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Journey to Silius (NES) artwork

Journey to Silius (NES) review

"I don't think Kyle Reese had it this rough. Well, he's dead, but I mean... Okay, nevermind."

Having the distinction of being the second title in my then growing NES library, Journey to Silius was a release my small gamer mind wasn't prepared for. Not to discredit Super Mario Bros., my first, as easy, but it is a testament to its design that, if you wanted, certain enemies and obstacles can be avoided. Journey to Silius allows no such option, and demonstrates this in full force in a surprisingly tough first stage. If you try to pull a classic Mario stunt here, aka run past everything and hope for the best, you'll quickly see the game over screen in a matter of minutes, and if you attempt a legitimate first playthrough... you'll likely still see that same screen in a matter of minutes.

I don't want to give the impression that the entirety of the game is unruly hard, since it doesn't have random enemy spawns during the worst moments or an abundance of glitches. However, it's the type where enemies and traps are placed in rough spots, and if you don't react quickly, you're getting hit; hopping robots are waiting to pounce when you jump over a pit, hovering, mechanic torsos become a nuisance as you carefully navigate through flickering laser gates, and little ammo sprinklers of doom set right beside elevators are just a few examples of the challenges you'll endure in Journey to Silius.

As a kid, this style of difficulty easily could have turned me away from Jay McCray's battle with space terrorists, back to Mario until I got my hands on a new cartridge. Yet, I stuck with it. I may not have completed the game within the year it was purchased, but I kept coming back because I was captivated by its harsh, technological world. With every passing stage, new mechanical hostiles with differing patterns would greet me at every turn, and their weird, fascinating designs encouraged me to press forward to unravel more: from flying ram/squid hybrids that rain down projectiles and huge C3POs, to crazy-looking bosses like the ginormous cyborg with caterpillar tracks and a menacing hook arm, the developers weren't afraid to be creative.

Most of the locales are pretty neat, as well, like stage three's terrorist headquarters filled with the aforementioned laser gates, blinking, green lights, and ceiling turrets with visible circuitry inside. Another stage is loaded with machinery that you must either jump or run under, and despite being described as the terrorist spaceship in the manual, it looks more like an alien lair than anything else. Doesn't help that one of that stage's enemies look exactly like H. R. Giger's Alien.

Returning to the game many years later and with a lot more experience under my belt, I'm actually surprised at how well most of it still holds up, what with the creativity and challenge left intact. I was concerned Journey to Silius would be one of those cases where I'd destroy the nostalgia by replaying it. Even the music is how I remembered it, composed mostly of heart-pounding, bass-like beats that seem to go on forever with various layers, rivaling the quality of Sunsoft's other, well-known NES title, Batman.

Though, the thing that intrigued me the most when coming back is the balance of difficulty. You really can't come in guns a'blazin, since this title is basically a succession of traps that you must either avoid or defuse with fast reflexes. Honestly, the game could've done just fine if it only stuck to this formula, as the devs were pretty good with enemy and hazard placements, and considering all the material I've mentioned up to this point, would have made for a hard but still fun playthrough. But they didn't stop there, and instead decided to tack on several unfortunate aspects that make Journey to Silius go from a doable, tough release to an aggravating one.

I don't mean moments where you need to react hastily to something when you get past a trap, either, since those can be conquered with memorization. Annoying examples I'm talking about are things like getting hit and having absolutely no way to prevent it: the best instance happens when you drop down a vertical shaft and a ceiling turret fires a bullet the second you land on the narrow platform. You can't jump, duck, or anything, it's hitting you, period. Another particular irritation takes place in another vertical shaft in stage four, where the devs demand you make a super precise jump in a small opening between the ceiling and a grounded foe. If, by some miracle, you make the squeeze... don't forget to dodge the next grounded enemy in the platform below.

Though, these issues don't hold a candle to the abysmal final stage. For some reason, out of nowhere, they decide that this is going to be an auto-scroll area, and it's through a factory setting filled with falling debris, conveyor belts, and endless pits galore. It's a tricky run, due to how easy it is to fall off or suddenly die when you're attempting to stay ahead of the screen, since this stage alone is the buggiest location in Journey to Silius. There's also a nonsensical spot at the start where you need to jump over a series of falling liquid, and they have no rhyme or reason to how long they drop and pause; you either press your luck and do it the "right way", or just intentionally get hit while hopping through.

If you manage to survive this segment, you still have to contend with back to back boss fights. The first is a spaceship that takes up 95% of the screen and can kill you with a single drop, and the second is a giant android that stomps around, giving you no method to dodge when it pushes you to the edge of the screen. As if it couldn't get any worse, the final stage is probably the first time many players realize the game has limited continues. I can easily imagine the look on their faces as they're abruptly taken back to the title screen... because it happened to me, too.

I can forgive the cheap hits during the first four stages, since, even though it's still a lame thing to put in a methodical video game, it's manageable. The final stage, however, just feels like one big middle finger. Everything before this is already a challenge, from the enemy and trap placements, to the rare health drops and unavoidable hits, so this lone stage almost feels like the developers are saying, "All that stuff you did before means nothing, because we're really gonna screw with you now."

The first four stages, even with flaws present, are actually one of the more better-designed action platforming stages I've experienced on the NES that weren't created by Nintendo or Capcom. If they would've just stuck with the overall flow instead of this gimmicky mess, Journey to Silius could have easily ended on a better note. Thinking about it now, I'm glad I never got a chance to reach the final stage back when I first got the game. Who knows how I would've reacted?

Then again, I also owned RoboCop 2 as a kid. And beat it. Maybe I'm crazy.


pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (December 05, 2013)

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dagoss posted December 07, 2013:

I spent a lot of time playing this game over the years, and it seems that every time I break it out, the cheap deaths become less and less. I've found that very hits can't be avoided *somehow*--including the final boss--but there's a lot of trial and error and practice involved. I think the sole biggest mistake is the limited continues. The game really needs you to practice, practice, practice, to learn from your mistakes and figure out the correct way to get through each area. It's almost like a puzzle in this regard, and the limited continues makes it very frustrating.

I don't think enough good things could be said about this game's soundtrack. The fact that it hasn't gotten love on OCRemix is a true shame.
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pickhut posted December 07, 2013:

Yeah, that's the thing, it's already a hard game to begin with, so putting in all these other restrictions, like the limited continues, just feels really unnecessary. And you're right, the soundtrack definitely is a beast, especially for an NES title. It really stands the test of time.

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