Tag Archives: Journey

Five ice stages actually worth playing

most memorable snow levels GD copy

On Monday, February 17, I left the house for the very first time in five days after getting seriously snowed in. I mean, yeah, we live in the middle of the Pennsylvanian woods, so this was bound to happen eventually. And yes, the above picture is the actual abode Tara and I live in, and that’s her Jeep there, stuck in the middle of the driveway. Anyways, she was able to eventually get out, and after some more shoveling, I too got my lackluster and turble-in-da-snow Chevy Cobalt out and was able to reconnect with society for a brief moment before returning home with plenty of yummy groceries. Alas, it was not meant to be because, while I was able to get down the snowy driveway just fine, getting back up it was another mess. Flash-forward two hours, and all is well, but now I’m thinking about ice stages in videogames that I actually enjoy spending time in, unlike real life.

Onwards, with the five chilliest places I don’t mind getting stuck in…

The Ice Caves (Spelunky)

spelunky ice caves polish02

During my early days with Spelunky, getting to the Ice Caves was a big deal. It meant mastering the Mines and Jungle levels well enough to hit a series of levels as unlike the previous ones as possible. In the Ice Caves, you can slip and slide on blocks of ice, and so can gems and items and enemies, making it dangerous and chaotic for all involved. UFOs, yetis, and mammoths guard their territory aggressively. Also, the entire level takes place over a dark, endless abyss, meaning if you fall incorrectly, you might not ever hit ground and get back up. It’s not quite as deadly as the Temple levels, and I actually find the Ice Caves to be much more relaxing than any other section in Spelunky. Much as of that is due to the snappy, jazz-fused soundtrack, but I also think it has something to do with its unconventional openness; if you have the jetpack equipped, you can fly to and fro and see all that it has to offer, with few threats in your way. Perfect for ghost mining, too.

World 4 – Gorilla Glacier (Donkey Kong Country)

Snow_DKC2

With great snow comes low visibility. Pretty sure that’s a famous quote said to Peter Parker. And that’s what I remember most about the Gorilla Glacier worlds from Donkey Kong Country–a lot of snow, blowing this way and that. Now, the levels don’t start out that way. In fact, you begin in Snow Barrel Blast, which paints a pretty picture of a clear sky and a lot of snow on the ground. As you progress, snow begins to fall and intensify, to the point where it becomes difficult to see. Toss in some hectic, heart-pulsing music, and this is starting to sound like a nightmare–but it’s strangely not. I remember it so fondly as a sign of the power of videogames, the power of the SNES, and when the snow would start to come down heavy many, many years later in games like Skyrim, I always knew where that technique–for me–started.

The Colder Climates (Journey)

journey colder climates 22

I will keep this as brief as possible, since the snow levels arrive late in Journey‘s journey, right in spoilery territory, but man…they are something special. Especially if you are able to have a nameless co-op friend at your side, like I did my single time floating through the game. You basically have to traverse through the blinding snow, trudging up white hill after white hill, all while avoiding some big baddies soaring overhead. The controls work really well here, as it is actually so much harder to move in the snow than the desert sand, hitting home that you are in one bad place. That said, it’s gorgeous and gorgeously orchestrated. I played with another player, and we took turns checking to see if the coast was clear before chirping that it was time to dart back out into the blizzard.

Winter (Animal Crossing: New Leaf)

animal crossing new leaf snowman 2

There’s a surprising amount of things to do in the winter in Animal Crossing: New Leaf, and that’s all on top of the general number of things one can do as mayor of a village full of spunky animal residents. Building snowmen and snowwomen opens up chances for new collectibles; the snowwoman will give you special ice furniture for bringing her a certain number of snowflakes, and the snowman plays a game of Bingo with you for as long as he is standing. But walking around is nice and peaceful, the soft crunch of boots on snow peppering the soundtrack. Plus, I’m not as distracted as much as I am in the spring and summer by a dozen different bugs and butterflies to chase after. You still gotta watch out for those dung beetles though.

Canada (Sly 2: Band of Thieves)

sly cooper canada

The Sly Cooper franchise has a serious affection for snow levels. No, really. They are the one constant across all four titles. Here, have some proof in the form of a very direct sentence using a number of semicolons. In Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus, you go to China; in Sly 2: Band of Thieves, the gang ventures to Canada; Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves has them moseying back to China; lastly, in Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, the trio find themselves lost in time, stuck in the bitterly cold Ice Age.

