A fresh experience from a worn genre.
I have a bad history with adventure games. They lure me in with the prospect of an interesting story, stripped of any ludonarrative dissonance with their simple and accessible mechanics that don't break up the game. It's like reading an interactive comic book without having to get mad at ridiculous plot points or canon-shattering retcons. But then I remember that I have no patience. I cannot contend with my least favourite trope of adventure games, which is apparently unforgiving/unclear/unbearable puzzles. I'm still stuck on the part in Tales of Monkey Island Episode 1 with the animal noise treasure map.
The Journey Down is not in any way forgiving or clear with its puzzles, but it is bearable. So bearable in fact that I beared it all the way to the end, something I have not done with many other adventure games at all. The most bearingest thing about this game is its charm; a word thrown around a lot when it comes to games of this ilk, but one that I feel is certainly warranted here. Right from the start, The Journey Down oozes atmosphere, throwing down a suitably African-themed music bed to match the characters and art style, giving it a unique flare that sets it apart from most video games. The character design is striking too - each character was designed based on existing African tribal masks, adding value to the numéraire in adventure games that is charm.
The 'focus' on African culture feels in no way stifling any more than Telltale's Walking Dead series feels stifled by being set in America - it's peripheral, if anything, and isn't especially alluded to in dialogue, but is just apparent enough to give the game the edge it needs in the quickly saturating adventure game genre. Speaking of adventure games, this is still one of those and there are puzzles to be solved. 'Puzzles' might be a strong word though, and it usually invokes imagery of an interface with colours, numbers and/or shapes on it, but you don't see much of that here. It's the usual combine-and-error mechanic, but the combinations and errors both have some humourous dialogue and animations. And by humourous, I actually mean funny, not just "oh this is funny for a video game" but funny for any medium. The protagonist's voice actor understands timing, and the writers understand that snark is only detrimental to personality (take note, Guybrush Threepwood).
The Journey Down's first chapter sets up a friendly universe - and introduces a foreboding threat - that could stand to see several more iterations. At the time of typing, the second chapter is still in development and is teased with screenshots at the end of the first one, but it looks pretty cool you guys!!!!!!!