I never fully appreciated 2D hand-drawn animation as a child, and didn’t fully realize that until just recently. The 2D style is an artform that has accompanied me ever since my childhood and in modern times it’s been fading in popularity. I’m sad to see it go, even if it’s been largely and systematically replaced with more manageable 3D virtual environments.
Original Journey, the intriguing new shooter from Bonfire Entertainment, felt like a throwback to those bygone days in my childhood, even to the point where I remember imagining going on adventures in my mind with make-believe characters. Even now, I’m oddly reminded of a little boy sitting at his desk in math class sketching the creatures I found in this very platformer as he imagines the amazing adventures they go on. Or something like that.
This odd nostalgia followed me the moment I picked up the controller and started to figure out this pencil drawn world. When I first saw the trailer for Original Journey, it barely registered on my radar, with my assumption “…it’s just another platformer, what makes it so special?” That’s before I actually played it, and it started to work its charm on me. Before I knew it, I’d gotten caught in the world of the plant people referred to as the Ato. Their planet was dying, with their only hope finding another source of energy on a distant planet to help their species to keep going.
The deeper I dived in, the more I found to love, whether it was the simplicity of the story or just being able to go blazing into battle with any weapon of my choice. When I acquired my own sentry gun that followed me through the levels I gave it a name: Bee-Boo. Together with Bee-Boo, we’d conquer this alien planet and get to the bottom of finding a mysterious power source to save our planet! The only issue (isn’t it always the issue?) is there’s more hidden beneath the surface of this planet, and the journey will be anything but a cake walk.
Right off the bat any weapon I chose, from a grenade launcher to a machine gun, were available to me. Unlike most other platformers, the weapons themselves leveled with my character. This counted for all weapons and I could choose to equip any combination of them if it struck my fancy. Did I want to go in blazing with two grenade launchers? Or did I opt for the shotgun that was great for getting up close and personal? My personal favorite combo ended up being the grenade launcher for picking off enemies from afar and, when getting up close and personal with enemies, whipping out the shotgun to blast them away. It’s terribly satisfying.
There were issues I encountered with Original Journey which are incredibly specific, which is funny as I’m usually forgiving towards most game mechanics. One issue is with the color scheme of the art, which is black and white. While beautiful, I had a hard keeping track of my character on screen during intense battles since the only indicator my Ato was different from the others is a large green arrow hovering over it. Complicating this were enemy Ato also had green indicators floating over them, which only added to the confusion. During battle I’d be jumping to try and get to higher ground only to realize the Ato I thought I was controlling wasn’t my own, and soon end up falling off the platform.
Another issue I had was past a certain point, I had nothing to spend in-game money on. There are upgrades that need to be purchased to unlock higher-tier weapons, suits of armor, and extra supplies. During my time fighting tougher bosses whenever I’d die (sadly, quite often) I’d always find myself respawning far back, and have to battle my way back to the point to engage all over again. I wish there had been an option to purchase an extra life (or two) that would simply toss me back into the thick of battle and to keep fighting.
Why not have a mechanic where, in return for respawning, I’d lose all supplies I’d gathered from previous battles up to that point? While this might make things easier, it’d also give me the ego boost and incentive to keep gathering and saving, and honor the arcade-style gameplay that’s clearly being referenced.
Besides the small issues, the depth of emotion from the story of the Ato kept me invested in the storyline. While certainly challenging, at certain points the game does begin to feel like a bit of a grind towards the final levels. Even with these drawbacks, there’s an unmistakable charm to Original Journey that drew me in from the beginning and continues to stay with me even now.