Video Game Review
By Jeffrey Kieviet
A Jawa’s Ballet
Last week, I posted a book review “in-real-time.” I told Bill I was wanting to do a series of “real-time” reviews and he suggested this video game. He said it was very similar to Derek’s comic book, so I suggest everyone check it out. The story starts with an empty sandscape and a falling star shooting across the dunes, passing by one of those guys from star wars. You know, the guys in the robes that sell the droids? Small, yellow eyes, shadowed face, flowing red robe.
Ok, so “Tatooine” is expansive, sand and dunes as far as the eye can see, and you’re running. There are blocks of rubble buried in the sand, and odd floating pieces of cloth caught in the wind. Like that movie, American Beauty, except instead of a plastic bag it’s a bunch of Aladdin’s magic carpets winding up a small slow tornado. Eventually there’s a series of ruins encircling a pillar with dozens more of these twisting rags, and when your armless, skinny-legged character gets near, he (or she [or it]) begins to glow white and you can leap in the air and float softly on the wind. And this is it, all you can do: run through the sand and kinda/sorta fly. Oh, you can also beep, but it doesn’t really do anything.
But the looks of the game are very enchanting and controls are simple so I buckle in and jump to a warp pad. It takes me to a much darker level, like a starless sky now hovers above the dessert and I get the impressions of almost being under water. After running around, I realize the point of the game is to collect these glowing white squares, which make the tail of your dress/gown/robe longer and more elaborate. I’m not sure if they’re power ups or if they make the floating last longer or what, but I begin to run into other characters like me, jumping around and lengthening their tails. Then one kind chap begins to try to get my attention. Ok, so I was mistaken, the beep does something, like a glowing bubble that chimes at other players. So this other character is actually some other guy (or gal [or it]) playing online and he’s gonna help me find… whatever it is we’re looking for.
Suddenly, this crab-like structure/creature bursts forth from the sand and scares the hell out of me, so I start running around like a chicken with his head cut off. I’m not sure if I stayed with the same other player the entire time I played, but after another encounter with a giant eel-shaped creature, my friend lost his long tail and I couldn’t tell any of them apart.
We get to a long downhill with a glowing ruin at the bottom. When you slide down the sand, it reminds me of a surfing or snowboarding video game (see Bill’s SSX review) so even though the controls are simple, as more terrains are discovered the gameplay stays fun & engaging. But “Oh no!” there are 2 more eel-things flying back and forth over the ruins. They have lights illuminating the ground in front of them, and if you end up in the light, they steal your tail! I’m not sure if you can die or anything in this game, but when we jump and slide, we pray the bastards don’t catch us. Of course, they almost do, but we pick up speed as we slide towards the finish. Both eels are gunning for us, and the glowing light turns red as they near, but just at the last second, we leap the gap to the ruins, and some unknown, benevolent force field slams the eels off our heels. Ha, that rhymed. Anyway, we kneel at the end of the level, our characters looking like little more than sheets with eyes, and it fades to white.
There’s a glowing white being (the same type of being as my own, only large and all white) that looms above me and nods knowingly. There is no dialogue or text in this game, but it seems very ominous and meaningful. Or maybe just pretentious. Either way, I need a break. That was intense. Like camping. Get it? Intense. In tents. More of an audio joke anyway.
Ok, so it looks like this isn’t one of those games you’re supposed to play for a few minutes and then stop. Apparently you’re just supposed to play through, beginning to end, and make a few friends along the way to help you out. I’d paused the game and for a while that other sand-person/Jawa hung around waiting for me to start up again. He must have really liked me. Anyway, I may have started the game with a wrong level warp because the night-time-under-the-sea level is supposed to come later, according to Bill. Starting over, I reopen the grate to let a bunch of floating fabric whisk me away through epic ruin doors.
This first level has long, rusted carpets that disappear and turn into flowing banners. Sand waterfalls are all over the place. I build a bridge out of the banners and make it to a lit circle, so my character (lets call him “Luke,” this game has a very peaceful “Star Wars” feel to it. “Peace Wars.” Not as exciting but enough to build a neat little video game) kneels and ends the level. Cut scene with the white, large guy. I ran into a couple other guys running around this level, one of them with a tail miles long, but none of us says much to each other. I finish the level alone.
