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Old 09-04-2011, 07:51 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Retronauts: The Incredible Journey

I'm writing this on location from the bowling alley in the small town where I live. Granted, you wouldn't know this if I hadn't told you, but trust me, it's important. These lanes are a sacred place to me... when I was but a lad of nine, my family would come here on the weekends to knock down some pins. Between frames, I'd run to the dimly lit arcade in the corner to spend a few precious minutes with its bounty of games. The selection was delightfully eclectic... every game was an oddity, far removed from the hits of the time. Wild Western! Eyes! New York New York!

Then there was Journey. Yes, that band your parents liked, which put a sudden end to the criminal career of The Sopranos. Bally-Midway released this at the height of the video game goldrush, when corporations thought the key to making any product a huge success was grafting a joystick onto it. (Fortunately, the industry has learned from its past mistakes, and would never stoop to such crass marketing now! Right...?) It would be easy to dismiss the Journey game as just another of the shortsighted cash-ins that led to the great crash of 1984. In fact, even members of the band want nothing to do with the game they inspired, forsaking it in recent interviews.

What they missed, but I hope you won't, is that Journey was also a significant milestone for the game industry. It evolved from technology designed by Ralph Baer, the engineer previously responsible for the first home game system. Baer wanted a fun new way to bring players into the action, mounting a camera on top of an arcade cabinet and letting anyone who beat the high score pose for a picture. Things went well in playtesting... at least, until one of the players dropped their pants and gave the camera a sideways smile!

Baer's team was still sure it was onto something with digitized graphics... it just had to take peoples' butts out of the equation. The designers decided that if there were going to be pictures hardwired into its game, they'd better be of big celebrities, so they took a camera backstage at a Journey concert and had the members of the massively popular band pose for snapshots. Their portraits were then pasted on the bodies of simple cartoon characters and animated in time with the action... lead singer Steve Perry worriedly looks back and forth as he races through the swinging gates in his stage, and pianist Jonathan Cain throws a tantrum if he's struck with a bomb. Sure, these bobbleheads are amusingly quaint by today's standards, but it's not hard to see the influence they had on later, more refined Midway titles like NARC and Mortal Kombat.

"So, how's the game," you ask? Well, it's about time I got to that, isn't it? Journey is pretty similar to Midway's earlier arcade release Tron, with the action split into five different stages. Each member of the band has to recover their instrument from a dangerous planet, but their methods vary... Neal Schon uses a jetpack to slowly lower himself into a craggy cavern, while Steve Smith bounces on drums, changing them from orange to blue. Each style of gameplay should be familiar to anyone who's spent much time in an early 1980s arcade, but that's only until a band member collects his instrument. Suddenly, every onscreen object conspires to kill him, and the screen fills with gunfire as he fights his way back to the ship, guns (or guitar, or microphone) blazing.

When you stop and think about it, Journey isn't five games in one... it's ten, with a bonus battle against the band's groupies as your reward after all the instruments have been recovered. That's a lot of variety for 1983, but like any game that aspires to be a jack of all trades, Journey's quality tends to be wildly inconsistent. Some stages are fun to play... and then there's Ross Valory's ride on a series of spring-loaded amplifiers, which takes five seconds to finish and is enjoyable for exactly zero of them. It's not fun all the time, but there's enough entertainment to be had here to make it worth the quarter... and the innovations that it brought to the video game industry are just icing on the cake. It even works as merchandising for the band, with the same trippy imagery from its album covers and chiptune covers of its greatest hits. Journey may have disowned the game, but hey, it's their loss.



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Old 09-04-2011, 07:58 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Re: Retronauts: The Incredible Journey

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Old 09-04-2011, 08:55 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Re: Retronauts: The Incredible Journey



When I found this game I didn't expect it to actually be about the band. It's amusing enough to play at least once, just look at that screenshot.
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Old 09-11-2011, 09:48 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Re: Retronauts: The Incredible Journey

Seems interesting.
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