The Journey Down
Jamaican Me Unhappy
The Journey Down is a point-and-click adventure game in the same vein as Grim Fandango, though with heavy Afro-Caribbean rather than Latinx influences. It feels more like a lesson in wasted opportunity. It’s easy to see the developers have a deep love for the point-and-click genre and a genuine interest in Afro-Caribbean folklore and mythology, but the execution of both the narrative and mechanics leave a lot to be desired.
I was really excited about TJD when I first came across it. Afro-Caribbean culture is a subject largely ignored by media. And when it is depicted, it’s usually with caricatures so one-dimensional, they aren’t worth the effort it takes to acknowledge the performance. I was excited to play what looked like a well thought out game that could introduce me to new stories and cultures. That is, until I found out TJD was developed by a team made up entirely of white, Norwegian men. But I gave them the benefit of the doubt; I was hoping they had done their homework to deliver an accurate and thoughtful representation. I should learn to trust my initial instincts.
That’s not to say that TJD is actively racist or bigoted in any way, but there are definitely things that got lost in cultural translation along with context that cannot be accurately conveyed in a story told by people not native to the Afro-Caribbean culture. It doesn’t feel like there is much of a commitment to a portrayal of Afro-Caribbean culture outside of the art style, a bit of bastardized voodoo, and bad Jamaican accents. I get that there is only so much a small development team can do, but it’s not unreasonable to expect more than a bare minimum effort that can be easily misconstrued as insensitivity at best.
To examine TJD as a game, it doesn’t fare much better. It starts out well enough; with just the right amount of mystery to hook and draw you into its world. But it quickly falls apart from there.
The main plot is almost immediately sidelined for a series of increasingly cryptic and contrived fetch quests for airplane parts. Fetch quests are a staple of point-and-click as well as RPGs and are inevitable. But if I’m left constantly asking myself “Why am I doing this?,” it kills the fun and momentum of the game. Pacing is just as important in a game as mechanics and narrative. If the game grinds to almost a standstill basically from the start, it wont endear players to your game. Games are meant to be enjoyed not endured.
Aside from the aforementioned accents, the voice acting in TJD is just not very good. The dialogue, while clunky enough on paper, is delivered in such a wooden monotone, I had momentary flashbacks to having to read Shakespeare aloud in high school English class. It’s also full of tired cliches; conversations are peppered with so many “mons” that it becomes akin to a shelved concept for a season of Digimon.
“I’m left constantly asking myself, ‘Why am I doing this?'”
The Journey Down is a functional, if mediocre and somewhat poorly conceived, game. Everything works as it should: click an object to add it to your inventory, combine objects to achieve a goal, click a character to talk. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do much to go beyond merely functional. I’m sure die hard fans of games like Monkey Island and Grim Fandango will find something to like about this, but I couldn’t find much myself.