App Reviewed on: iPad 3
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Crafting an excellent point-and-click adventure isn’t as easy as it might seem. To create a title in the genre that’s considered truly excellent in most (if not all) regards means focusing on the triumvirate of Point-and-Click, Story, and Puzzles. If so much as one of these is out of whack it could spell disaster, or at least lead to a lukewarm response. To its credit, The Journey Down: Chapter One does a fairly good job with these must-have aspects but doesn’t quite nail them all.
The Journey Down tells the story of Bwana and Kito, but mostly Bwana, as they attempt to solve the mysteries of the forbidden Underland. The two bungling gas station attendants get caught up in a web of intrigue fairly quickly and it’s going to be interesting to see where it goes from here. Most of the familiar adventure game mechanics are present (character interaction, slightly weird puzzles, and general goofiness), however the interface has been adjusted to compliment touch screens so there’s less pointing and clicking and more dragging and tapping.
It’s difficult to ignore The Journey Down’s visuals and character designs (patterned after real African masks no less!). The characters are impressive throughout and the backdrops are pretty much gorgeous across the board. The reworked interface also fits the touch screen interface incredibly well by letting players drag their finger around to highlight interactive elements, then release over the desired object or character. I had my reservations about the puzzles because, to be honest, most independent developers have a tendency to make them too simple or too obtuse. I was happy to find that SkyGoblin managed to strike that near perfect balance between weird and intuitive, with only a couple of exceptions (chervil) along the way. Having all the various environments within reasonably close proximity of each other also helped to ease the pain of the constant backtracking considerably.
So The Journey Down has two of the three elements (point-and-click, puzzles) mostly locked in, but it falters a bit with the story/presentation. It’s certainly beautiful in stills, but the animations are fairly choppy and a little awkward in places. It’s also a bit weird that the characters are always smiling no matter the circumstances. It’s also a shame that the voice acting is so hit-or-miss. Bwana and Kito sound alright, but most of the supporting characters are barely passable and a few are even straight up terrible. It also breaks the atmosphere a bit when a poorly acted character who’s actor sounds a full decade younger than Bwana refers to him as “kid.”
Setting aside the spotty voice work and choppy animations, The Journey Down: Chapter One is still an adventure worth taking. It doesn’t trump work from Telltale or Lucasarts, but with a little more refinement it could sit comfortably at the table with them.