I’m a big fan of roguelikes. I really enjoy the core loop of running out, playing through tough levels, ultimately dying and then regrouping before heading back out. This loop allows me to enjoy bite sized sessions or longer slogs as I try to get through a tough section or challenge. Original Journey is a roguelike that I have spent some time running through and while there are quite a few shortcomings, it has a solid gameplay loop.
Original Journey puts the player in the role of a rookie in a crew of plant-based lifeforms on a journey to the Shadow Planet. You are there to find and collect energy crystals, which are necessary to save your dying homeworld. The game sets itself up very well with this premise as it gives the player somewhere to explore along with a reason to go out and collect. I was happy with this. It’s more than the usual, “There’s evil in this dungeon, go kill it and grab some treasure,” set-up that similar games in the genre use. I enjoyed meeting some of the named characters in the game, even if the writing wasn’t amazing. However, the game’s story is there but it doesn’t intermingle with the gameplay in the best way. Most of the story is offered to you when you return to base in between runs and any bits of story out in your journey can be ignored in favour of just going from island to island.
That island hopping is the core of the gameplay loop. Instead of a larger world that you journey through, Original Journey has you going level-to-level, finishing one and then moving onto the next. Between each level is a menu where you can see all the loot you’ve obtained and decide if you want to continue on or head back home. Sometimes there are other options that appear in the menu that lead you to special levels or bits of story that impact what happens back home. The menus provide a breather after some of the game’s tougher levels and are a great way to get you to pause and consider if it’s worth it to keep moving forward.
While the level hopping is great, actually playing in those levels leaves something to be desired. Movement is basic sidescroller fare. You can go left or right and you can jump. This movement is nothing fancy and it doesn’t have to be. It gets the job done and it’s smooth and responsive. The same cannot be said for shooting. As your main method of killing the enemies found on Planet Shadow, shooting really isn’t all that great. The actual weapons feel great and they reflect what they should be. They have weight and recoil to them and it is satisfying to unload a shotgun in an enemies face. The issue comes from trying to aim with any of the weapons in the game. You do not have direct control of your aim. For a game that was designed with a controller in mind, I really don’t understand why we are unable to use the other control stick for aiming. Instead, we are left with our rookie bobbing his weapon up and down based on what he’s doing. The issue is that even when he does nothing and stands still, his aim isn’t consistent. In a game where managing ammo is sometimes necessary, it’s not reassuring to be unable to aim where we shoot our precious bullets.
Visually, Original Journey is a really pretty game. The hand-drawn graphics are really stunning and the game does a great job of creating contrast with that style. Everything about your crew and your technology features clean lines, rounded edges, and a smooth feel. Meanwhile, everything that is native to Planet Shadow is rough, jagged, and very primitive. However, all the beauty is lost in the heat of the moment in levels where there are constant enemies. Visual clutter was a huge issue for me with this game. Since everything is either a shade of green, black, or white it all muddles together into an unrecognizable mess when too much is happening at once. A few of my deaths were just from being unable to recognize what was killing me as I couldn’t see it. The game could do with a few more colour options so that it’s easier to identify what is trying to kill you.
What isn’t muddled together is the game’s sound design. While nothing in the game’s soundtrack is going to win an award, it really fits the game’s mood and theme. The music has a very sci-fi sound to it with synths and other electronic instrumentals. The guns all have unique sounds and everything in the game has appropriate audio effects. Often times I found myself identifying major threats based off sound since I couldn’t distinguish the dangers due to the cluttered visuals. The only curious thing is that the sound effect for unlocking things sounds very much like the same one from a certain popular fighting game. Beyond that, the sound for Original Journey does its job.
Altogether I like what Original Journey is trying to do. It is obviously made by someone who is really passionate about the product and you can feel the love and attention that was paid to the game. There are problems that stem from some of the decisions made about gameplay. The shortcomings are there but they won’t prevent the player from enjoying this game. Even as I write this review, I find myself hopping back in to run a few levels. There’s no new ground broken here, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth taking another walk down this path.