Albert Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. Until Original Journey, I cannot say that I had seen that ideology given life in the form of a video game before. Now, I suppose I can unhappily cross this revelation off of my list of unlooked for disappointments.
“But Beth,” you say, “this game looks so simple, so full of character! What, pray tell, would make you come to such a harsh conclusion?”
Certainly it was, at least in part, the constant repetition with minimal direction that left my right eye spasming five minutes into every session. Perhaps it was the crash I experienced the one time I was able to get to a stage where I had previously died, only to pick up my lost items and have the game give up the proverbial ghost in response. Perhaps it was the fact that there’s absolutely no distinction between environmental hazards and the environment at large. Or maybe it was the fact that you can get stuck on an aforementioned hazard without realizing it as it chisels away chunks of your life.
And all of these things are definite factors. With nights dedicated to Original Journey and the poorly balanced insanity it offers, I must say I did not enjoy my experience with Original Journey. Gameplay was contrived, repetitive, and worst of all, boring. I was yawning within a few minutes of the tutorial, and my experience, I’m sorry to say, didn’t improve from there. This game was a chore to play. I groaned audibly when I remembered that I needed to surrender my time to it. It’s easily one of the worst things I’ve played for HeyPoorPlayer.
Break the Cycle.
Shall we, as they say, start from the beginning? Original Journey features shmup-style combat with adventure platforming, tied in with rogue-lite (as opposed to rogue-like which is a little more all-inclusive of the genre) mechanics that left me feeling dazed, tired, and frustrated.
It took me three hours to get to any semblance of a plot. It took five hours to get to the first boss battle. It took just as long to unlock five weapons, three of which are more or less pointless.
It took a lot of liquor to make me think for a minute that I might actually be having fun. It turned out that I wasn’t, which I realized even after copious amounts of aforementioned alcohol.
The story goes as such. You are an Ato, an alien from a race of sentient vegetables (not joking) whose planet is dying. In order to find sufficient resources to restart the core of your planet (wasn’t this a movie somewhere?) you and your people have scoured the galaxy for Planet Shadow. Having arrived at a sunless, still rock in the middle of space, it turns out Planet Shadow isn’t quite what you and your excursion were expecting. The planet is near uninhabitable save for the vicious lifeforms that pollute it, barring expansion at every step.
You will have to explore Planet Shadow in order to find what you need to save your home and people. This is done in stages. Each stage is its own isolated, randomized floating piece of land with equally randomized encounters. Sometimes those encounters are placated by other Atos helping you along your way. Most of the time it’s not.
A Monument To Compromise
As you cycle through the stages multiple times (because you will), you will begin to find items both through kills and interacting with the environment. Whether it be pieces of alien creatures, scrap metal, or otherwise, these items are crucial to ensure that you are able to upgrade your own Ato over the course of play. Upgrades consist of new weapons and suits in the beginning, but as you progress your Ato will also be promoted. This will also unlock features of Original Journey for your Ato that were previously inaccessible.
The downside of this process is that you will have to retreat back to your base every time you find enough items for an unlock. This resets your progress, meaning you are to start all over again after you’ve constructed some garbage armor or a weapon that doesn’t have enough ammunition to get you to stage ten. You can, of course, wait and explore further, but if you die out on Planet Shadow, you drop all of your items. You do have the chance of being able to find those items again, but remember that the stages are randomized. The likelihood of you ever finding them again is incredibly slim, and even then, there’s no guarantee. The only time I ever found my dropped stash, the game crashed.
At any rate, you’ll likely retreat more often than you’ll die. Your weapons run out of ammunition faster than one can believe, and even though you get the opportunity for a supply drop after your first stage encounter, the likelihood of you getting enough of anything you need are slimmer still. In fact, I’m near certain that if you opt for a supply drop with your health at less than fifty percent, you’re guaranteed that health will not be included in that drop.
You Really Cronenberged The Whole Thing Up
If you play long enough to start unraveling the plot of Original Journey, you’re going to be disappointed. Quick. The first thing you have to do is find schematics for someone to build you a drone. Then you’ll have to go find the person who makes that drone. Then you’ll have to collect resources for that drone, for that person to build you that drone. During this time you’ll meet an alien creature named Ronin.
Ronin is probably supposed to be interesting. They don’t look like anything else on Planet Shadow. They certainly don’t behave like anything on Planet Shadow, either. The major giveaway is that Ronin doesn’t attack you. At least, not physically. What Ronin will do is catapult you through the fourth wall by greeting you with a very familiar phrase from nerd culture, ruining what little atmosphere this game struggled futilely to create. After recognition set in, however, I realized just how apt the phrase might be, for I too was in pain and in need of help from having played this game (see image above).
Now, back to base. You need a translator. Fortunately, you can get one of those, but you have to revisit stage 0 through X again in order to obtain enough resources to make one. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Round and round it goes. Where it stops…get the picture?
This, in no simple terms, is poor game design. We’re at five hours now of revisiting the same gameplay style, the same levels, with equipment that doesn’t actually change how you interact with your environment at all. Players will go at this game for far too long with little to nothing to show for their progress, save for hours of frustration and the deeply seated need to play another game.
I’m (Not) The Redgrin Grumboldt of Pretending To Know What’s Going On
You’ll eventually get that translator, and eventually Ronin will say something to you in whatever the native Ato language is. Turns out, she’s on the run and she has a key. With little to no back and forth in dialogue, she (I’m assuming it’s a she) gives it to you because she doesn’t want it anymore. Well, that’s convenient.
What’s not convenient is everything I’ve gone through to get to this point. Everything the player will go through to get to this point. Five hours of back and forth, only to be handed a key with no answers about Ronin or Planet Shadow? I’m supposed to believe that a crystal on this planet will save my dying homeland? Is Ronin actually Rick Sanchez? Can’t we just dimension hop if that’s the case? Save everyone, most importantly me, a lot of work? Probably not, and to be honest I’m not sure if that would have made the game any better.
There’s nothing original in Original Journey. It’s a grind fest dressed up in a black and white, Arnold Lobel style world where everything wants to kill you. Boss battles aren’t even fun. They’re…wait for it…repetitive! Bet you weren’t expecting that, were you?
Original Journey functions well enough, but the game was an absolute slog fest. I can’t see anyone having fun with this game for more than a few hours, tops. I didn’t even have fun for that long. I’m not even sure who might enjoy a game like this, and I’m loathe to include even the hardest of hardcore shmup fans.
The best I can offer is that if you’re looking at Original Journey, proceed at your own risk. There’s not a lot there, and your money can be spent on better games.
Wubba Lubba Dub Dub!
Final Verdict: 2 / 5
Available on: PC (Reviewed); Publisher: Another Indie; Developer: Bonfire Entertainment; Players: 1 ; Released: August, 15, 2017; ESRB: E; MSRP: $11.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a retail copy of Original Journey give to HeyPoorPlayer by the developer.