stretch as far as the eye could see. But damn did it play well, and subtle graphical nuances aside, it felt amazing. And never did I think I’d ever be saying this, but, it felt a little at home on the Nintendo console.

During my short playthrough, I visited Riverwood. I was eager to test combat and the limitations of the game, so I began attacking chickens and villagers. Most of the hiccups and frame drops that I had become so familiar with my PS3 copy were not present. I only hoped that after six years, and several re-releases, that the game would be optimised better by now. And it is.

I am one of the few who’ve only purchased this game once, and I never got around to getting any of the DLC. I was admittedly on the fence as to whether or not I wanted to buy it again, but after finally getting it in my hands, and feeling how well it played, despite its now dated graphical capabilities, I’m in. I’m going to buy it. Besides, there’s no denying the absolute coolness to taking Skyrim anywhere, wherever your heart desires.

Kurt Indovina
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Splatoon 2 Review in Progress

When Splatoon first came out two years ago on the WiiU, I had a feeling of hesitation. A feeling that is actually quite similar to what I’m feeling with ARMS right now. I was interested, but equally a little off-put for a number of reasons. First, I’m not a competitive online gamer. Second, it didn’t look like anything else to come before it; there was nothing to compare it with, which made it exciting but also wary to approach. It’s hard for me to justify $60 for any game, especially one that resembled 90’s era Nickelodeon and a tentacle fetish. So I left Splatoon to the early adopters.

I noticed from afar that Splatoon had managed to sustain a community of players. So now as a Switch owner (desperate to play something new), and with Splatoon on its second rodeo, I decided to give it a shot. Or, in this case, a squirt — er, actually, I take that back.

I’m equally glad and ashamed that I waited till the second game to join in, but ultimately enlightened to find that Splatoon is making me something I thought I would never become: a competitive online gamer.

You take the role of these tween humanoid squid kids known as inklings. The spine of the game is focused on competitive 4v4 matches, the most prominent mode being “Turf War.” Armed with a super soaker filled with ink, the objective is to splat as much territory as possible. Covering the map with ink also increases you and your team’s mobility. The inklings can change form into small squids that can move faster, cover, and refill their ink gun when emerged in your team’s ink.

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Image courtesy of Nintendo

Every two hours the maps rotate, allowing only two maps to be played during that window of time. Though at first I thought it was a bizarre approach, I eventually found it to be a very clever. It gave variety to how I played, and never allowed me to get too comfortable. It also stopped the majority of players from weighing on one map specifically. Made me think back to my brief and short lived time playing Black Ops, and how Nuketown was always obsessively voted on as the next map. It became predictable and boring.

As I mentioned earlier, I’m not a competitive gamer. I’d much rather be fighting alongside someone against NPC’s than actual players. I just have more fun that way. Splatoon 2 is warping my perception of that, however. It has a very approachable leveling system that actually makes me feel like I’m progressing. Between levels 1-10, you’re only allowed to play “Turf War” (which is all I’ve been able to play). After level 10 I can progress to other modes such as Splat Zones, Rainmaker, and Tower Control. All of which can be accessed in either Ranked Battle, and then once you level up high enough, League Battle.

And though it may sound like I’m just grinding match after match to slowly level up to more competitive modes, there’s a satisfying reward system along the way that’s keeping me engaged and wanting more. Also, the matches are short, which is a huge plus for keeping me on my toes, and constantly wanting to play just one more round.

As you level, you gradually unlock different weapons and gear to purchase. Different gear has different attributes, like walking through enemy ink faster, or decreasing damage taken. As you play wearing that gear, it’ll level and unlock new buffs. Also, gear gives you the opportunity to customize and dress your inkling like a J-pop star. A dream I’ve wanted to fulfill in reality (I’m too tall to fit most Japanese clothing brands).

There’s a much broader variety of weapons which is a contrast to the first game if I understand correctly. From normal squirt guns, to paint rollers, or even umbrellas, each weapon has their own strengths and weaknesses, and favor a very specific playing style.

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Image courtesy of Nintendo

There’s also a campaign mode which I’ve only played for an hour or so. It follows a pretty old-school liner approach which is reminiscent of games circa 1996-2000: play a series of levels; fight boss; move onto next world. The campaign thus far feels like a very extensive bootcamp for crafting players’ skills to play online. It teaches a variety of mechanics, while giving the player an opportunity to test out different weapons in varying scenarios. Also, this is probably the first time where I’m more inclined to play online than I am the campaign.

Salmon Run is Splatoon’s attempt at a horde mode. You play cooperatively with three other players, as you try to survive wave after wave of mutated salmon creatures. The variety of enemies is staggering, each one having devastating a attack, with a specific weakness to take it down. This mode, more than anything, could desperately benefit from voice chat. Which the game has… sorta.

I haven’t been able to try out the voice chat feature of Nintendo’s corresponding smartphone app that enables voice chat yet, and frankly, I don’t know if I ever will. Also, its use is limited to only working with players you know. So until I have three other friends who have the game and a willingness to play it together, I can’t even use it if I wanted to.

Salmon Run is only available to play in 12 hour intervals a day, which I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around as to why. Is it to build that sense of exclusivity, thus building hype and anticipation to play it? I don’t entirely hate it, because it gives me something to look forward to (which is maybe its intentions, and in that case, it’s working). But not everyone is as patient, so I can see it being annoying.

It’s hard to admit now, but when looking back on my hesitation of games like Splatoon and ARMS, I didn’t try them because they were different. Nintendo time and time again challenges its consumers by attempting new things. But this time around, they took something as familiar as the competitive shooter, and instead of completely trying to redefine it, they skewed it just a bit, and added their own new weird-ass mechanics. It works. And I love it. Though I haven’t invested a ton of time into it, I’m already well invested, maybe even addicted.

For money sake, however, I’m still gonna hold off on ARMS.

Now, only if Nintendo could implement this style of online gaming for Pikmin. A girl can dream, can’t he?

Kurt Indovina
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