Journey's Galactic Fantasy Landing Near You
By Ted Gaines
Journey, Bally-Midway's latest offering into the tepid arcade market, is one of the finest examples of the new breed of scatter-shot video games. Modeled after Bally's recently successful Tron, Journey operates on the same theory; if players are offered a sufficient selection of totally different contests, they're bound to find something they like. One facet most players will take an immediate liking to is this game's stunning visuals, representing absolute state-of-the-art in terms of digitized graphics. Through the use of sophisticated new technology and an increased number of on-screen pixels (the tiny squares that comprise any video or photographic image), Journey presents players with all five band members, clearly delineated, in a series of video challenges plucked from virtually every genre in the field. There are bounding games and shootouts; jump games and color-sequence contests. In fact, virtually every fad and play-stratagem in current arcade vogue can be scrutinized in the course of re-uniting the band members with their instruments, and launching them into outer space.
Probably the most amusing of the musical challenges is the "drum" game. The drummer -- drawn with an oversized head and smaller, caricatured body (as are all band members) -- is seen floating in the air among a corps of snares, tom-toms and bass drums. The drum skins here act as trampolines with the ascent and decline of the drummer out of the player's control. The gamester merely guides the musician to the left and right, attempting to hit each drum twice. The first contact causes the drum skin to change color while the second encounter banishes the entire drum to limbo. Once the play field has been cleared, the second phase of this round commences. Each scene, in fact, is a two-parter. After the initial mission is accomplished, a shoot-out scenario is inaugurated. It is here that the more blood-thirsty players will finally get their rocks off, turning the primary, "cutie" sequence into a more primal and savage type of game.
Journey is the first, major arcade game to be "adapted" from a pre-existing home video game. Data aGe, a company that has since faded into oblivion, had the original brainstorm of wedding video games with rock and roll. They surveyed the charts and decided that Journey, with their recently released sci-fi oriented lp, Escape still on the charts, would make a perfect mate for their Atari 2600 technology.
Several major problems cropped up immediately. First off, there was the question of audio. What kind of rock video game can be produced on a piece of hardware capable of quality two-part harmony only in the hands of the top five or six designers in the entire field? The answer may never be known, since, obviously, none of those top designers were employed by Data Age when Escape was being programmed. The musical results were, to be both witty and kind, mixed.
Finally, there was the game itself. Constructed on a cuite-enough premise, the thing just doesn't play. Here's the story line: the band has just finished a concert and is attempting to battle its way through a crowd of photographers, promoters and rabid fans. When all five band members have been rescued by the player into the safety of their "Escape" space ship, the ship takes off and round one has ended. Unlike the arcade game, however, there is no round two.
What all this added up to was a monumental flop. The cost of signing the band, heavy p.r. hype and advertising alone was staggering. When added to research and development, raw materials (silicon "chips" and cartridge casings) and all the other overhead costs, it soon became evident that only platinum sales -- and several sequels -- could save Data Age. Instead, the game went solid brass.
Broke and on the verge of bankruptcy, Data Age peddled the arcade rights for its expensive white elephant to Bally-Midway. Using the same hardware as it did with the game Whacko, Bally cleaned up the audio and visuals, but remained unable to create a truly viable rock video game.
As an intriguing postscript to the entire Journey licensing scene, Bally has reportedly sold the home arcade rights of their version of the game to Coleco, who may ultimately attempt to translate the title for home systems! From home arcade and back home again, it's been a loooong "journey."