Spaceman Spiff x Journey directed by Miyazaki
Studio Ghibli movies are known for their love affair with a quiet moment frozen in time — the wind might pick up ever so softly and caress the leaves on the trees, or the sun might shine warmly over a shimmering coastal city as a train surges by. It may only be for a few seconds before the shot moves on to other things, but the impact it leaves on the viewer is tremendous, the setting seared into their minds and hearts. The scenery tends not to be overwhelmingly fantastical; usually these moves are set in what’s familiar, such as nature or quaint towns. Yet because the viewer is watching through a lens that romances the mundane, even a raindrop or a rock becomes mesmerizing — stunning, even. It’s this tone that I felt while playing Voyage, a hand-painted dream set in the far reaches of space; a game about two explorers trekking across grass and overgrowth to find a way home.
Developed and self-published by Swedish brothers André Steen & Johan Steen under their studio name Venturous, Voyage is a gorgeous debut title that should pique just about anyone’s interest. It certainly ticks a lot of boxes — a hand-painted action-platformer that can be played as single player or couch co-op featuring breathtakingly beautiful environments, intuitive gameplay, a scintillating story, lovely music, and accessible controls. And for $14.99 on Steam with a launch price of $13.49? Voyage intrigues in all the right ways.
Players take on the role(s) of two nameless characters as they trek through forest, grass, sand, caves, ships, and more to find their way home. As they journey through these incredible environments, they come across mysterious crystals that allow them to peer into the past, bit by bit. The weight of these visions is heavy — something traumatic has happened here, and by finding more crystals, the pair can piece together the story of this place, how they fit in it, and how they can return to whence they came.
Controls in Voyage are incredibly simple, and there are many options to chose from to help fit the player’s desired scheme. I personally preferred the default keyboard settings — using the arrow keys to move the characters, Z to switch between them, X to ask them to follow or stay, C to interact with objects, and V to provide hints on where to go next, but the game’s controls are fully customizable and can also be played with a mouse, touchscreen, or with a controller. Because Voyage is a side-scroller and actions are limited the controls very simple to pick up, so no matter what you go with, you’re in for an intuitive time.
When it comes to Voyage’s aesthetics, I genuinely think they speak for themselves. The art style is the first thing that jumps out at you, its hand painted characters and scenery simply alluring in every sense of the word. As it mixes the beauty of the natural world with remnants of mechanical ruins, I was reminded of perhaps a more stunning version of Bill Watterson’s Spaceman Spiff segments in Calvin and Hobbes. The color itself absolutely pops, the richly saturated hues setting off every last dopamine receptor in the brain as the characters glide between environments. The music is equally gorgeous, the soundtrack composed by Calum Bowen, composer for Snipperclips, Pikuniku and Lovely Planet. If there’s one thing that’s easy to be charmed by in Voyage, it’s absolutely the aesthetics.
Voyage’s story is fascinating in many ways, the most obvious one being how the characters are meant to get home. Along the way, they come across other living beings, going about their daily lives. Who are these people? Other survivors, or sentient beings native to this world? Voyage teases this information, and although it’s possible the game yields its secrets through its non-verbal progression, I never discovered it for myself. While I do applaud the layers of mystery meant to be uncovered through multiple playthroughs, I do wish some things had been a bit less nuanced so I could glean more information the first time around.
Another interesting side to Voyage’s story is how the beauty of it changes as players progress. There’s a striking beauty right upfront in the forest that is rooted in the familiar — the way the sunlight dances between the trees, the gentle sounds of birds chirping, the vibrant tones of green above and below. Soon that forest yields some intricate ruins, life blossoming between the cracks in the carved walls showcasing the beauty of decay. That in turn leads to a cave, the beauty of alien life flourishing in dark places thought to be too inhospitable for life. A glorious field and the beauty of freedom, a sandstorm and the beauty of constantly shifting dunes, a full moon and the beauty of a celestial body on a peaceful night.
Eventually, that comfortable beauty gives way to something darker, more unfamiliar. The scenery is still beautiful, but hauntingly so — even though my blood pressure rose a bit and I felt concern for the ghosts that danced across the characters’ memories, I can’t deny I was mesmerized by all that I saw. Just like Studio Ghibli films, Voyage is able to make the mundane romantic; in a move all their own, the studio manages to find beauty in panic, chaos, and even a jolting separation.
I finished Voyage (twice) with more questions than answers, but it was a captivating, gorgeous adventure of which I enjoyed every second. Although I had a lot of fun playing on my own, I think playing with a friend would enhance the experience immensely, as there’s a lot to discuss immediately after the game ends. If you’re ready to be absolutely mesmerized and have about 2 – 4 hours to spare, there’s really no reason not to pick up Voyage.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: Venturous; Developer: Venturous; Players: 1-2; Released: February 18, 2021; MSRP: $14.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a retail copy of Voyage provided by the publisher.