In Band of Thieves, Canada plays home for two separate, but subsequent episodes and is visually depicted as large expanses of snow, tiny mountains, and ice-covered walls. There’s also moose carrying flashlights, but I think that’s based on actual findings, what do I know. The first Sly game was very linear, but the second outing began to open things up more, offering a hub and a larger area to explore at your leisure. And you could pick between any of the three heroes, and each traversed the snow differently. Aw, this was back before Bentley ended up in a wheelchair, too. My bad.

Well, that’s five really cold, frigid places that I’m okay getting stuck with. Do you have any others to add to this snow pile?

Journey’s an expedition unlike any other

tsa-journey-5a

It seems like January 2014 has been the month when I finally play all those frequently talked-about indie games, like Gone Home. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons as well, but I’ve not gotten to write about that somber story yet. And now Journey, which I bought last summer, but immediately put aside, as I had these visions of grandeur where I was going to find the perfect slice of time in my life where nothing else would distract me and I could devote every ounce of my being to the thatgamecompany’s impactful title, as I constantly heard it was best played in a single gulp. Well, after too much waiting for that dreamlike moment to pop up, I eventually just booted up the game the other weekend and devoured it happily in only a couple of hours.

Journey‘s story is interpretive. I see it as a spiritual sojourn, but others might think differently. You control a nondescript figure garbed in what might be ceremonious robes, alone in the desert, your only guiding light being a literal beam of light far off in the distance, emitting into the sky from a massively tall mountain. As you travel closer to it, you’ll acquire a scarf and the ability to jump in the air and glide for a short period of time. Eventually, you’ll leave the sandy desert for some other visually unique areas, but your goal remains the same, to get to that light. There’s no narration or spoken dialogue in the game–all story beats are visual–so you have to assume that you want to get to that light; either way, it is very enticing and seems to pull you towards it without you even knowing why.

To reach that light, you’ll run, jump, hover, slide, and solve some environmental and platformy puzzles to reach new areas and continue the *ahem* journey. How high you can jump and how far you can float is dictated by the length of your robed being’s scarf, which grows over time via…collectibles. I think. Wait, now I don’t even remember. Maybe it just got longer the further you played? Hmm. You can also interact with other scraps of fabric on the ground or in the air by holding in a big chirp and letting it loose near them; sometimes this would gather a bunch of scraps to you, and other times it would set them free to build a bridge down yonder. And that’s kind of it. There’s a surprisingly small amount of game mechanics to mess with, but they are more than enough to explore a world that is as large and wide as the sky overhead.

The reality is that Journey is two different experiences: a single-player excursion to that great big beam of light and a co-op struggle of two robed souls, unable to verbally communicate, but by each other’s sides the whole way through. Or as long as they can make it, seeing as I eventually teamed up with three separate players during my climb to the sky. You can only communicate with these other players by chirping, and you can strangely get a lot of mileage out of this mechanic. When excited by a big jump or epic sand slide, I mashed that chirp button like a maniac, shouting gleefully at my fellow scarf-dweller. When it was time to be sneaky and slow, I would only let out a single chirp to indicate it was time to move forward. In truth, the chirping became its own kind of meta game–and I loved every ounce of it. Once you complete the game, you gain access to who you played with, in case you want to add them to your Friends list, but based on some of their usernames–one was pretty offensive–I don’t think that will happen. And that’s awesome. I played a non-violent game with a bunch of nameless strangers, and that really helped make the experience something special rather than teaming up with BearKiller69 or whatever.

I suspect I’ll go through Journey again…at some point. Heck, there’s a Trophy I want that demands you return to the game after waiting at least a week. It was a very relaxing, very pleasing time that captured me in a bubble. It’d be really cool if it had couch co-op, but I understand why–and how–it couldn’t. It’s a beautiful  adventure of epic proportions and shows that a videogame can have a fantastic sense of style, soaring music, staggeringly creative visuals, and absolutely no reason to shoot anything in the face. You should play it for the synergy between gameplay and music alone, but you should also just play it because it’s a very important tickmark in the industry, one that raises the bar for storytelling and is a ton of fun to boot.

2014 Game Completed Comics, #11 – Journey

2014 games completed 11 - journey facebook

Every videogame that I complete in 2014 will now get its very own wee comic here on Grinding Down. It’s about time I fused my art with my unprofessional games journalism. I can’t guarantee that these comics will be funny or even attempt to be funny. Or look the same from one to another. Some might even aim for thoughtfulness. Comics are a versatile form, so expect the unexpected.