Journey (1983 Arcade Review)

No, not THAT Journey. I already did that one.

This is one of my all-time favorite stories from the Golden Age of Arcades. Between 1982 to 1983, Ralph Baer, creator of the Maganox Odyssey and thus video games as we know them, more or less, was working with the famed toy maker Marvin Glass & Associates. They were the creators of such legendary playthings as Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots and board games like Operation and Mouse Trap. They had recently become a partner of Bally-Midway and created video games like Tapper. Baer had already partnered with MG&A to create the legendary electronic game Simon, and he was with them again for a new project. Baer, always the engineer, invented a relatively low-cost digital camera that could be installed in arcade games to take pictures of players who got high scores. Midway loved the idea of having actual pictures of players. It’s the perfect special attraction for a game, right? Bally-Midway installed a prototype into a game (I couldn’t find confirmation but I believe it was Marvin Glass’s Domino Man) and put it on a popular route they used for testing. As the story goes, day one, the test went great! An otherwise under-the-radar game drew an audience and the test looked to be a success.

On the second day, someone pulled up a chair and stood on it, dropped their pants, waved to the camera, and the test was over. It was the most obvious result in human history, but the contracts were already signed and they had to use the camera somehow. And, it just so happens, Bally-Midway had just made a deal with the band Journey. So, they used the camera to digitize the likeness of the band and shoehorn them into a genre Smörgåsbord that’s recognized as one of the worst games of the Golden Age of Arcades.

Full disclosure: I’m not a Journey fan. My expertise on the actual band begins and ends with the finale for the Sopranos.

Journey is one of those games that’s historically-maligned. I don’t think it’s really good, but it’s also not that bad. It’s one of those “we couldn’t figure out what kind of game this would be, so we just did every game!” situations that produced a jack of all trades, master of nothing game. In it, you select one of five levels, each of which is divided into two parts. In the first part, you must guide one of the band members to their instrument through some kind of unique gameplay mechanic. In the second part, you gain the ability to shoot and you have you have to blast a path to your spaceship. Or, sometimes you can ignore the enemies and just sprint for the literal finish line you need to reach to beat each stage. I found that was often just as effective. So, let’s look at the five mini-games.

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Neal Schon: This is one of those “lightly feather the joystick with a jetpack” games. You have to carefully navigate a cave to grab your guitar while the “song” Chain Reaction plays. Actually it’s an almost unrecognizable chiptune that neither of my parents, both of whom listen to Journey, could tell what it was supposed to be. As the stage begins, you have to begin to thrust right away, because once you start to have any speed, the gravity is too heavy to really stop you from crashing into the sides or the ground. Once you have have guitar, bugs come out of the sides of the wall and you have to navigate your way to the line at the top of the screen. Once you get the hang of how heavy the gravity is, this isn’t too bad as far as games like this goes. Plus it does give you a teeny bit of mercy, as your collision box isn’t quite as big as you head. Once you’ve run through a cycle, you have to go lower and deeper into the cave to retrieve the guitar. It’s not awful but it’s pretty bland. Actually, that really could describe all five games.

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Steve Smith: While listening to Wheel in the Sky, you must bounce off each trampoline that’s randomly floating around the screen at least once. The trampolines turn blue after you’ve done one bounce and disappear after a second bounce. After you’ve turned them all blue, you get your drums back and have to blast your way to the finish line at the bottom of the screen. I found this to be the most interesting of the five mini-games, and it gets BRUTAL on the second cycle. The thing that bugs me is Journey is such a slow game and the jumping here feels like moon physics. If I hadn’t seen gameplay footage from a real coin-op, I’d of thought my emulator wasn’t handling it good. Is it fun? Not really, but I did have to think about it this time. I mean, not too long. It’s just south of dull, but dull nonetheless.

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Steve Perry: While an alleged version of Don’t Stop Believin plays, you have to first make your way through deadly turnstiles to grab your microphone. Then, the turnstiles turn into full-scale walls that also scroll across the screen and you have to blast your way through them. They spawn really fast, and creating enough distance for your body to squeeze through is probably the toughest challenge of all the games in the first cycle. As you complete more cycles, more get added during that second wave that spin faster in the first part and respawn faster in the second part, and I never finished it. The cynic in me noted how it’s funny the lead singer’s stage is clearly the hardest. Seems like people would be more inclined to choose the singer’s level first, and what do you know? It just so happens to be the one most likely to eat lives and thus force players to drop more quarters! Fancy that.

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Ross Valroy: Probably the most original idea in the game. You start on these boxes that have.. uh.. rainbow-colored robotic dongs that launch you upwards, and you sort of have to spring up to the top of the stage to grab your guitar while listening to the MIDI version of Keep On Runnin’. Once you reach the top, the platforms spring cannons and the game becomes an almost bullet hell, but the point is the same as all the other games: shoot your way to the finish line. It took me tons and tons of tries to get past the cannons on my second cycle, and that was after missing the platforms on the way up. Journey gets teeth after you finish each round once, that’s for sure. Oh, and even though you can literally destroy the platforms the cannons sit-on with enough shots, even those begin to respawn. Okay, maybe this is a terrible game.

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Jonathan Cain: While listening to a bastardized version of Stone in Love, you play a mini-game that’s like a combination of reverse Donkey Kong meets the hurdles event in Track ‘n Field. While automatically running down a series of slopes, you have to press UP on the joystick to jump over miniature lightsabers. Once you reach your piano, you have to shoot your way through a series of balls to reach the finish line. During the second cycle, the bottom row of hurdles starts moving so comically fast that, even while cheating, I couldn’t get past it. There’s so many points during this whole game where I was like “jeez, they ran out of ideas.” Then I came to realize that, there’s only five games and yet I had to say “they were out of ideas” like six or seven times. That really says it all about Journey, huh?

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Journey certainly doesn’t belong on any WORST ARCADE GAMES list. It doesn’t play bad enough for that. It doesn’t control bad enough for that. Okay, maybe it sounds bad enough for that, which has to be embarrassing since the only reason anyone in their right mind would be interested in playing this is because of the musical ties, and it failed completely at that. Going into this, I wondered why they didn’t try to tie this more into some kind of musical gameplay, but the answer became obvious quickly: it couldn’t even if it wanted to. Not with this technology. So, instead we got a really uninspired hodgepodge of mini-games that feel like they’re deleted scenes from Bally-Midway’s Tron game. None of them are offensively bad by any stretch, which by itself is disqualifying for WORST GAME status or even consideration of it. Hell, this doesn’t even feel like a typical music act’s ego-stroking video game. It’s a stupid collection of unrelated game tropes that, together or separate, just plain ain’t fun. I don’t even really think it had potential for fun, either. This feels like a game nobody wanted to make and had no idea what to do with it. Really, the only interesting aspect is the Ralph Baer camera story. Sure, it’s a boring game, but it’s also a game that only exists because someone stood up on a chair and flashed their privates at the first digital camera they ever saw in their lives. Come on, that’s objectively hilarious!

Journey is not Chick-Approved.

Journey was developed by Marvin Glass and Associates
Published by Bally-Midway

About Indie Gamer Chick
Indie game reviews and editorials.

One Response to Journey (1983 Arcade Review)

  1. Pingback: Arcade Archives: Kangaroo | Indie Gamer Chick

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