Now the dunes look like strawberry Quick sand. Not quicksand as in it sinks, strawberry Quick, as in Nestle Quick, the pink powder you stir into milk. A pink city, as it were. I release a bunch of NPC flying carpets that seem to guide my way. There’s a lot of long walking up hill. Luke navigates his way up a series of winding towers with carpets trapped inside them. There’s a series of Egyptian hieroglyph paintings that keep coming to life after I get to the end of each level, like they’re trying to tell me a wordless story. There are glyph symbols for the white people in sheets from the cut scenes and I have no idea what any of it means. But all the carpets are released into the world at the end. So, yay carpets.
I make it to the next section and slide down like Tarzan in Kingdom Hearts. Finally it seems like another person wants to join my Journey, let’s call him “Han.” We released another bunch of carpets to float higher but then the guy went away. I guess Han shot first after all. In the fading twilight, I float closer to the light emanating from the ruin leagues away. As I swirl around and leap into the air, the ground breaks and I fall down below the ruins. And another guy catches up with me. Not sure if it’s the same one, but let’s call him “Han II” for safety’s. Now it looks like we’re where I was when I played earlier, the quasi-under-the-sea level.
Holy cow! So I got scared by the same eel/crab monster popping up from the sand. I don’t think the people I’m running into this time are as friendly because they don’t hang out with me for very long. Also, I’ve been doing poorly collecting white blocks to build my tail. But this level hasn’t changed; only I finish the level by myself. None of the cut scenes with the white guy make any sense but it seems like they’re supposed to be really meaningful. When you make the O button it sounds like music. I think this is supposed to be a very melodic, flowing game. Like it just sweeps from note to note without any jaggedness. Except the monster. Ok, now I’m as far as I’ve ever been in this game.
So there was a dude with a long white tail who helped me out for a bit but didn’t seem like he wanted to finish the level with me. Seriously, did Luke forget to wear deodorant or something? As I look around the glyphs it really looks like I was supposed to do this with another person, there are always two robed figures climbing the steps and such.
Now the sand is falling white, like it’s snowing. And back in the “water” level, there were a few white grains floating like plankton or something. Considering all of this takes place in like an endless dessert, they manage to get a good variety on the environment. And in the distance the beautiful moon beckons me to continue my quest. Or journey. I guess a quest has a goal.
Ice is hard & the wind blows me back. Now guy 3 has stuck it out with me. He’s a good man, we’ll call him “Charlie Brown.” It takes forever to climb up this mountain, but there’s nowhere else to go but up. We both get hit a few times by creatures, our tails now short and pathetic. I fell off mountain, and Charlie Brown jumped with me, so we have to repeat the long, arduous climb. Just a long, long climb, and our O’s beeps are getting weaker. We both fall, frozen in the snow, but he fell first so I’m going to say Luke was stronger.
I wake up surrounded by several of the tall, white ones. My body lifts into the sky. My tail flows long and the white frost melts away. I glow white with energy and light and blast off towards a ball of magma. I’m reminded of the spaceship in “Sunshine,” shooting off toward the sun. I arrive in a beautiful, snow peaked area with plenty of floating carpets. After the rough, harsh frost of the last area, this soft white snow seems heavenly. Or like mount Olympus or something. It definitely gives off the holy vibe. Luke walks out into whiteness in super-slow-mo. I’m all alone. Now nothing.
Credits role, I’m given a marker (like a gravestone) with my beeped symbol on it in the sand out with all the others who came before. A shooting star comes out of the light, and “Thank you for playing JOURNEY” is displayed. Only took an hour and a half.
Final summation, this seems like a flash game, or one of those online strategy games, but done with really good graphics and a very poetic feel. Kind of how Portal felt too philosophical for a simple strategy game. Exactly. This is a smaller version of Portal, combined with elements of Mirror’s Edge (at least the vast open space with the red tinged goals and very little to do other than move forward).
I wrote this while playing the game which was a little complicated, so this final product is an edit of my short hand notes, expanded to make sense (kind of), and be a piece of writing history. Enter me in the textbooks. Next to Steve Perry. Lead singer of the band Journey.