By Marty Mulrooney
The Journey Down: Over The Edge is a point-and-click adventure game created by Theodor Waern, with music by Simon De Souza. Five years in the making, this isn’t just any freeware Adventure Game Studio project either. Over The Edge has been put together so expertly that one could be forgiven for thinking that it is in fact a long lost LucasArts classic from the glory days of the adventure gaming genre. There is artistry amidst its pixels, beauty within the world portrayed. Welcome to The Journey Down.
The first of a proposed four-part series, Over The Edge wastes no time getting started. Players are immediately introduced to Bwana, co-owner of a waterfront gas-station in a run down area known as Kingsport Bay. City lights can be seen in the distance, yet before long the gas-station is plunged into darkness. Luckily, Bwana and his sidekick Kito soon manage to get the power back on after solving the game’s first puzzle. Then the woman arrives.
Introducing herself only as Lina, she explains how she is searching for a book. Before long, she has offered a serious sum of money to Bwana and Kito if they can get their plane up and running again, before flying her to a destination as of yet unknown. Meanwhile, the Armando Power Company have far more sinister plans in mind than simply cutting off the gas-station’s power supply. Somehow, they are connected to a conspiracy involving Bwana and Kito’s adoptive father, the mysterious Lina, an old book, and the ominous Underland that lies far beyond the edge of the world…
The gameplay here is good old fashioned point-and-click in its purest form. Making Bwana walk, talk and interact are all achievable with a mere click of the left mouse button. The puzzles are not overly taxing overall but do increase in difficulty as the game progresses. The balance is superb: players will most likely solve the game at a steady pace, resulting in a narrative that is constantly unfolding and expanding. What’s more, for such a short game, there are plenty of environments to explore, with each conveying its own unique atmosphere and ambience whilst remaining believable within the established world as a whole.
And what an established world it is. Who knew that during the tail end of 2010, a small indie freeware adventure game would reveal a universe every bit as coherent and detailed as the ‘Underworld’ that was shown within LucasArt’s classic 1998 adventure game Grim Fandango. To say I was – and still am – a huge fan of Tim Schafer’s design work within Grim Fandango would be an understatement. I have Manny Calavera’s face tattooed to my arm with good reason.
Playing Over The Edge reminded me strongly of Grim Fandango. Another world that feels alien yet strangely familiar. Characters that are most definitely not human, yet emote exactly the same. In Grim Fandango is was skeletons in tuxedos and suits. Here, Theodor Waern has seemingly based his characters on African mask designs. The result is startling, with the characters and the environments they inhabit gelling as a stylistic, hypnotic whole. Everything looks rather wooden, but the end result is anything but.
The graphics are admittedly – and I imagine intentionally – pixelated but only the staunchest graphics snob could ignore how wonderful Over The Edge looks across the board. There are hints of Monkey Island 2 and Full Throttle here and there, but perhaps most impressive of all, The Journey Down has a look that remains 100% its own. Then there is the music. Simon De Souza has arrived from seemingly out of nowhere and married the blast-from-the-past visuals with a note-perfect soundtrack that manages to sound both jazz-infused and reggae all at once. Sometimes, I simply paused to soak in the thick, lovely atmosphere.
The best thing about all of this? It’s free! Although nothing has been announced about future instalments, The Journey Down: Over The Edge doesn’t cost a single penny, which is pretty incredible considering what a quality experience it offers. One of the only downsides – and it’s a pretty major one actually – is that the entire game only lasts a couple of hours. Also, there are no voices, although Bwana’s utterances of “Yeah, mon!” do a pretty good job with text alone. Finally, the cliff-hanger ending is decidedly bittersweet; if I have to wait another five years to find out what happens next, I’ll cry. One of the most essential adventure gaming experiences of the past few years.
9 OUT OF 10