About 18 months ago, I played Chapter One of The Journey Down. It was short, but OK, and I really appreciated its unique presentation. But as time went on, the release of Chapter Two seemed less and less likely. Little did I know that the folks at Skygoblin were hard at work on that second chapter. And now it has been released, and the game clearly shows that the developers learned from their experience the first time around.
At the conclusion of Chapter One, main character Bwana, his brother Kito, and the woman who had chartered their plane, Lina, flew out of the city of St. Armando. They carried with them a diary that told the story of Bwana’s father’s journey to Underland, as well as a burning desire to know what happened to him when he disappeared years earlier.
As Chapter Two begins, the plane has crashed in the mist surrounding Port Artue. Fortunately, they were caught in the net of a fishing boat rather than being lost to the mists forever. Unfortunately, the lighthouse that ships near Port Artue depend upon for their bearings has stopped working, so they’re not so much “safe” as they are “not dying right away.” Over the course of the chapter, they make significant progress toward learning both Bwana’s father’s fate and the truth behind the corruption that has plagued both St. Armando and Port Artue ever since… but since this is the second of three chapters, they don’t actually resolve the mysteries yet.
The Journey Down plays like any standard point & click adventure, so you find yourself wandering around town collecting plungers and knowing that you need to get the corn that the shady guys in the alley don’t want you to have, even though you as of yet have no idea why you need corn. But you get the corn anyway, because you know that at some point, you’ll have that “aha!” moment in which everything clicks and you know exactly what to do. The puzzles are logical, and the developers have done a nice job of ensuring that you can’t actually break the game despite the fact that you can get some items before you need them.
There is, sadly, one exception to the game’s logical design, and it is the final puzzle, in which the logical answer only gets you partway through the solution. After fighting with it for 20 or 30 minutes, I ended up hunting for a walkthrough online. Even after seeing the solution for myself, I still can’t understand why I would have thought to do what I was supposed to. Of course (as any Stephen King fan knows), a rough ending doesn’t necessarily ruin the fun you had on the trip, and that’s why I’m not going to be too hard on Chapter Two for its one stumble.
On a more positive note, I still love the art style in this series. Characters’ faces are based on African carvings and appear to be made of clay. Backgrounds look like oil paintings, and it seems to me that the developers have improved the interaction between the two elements. The styles clashed on just one of the screens this time around, where Bwana seemed to float a bit as he walked, and although Chapter One wasn’t particularly bad in that respect, there were definitely issues on more than one screen.
The voice work has also improved. The main characters are as great as they were in Chapter One, but the secondary characters now meet the same standard. The cast still has the impressive array of accents they did the last time around, and this time, they really nail those accents. In addition, the actors’ volume levels now match each other. Much of the cast is apparently from Kenya, which fits the setting and the characters, and it shows impressive commitment by the development team, who are from Sweden.
The music is still excellent, although it comes with a sad note. The composer who wrote the first chapter’s music and began work for this one, Simon D’Souza, passed away a few months before Chapter Two’s release. Despite that, the soundtrack is jazzy and upbeat, and includes some great work by Simon’s band, Straight No Chaser. Every time I start the game, the music on the opening menu makes me smile.
When I played The Journey Down Chapter One, I could tell that although it had some issues, it also had promise, and I’m happy to report that Chapter Two capitalizes on that promise. It’s always nice to see an independent developer make a great game. And it’s even better to see any developer learn from the things that didn’t go as well as they could have in one game and improve upon those things in their next effort. I’ll be watching eagerly for The Journey Down’s finale.
Author’s note: the Editor’s Choice award I’m giving this game is intended as an award for the game as a whole, not a particular chapter.