A hand-drawn shooter releasing soon in August, does it stand out amid the competition?.
Genre: Action, Shooter
Developer: Bonfire Entertainment
Publisher: Another Indie
Release date: 16 Aug, 2017
How far would you go to save your Home?
I had the privilege recently of getting to try out Original Journey before its release and do a preview of the game. The game is a bit unique compared to other indie stuff, as its developers, Bonfire Entertainment, are based in China, with their publisher Another Indie being a firm that helps things produced in that country. Obviously, that might not make much of a difference to the game’s quality, but it is interesting. So, what’s the actual game like?
Original Journey has you playing the role of a new cadet in the Ato Army, a race of mobile plants whose planet is dying. In order to save it they need energy, and fortunately, another world, Planet Shadow, has it in abundance. Unfortunately, it’s pretty much the exact kind of place you’d expect Planet Shadow to be called, and negotiations aren’t on the table.
Run and Gun
After a short tutorial, you’re basically left to your own devices in the gameplay loop, which is a series of small, 2D Shooter arenas. It’s essentially one of those “kind of a roguelike, kind of isn’t” games, since each area is split into ‘floors’ that are procedurally generated, with different enemies and terrain, but on the other hand, there’s no perma-death and your upgrades are permanent. Even death is a bit lenient; you lose what loot you had on you, but get the chance to retrieve it if you make it back to where you died.
In order to progress through areas, you obviously have to kill all the enemies on each island, which is where the game starts to show some flaws. Looking at the store page, you’d think this would be a game like Contra or Metal Slug, where you can aim your weapon in all directions. It’s important there because your character dies in one hit obviously, but it’s nice to have in any shooter. Original Journey doesn’t have that unfortunately, you can only shoot directly ahead, and only in what direction you’re facing. The two guns you can equip are both mapped to the mouse buttons, so it feels like you should be able to do that.
Even early in the game, I’ve run into a lot of situations where I’ve wanted to do so. Look at the above screenshot: the only spot vulnerable on this worm enemy is the white orb on its belly, but none of your starting weapons are quite up to the task of hitting it well. The grenade launcher goes in an arc and doesn’t have an explosion the way you’d expect, so that’s out, and the shotgun requires you to get in close, obviously not an ideal option with the projectiles it’s shooting out. The best option, the machine gun, still has a bit of a spread to it, meaning you’ll waste bullets. You have a limited amount of them, and it is possible to run out: there are ammo drops, but they’re not as common as in say, Nuclear Throne. You can take more damage than in a lot of other games like this, but it can add up quickly.
In general, the terrain and enemies contrive to get in your way quite a bit. Since you can’t aim so precisely, having a slope between you and the enemy typically prevents you from hitting it easily, and often you’ll find breakable terrain interferes with your shots, wasting ammo. There’s always the option of jumping over it, but certain enemies you won’t want you to approach that way. A lot of enemies also fly, and with a limited angle of attack, you have to jump to reach them, which feels a little clumsy. You do have the option of placing down turrets and unlock an attack drone fairly early into the game, but it’s still a bit frustrating to have blind spots in this way.
More than anything though, I felt the game got samey a bit too fast. While it does advertise side diversions during gameplay, I’ve only found one of those so far, which was just a simple platforming segment under a time limit. Other than that, it’s just shooting aliens. I don’t want to say that part of the game is bad exactly; killing enemies feels satisfying, and they die quick enough that it doesn’t feel slow.
But in general Original Journey, contrary to the title, seems to expect you to make the same journey through areas repeatedly, to build up experience to increase your level and loot to get new weapons and armor. That takes time, and while just normal gameplay is enough to unlock new armor, unlocking new weapons for purchase required me to do a quest that involved collecting twenty monster teeth. The different weapons all seem to have different firing arcs, so it’s quite possible there are more convenient weapons later on, in which case it’s unfortunate they’re locked off by story progression.
Graphics-wise, the game boasts hand-drawn environments and characters. On the whole, they look pleasant, but the color palette is all in different shades of white and black, which makes it less visually appealing than say, Hollow Knight or the recent Wonder Boy remake’s full range of colors. The music is also forgettable, and there isn’t much of it.
Overall, I think there is a great deal of potential in Original Journey, albeit hampered by the stuff I’ve mentioned. The guns feel weighty and there seems to be a good deal of variety in them, but I do wish there was more versatility in aiming, although, at the same time I don’t know how easy it would be to add in free aiming. I hope it doesn’t come across like I’m bashing the game, these are just my thoughts playing it for a while.