Original Journey review
Merging contrasts to bring a brightness to age-old gaming genres
From little things, big things grow. Original Journey is Bonfire Entertainment’s debut effort, and it’s quite a feat. It’s a new and refreshing title that isn’t afraid to blur lines and blend ideas, and although it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it does come with its own originality.
Upon first glimpse, Original Journey appears to be a 2D action platformer with a beautiful hand-drawn aesthetic, but once the game begins to unfold, players will discover that it takes many different mechanics and stuffs them into a tight little bundle. The basic combat consists of on-the-fly tower defense, two primary weapons wielded simultaneously, and fast strafing, all congealed into one impressively executed mass that, despite strong familiarity, has a certain charm that reinvigorates all these old ideas.
The game’s movement system is a prime example of its unique charm: although it appears to be a standard strafe-and-shoot title, it comes with a caveat: if you stand still, you begin to slide. It sounds quite trivial, but it has a major effect on the gameplay. The levels are set on small floating islands in the sky where combat takes place, meaning that the combat area is quite condensed and claustrophobic and in turn, there isn’t much room to slide around. It is imperative that players quickly scamper about the landscape to avoid falling off — or being riddled with relentless enemy fire.
Original Journey’s story centres itself on the survival of a species of conscious and evolved vegetation known as the Ato, whose remaining survivors have traversed the stars in search of the ominous Planet Shadow. On this uncharted planet, the Ato are on a possibly-futile quest to save their race by finding the Origin Stone, an ancient piece of technology that may supply them with limitless amounts of energy. The game’s story very much lends to the continuity and structure of the gameplay. The player starts as a new Ato soldier and must move from level to level either doing quests, side missions, or grinding each of the levels for money, resources, or equipment. The soldier is rewarded for their efforts by ranking up and slowly becoming a power figure in the survival of their entire race.
Each world has approximately ten levels, all set upon a randomised set of floating islands as previously noted. Although each level’s main objective is to clear enemies using the tools available, the game does offer random side-quests that really highlight its fascinating and whimsical nature. My first encounter with a side quest didn’t pique my interest at first, I expected a stock-standard quest along the lines of “Kill X amount of Y enemy”. Oh, how I had misjudged this game. The side quest began with a discussion between my character and a large floating frog-like entity that wished to race me lest I become its next meal, forcing me to quickly dart across this frightening obstacle course whilst trying to stay ahead of the flying frog monster. Once I won the race, the frog monster tried to eat me anyway, resulting in a fun little mini-boss battle. Original Journey surprises the player at most turns and it holds the player in a startled suspension of quirky quests, with no idea what they’ll do next.
With a sci-fi backdrop and inspiration, the items and equipment at the player’s disposal are quite unexpected for a game of this cartoony style. Weapons and armour are divided into tiers, leaving room for the player to unlock them as they progress, and the equipment on offer is fantastically balanced, with no single weapon being distinctly better than the rest. The balance between the weapons grants players the freedom to choose any pair of weapons that suits both their own individual play style and the upcoming stages of the game, rather than having a single path that is so much stronger than the rest that it’s difficult to deviate from.
The game’s underlying strategic nature is so well executed that the player won’t feel it until it is brought to their attention, which is arguably a sign of great game design. The player has to juggle laying down towers in good positions to fight off hordes of enemies, dodging incoming attacks, maintaining their ammunition (it is very easy to run dry if one is not careful), and not falling off the islands, all of which makes the combat far more complex than it appears to be on the surface
After each level is completed, the player has the option to retreat to base to keep the loot and money collected, or to push on. Players who die in the battlefield are given one opportunity to pass all of the levels up until the point where they died so they may retrieve their loot, much akin to Dark Souls, which adds another layer of risk and reward to an unexpectedly very densely layered, complex game.
The tone of Original Journey leads the unique feeling that permeates throughout the game. With a fantastic soundtrack, good dialogue, and what feels to be a living environment, the game relishes in the idea of being cute and whacky while also providing a firm challenge and interesting narrative.
Bonfire Entertainment is a developer to keep an eye on, with Original Journey being the fun surprise that it is. It isn’t a title that wants to give the player everything in the world; it simply strives to deliver an experience that borrows from genres that don’t typically blend. Original Journey combines salt and caramel and gives us a flavour born from time-honoured tradition that shouldn’t be forgotten any time soon.
Original Journey was reviewed using a pre-release code provided to us by its publisher.