Product provided by Bonfire Entertainment
I’ve played quite a few roguelikes in my day, such as Rogue Legacy, Overture, Everspace, and now Bonfire Entertainment’s Original Journey. Original Journey plays similarly to Rogue Legacy, one of my personal favorites on this list, as they’re both side view and both have you shooting hordes of enemies. This is a fairly common subgenre of Roguelikes, so each new game has to do something to set it apart.
Usually I start by covering the plot, so I’ll back up a bit. You are an alien from the planet Ato, which is at risk of dying. The Ato species has sailed the skies looking for a cure for their planet, when they find the Origin stone hidden in Planet Shadow. Planet Shadow’s natives are incredibly hostile, and they form the hordes you’ll fight your way through as you try to get the Origin stone. The Ato land in the giant forest, right outside the gate to the Origin stone. However, the path is sealed, so you must search through the giant forest, the psychedelic swamp, and the shadow core to unlock the seal.
In the giant forest, most of the enemies are just creatures, but as you move on you’ll be fighting more and more natives, and the story becomes less straightforward. As you get promoted through the Ato military (although everyone keeps calling you Rookie), you see more and more natives trying to warn you away from the Origin stone. Higher ranking officials in the military insist on driving forward, and the line between “hero” and “villain” is blurred. You need the Origin stone to save your planet, but taking it makes you a villain.
Although Original Journey is PC only for the moment, playing with a controller is highly recommended over a keyboard. The controls are fairly standard: move with the analog stick, jump with A, shoot one weapon with your left trigger and another with your right trigger. The levels are laid out to benefit and hinder both you and your enemies. Stage hazards such as geysers will hurt anyone in their path. Large boulders will block your shots until destruction but also provide cover. There are many natural platforms you can stand on and navigate around to take down enemies, as well as place turrets on.
Planet Shadow consists of floating landmasses instead of actual land, and you progress through the levels after defeating every enemy on each landmass. Most enemies will drop crystals, which restore your health and are a form of currency, ammo, or loot. When you die, you’re sent back to base and you have one chance to try to get your items back from the island you died on. If things are getting rough, you can retreat and keep your items. Ideally, though, you’ll navigate through the islands and get to your objective.
There are numerous weapons and items you unlock throughout the game. The loot you get by killing monsters can be traded for better weapons, and since you can equip two it’s easy to find the combination that works best for you. Armor is more straightforward, but you can find chips, which you can put in the armor for various buffs such as “more HP” and “more ammo from clips”. This allows for a decent amount of customization, which is always welcome.
Enemies will also drop experience, and when you get enough you will level up, as usual. When you level up, your health is immediately restored to full and permanently increased by ten. It’s an awesome feeling when you’re worried you’re about to die from a horde of enemies, only to level up suddenly and win the battle. It’s also helpful, if you’re repeatedly being beaten by a boss, to head back into previous levels and grind for loot and experience.
Original Journey is one of the games where the heart is in the presentation. As you can see from the screenshots, the game is entirely grayscale except for red and green. You’re on Planet Shadow, of course there aren’t any colors. While I’d love to write a couple paragraphs on the black and white graphics vs. the idea of “black and white morality”, there really isn’t the space for that. Instead I’d like to point out the hand-drawn sprites and landscapes. While there’s a time and place for hyper-realism, the drawn style makes it almost seem like a storybook, and no other style would’ve worked as well for the game.
The soundtrack is excellent, and unfortunately I couldn’t find the composer but they did an amazing job. My personal favorite track is the song that plays when you’re in the giants forest; it’s exciting, it’s tense, and it’s perfect for the first world in a game like this. I can’t think of a song I didn’t like, and each hand-drawn level is complemented by the song behind it.
I mentioned before that games like these need a little something to set them apart from the crowd. The narrative is incredibly interesting, but could easily be told in an RPG or many other genres of games. The gameplay isn’t anything special, it works fine, but it works in dozens of other games. The presentation, however, makes it really stand out. The game hooks you on the steam page with the black and white and red and green drawings, and it’s easy to fall in love with the art style.
However, the game doesn’t change much within the genre. You jump around and shoot in levels on a randomly generated path, and when you leave the path you keep the loot you got and have to start from the beginning. This describes the gameplay fairly well, but it also describes most side-view roguelikes. It works fine, but doesn’t do anything new in the genre, so with an engaging story, decent gameplay, and an amazing art style, Original Journey gets an 8/10.