When you think about it, Journey of a Roach is a puzzle game built entirely around a single gimmick: you play a roach, able to climb up walls and skitter across the ceiling. This change in perspective plays a key part in the majority of the puzzles. It’s not the worst way to see the world, upside-down, though it can be a bit disorienting from time to time, especially when you accidentally mean to return to the floor but hit the wall instead and the camera sharply tilts one way and then the other and all you can do is make audible gasps until you right yourself. Given that I just spent a long time playing as Scree the gargoyle in Primal, who can also climb walls, you’d think my tolerance would be higher, but I’m pretty tired of the mechanic. Thankfully, Journey of a Roach doesn’t overstay its welcome.
The insects in Journey of a Roach live in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, though how the world actually got to that point is not addressed or necessary to know. Bugs will simply outlive us all, and this is their realm now. As a young roach hurries across the ruined earth, he gets a glimpse of something in the distance: a flower. Delicate, standing tall: a sign of rare vegetation, a sign of life still to come. If you’ve seen Pixar’s WALL-E, you know this is important stuff. Unfortunately, the little roach ends up getting pinned beneath a barrel of toxic waste. We then cut to a smaller, childlike roach, being awoken by the sound of the crash. Off he goes to help his bug buddy get free and find this mightily desired flower of power.
Visually, the game has two different looks, and unfortunately they don’t mesh nicely. There’s the cutscenes, which are flat, hand-drawn images with minimal coloring, background art, and animation. They work, but they could’ve been so much more, especially since a lot of the key story beats unfold/resolve using these. Conversely, there’s the in-game graphics, which you’ll spend more time looking at, and they are rather nice, a mix of cel shading and 3D models. Think Borderlands, but from the perspective of an inch off the ground. Environments are relatively detailed, with a good number of non-interactive items to fill in all the gaps, and everything comes across as really there, with depth. If you can imagine bugs living beneath the ground, smoking cigars and lounging in bars, then you can imagine it even more with Journey of a Roach.
Just like with Machinarium, there’s no spoken language, at least not one that I, as a non-bug, can understand. Instead, all the ants and roaches and flies speak to each other via animated speech bubbles or tinny nonsensical squeaks, giving you an idea of what they want without actually spelling it out for you. Hope you’re good at charades. You’ll explore environments, speak to some other insects, and use items in your inventory to solve puzzles. Since you’re a cockroach, exploration is not just limited to the floor; climb up the walls and the ceiling to see what else you can find. Most of the time, it’s a vital item or a collectible grub, which you can click to claim. The environments themselves often hold a ton of clues, too, so paying attention to every sign or lever is important.
Annoyingly, there are several red herring items, which disappear when you move from one isolated scenario to another. Let me state here and now that I do not enjoy pointless, time-wasting items. Yes, Deponia, you had a few too. In your inventory, items are presented in silhouette form only, making it hard to tell what some items actually are. For example, later in the game, the tiny little roach picks up the sole of a shoe, which I thought was perfect for the tired caterpillar being forced to run on a wheel to produce electricity. Nope. This item was better fit to take the place of meat in a makeshift burger. Go figure.
As mentioned before, Journey of a Roach is not very long, and I think that’s just fine for a puzzle game that really has only one trick up its sleeve. In fact, there’s a Steam achievement for completing the whole game within 18 minutes, which if you know all the puzzle solutions I’m sure is possible, but you have to seriously truck it and probably not make a single mistake. I think it took me more around two to three hours to finish, but I liked playing it slower, clicking on everything and trying to noodle out the solution to the roach’s latest roadblock before ultimately glancing at a walkthrough. The ending was, naturally, predictable and unexciting, but there really wasn’t any other direction the developers could go with it. The roaches wanted the flower, the roaches got the flower. But then it goes to credits, and you’re left wondering why. What’s this one little flower going to do for their well-being? I dunno. It’s not a puzzle game to set the world on fire, but it does have some personality and a different way to view things.