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Journey (Arcade) artwork

Journey (Arcade) review

"Your idle band members mug and smile cluelessly even when your current guy gets hit. Then he falls and pouts and bangs his fists on the ground to the chorus of "Who's Crying Now." This is my favorite musical gaming pun by a long shot."

Yes, Journey was about the band. It tied in the group's songs and even album covers very well, and it felt like an actual journey, too. Groan all you want--there's a worse pun ahead. Journey gives the player many different experiences in a short time as he helps the band members track down their stolen instruments throughout a small galaxy and return them to their Scarab spaceship for a big concert. And here's an example while this game would be fun even if it were bad: your idle band members mug and smile cluelessly even when your current guy gets hit. Then he falls and pouts and bangs his fists on the ground to the chorus of "Who's Crying Now." This is my favorite musical gaming pun by a long shot. And the beginning, where the Scarab enters the big head from the Frontiers album, is just impressive.

In fact, it's all far more impressive to me than Tron, which people remember a lot better. It has one more mini-game, and each one has a sub-game before and after you grab the instrument-weapon. While Tron was over quickly and often required you to guess ahead, Journey actually shows you which sector contains which instrument, and it actually gives you a second to figure what to do before any possible split-section movements, after which the rest was mop-up. Journey's controls and challenges are more fluid, with many sub-games flipping relative difficulty as you solve galaxies. It even gives more than one extra life. This sort of balance ensures the game holds up well today. At least to those who know about it.

Yet it seems to try not to at times. Decisions like pastels and different pulsing shades of blue make this game a bad idea if you are coming down with a headache. The band fits in well, too. Ross Valory's yellow shirt and red pants are just bad. I'm grateful for the low resolution on Jonathan Cain's sky-blue t-shirt with something lavender in the center. Steve Smith and Neal Schon wear lavender and red muscle shirts, respectively. Steve Perry at least has the decency to cover a red-and-yellow shirt with a black blazer. Contrasted with their cluelessly smiling oversized grayscale faces--they shift through about five poses--and you get the feeling Journey broke some unknown aesthetic laws taken for granted today. But it's not too overdone, and given how many video games featured you as a lone generic ship fighting evil, the band's unforgettable. Especially when you see they can get buzzed by the top of their big hair with a bullet--and survive.

But the belly laughs wouldn't mean much if the game weren't clever, and it is--using the players' instruments cleverly to make some very different mini-games. Ross Valory jumps on elevators to retrieve his guitar that bounces back and forth along the top, and then the elevators change to gunports that try to stop him from getting back to the bottom. Neal Schon has a jetpack that cannot fire down, and it's a great riff on the Lunar Lander games I came to loathe from various BASIC "write your own textbook" games. Side-ports fire at him, and timing a huge swerving rush through to the top of the cavern is exhilirating. Jonathan Cain hurdles over conveyor belts to get to his piano, which takes out pink blobs that run at him from either side. Steve Perry runs through swinging gates to get his microphone, with a fast Space Invaders-style challenge to blast his way to the top. Each row comes down in alternate diagonal direction Steve Smith must jump on a bunch of drums zigzagging in midair before blasting his way down.

The wrinkles at later levels--there are five before the looping starts--are sensible but tricky. Neal Schon is harder to steer and burns jetpack fuel faster. Ross Valory has fewer elevators to jump on and more guns to shoot past. More and faster hurdles block Jonathan Cain. The drums shift more violently, and it takes longer for Steve Smith to jump higher. The bonus for touching all the drums twice becomes a serious gamble, and I've failed there a lot due to pride. But the best game is probably the lead singer's. Later on, Perry has to spin around like he is singing live and playing the crowd--what side he holds the microphone becomes extremely important.

Get through all this and you get a concert where suddenly you're light-blue-overalled oddball Herbie, who apparently bounces groupies from the stage with his large stomach while flapping his hands up and down. The band looks like a bunch of kids here, smiling even as their instruments are stolen (the game eventually just cheats,) and they jump off the stage (in a South-Parkish half-profile) to go do it all again. This wasn't eight-bit sound, either. The original machine contained a cassette of "Separate Ways." And yes, I played the song in the background on YouTube because MAME couldn't emulate it. But the group's other songs blend in well with the action, too. They're sped up and simplified but quite effective. "Lights" plays when you decide which world to go to, so you can retrieve an instrument. "Chain Reaction" and "Keep on Runnin'" were songs I didn't know well, but they seem to work better than the group's more famous ones that didn't make the cut, though "Don't Stop Believin'" is remixed well, too. Even if you hate the lyrics, it's well worth a listen if you're a fan of eight-bit music.

Journey had other perks for me back at ShowBiz Pizza. It felt like a cheap version of a jukebox before CD players overcame the limitations of tape--and hey, a free virtual concert once I got good. All for a quarter. Even today, the garish graphics disguise a well thought out game which is invariably one of the first I download after installing MAME. Some people like to say "Ah, it was cheesy, and I loved it" about eighties music, hedging a bit, and they could say that about this game, too. It's not the video game equivalent of high art. It doesn't seem to advance game development theory in any way. It is, however, consistently fun in many simple ways, and that is what's important in practice.

aschultz's avatar
Community review by aschultz (April 20, 2012)

Andrew Schultz used to write a lot of reviews and game guides but made the transition to writing games a while back. He still comes back, wiser and more forgiving of design errors, to write about games he loved, or appreciates more, now.

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zippdementia posted May 07, 2012:

How many people do you think have read this review and been like... waitaminute... where's all the deserts? What theľ
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JoeTheDestroyer posted May 07, 2012:

I wondered that before reading it myself.
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aschultz posted May 10, 2012:

Heh, one of the reasons I reviewed Journey was because I thought I wanted to write a review but I wasn't sure which one. Then I wondered if Journey was at all like the arcade game.

So it's a coincidence that's not really a coincidence.

Though it's neat to see just how different two games with the same name can be.

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