No, this is not a game about the popular 80’s band Journey (although they did have an arcade game back then, true story). This is a collection of games created by thatgamecompany, a developer who has made a few popular downloadable games for the PS3. From what I’ve seen, their games tend to me more artistic, goalless games that are more about the experience, not the challenge, of gaming. But I just like game collections, so in this blog, we’re going to go over what you can find on here.
I want to talk about one of the problems I had with this collection right up front, just to get it out of the way. One of the reasons why I love collections of games that you could originally download separately is that since the games are on disc, it saves room on your hard drive. But the weird thing about the Journey collection is that when you first start up a game, they make you install it to your hard drive! That’s a bit of a pain, but what I don’t understand is that it still requires the disc to play those games, too! Luckily the games don’t take up very much memory at all on your hard drive, but it was still kind of annoying.
Now before we start talking about the games, I wanted to go over the instruction booklet first. I’m probably one of the few people who looks at the instruction booklet before starting the game. It’s an old habit of mine from the NES days before in-game tutorials. What’s interesting about the instruction booklet for this collection is that it doesn’t tell how to play the games at all. Instead, it talks about the history of the company who made the games on this collection, and the development process of the games themselves. The booklet also goes over one of the activities they do at thatgamecompany called “Game Jam.” It’s where the makers of these games get together for 24 hours and try to make a game from start to finish during that time. We’ll go over more on that later, as it does have significance to this collection. And now, let’s get on with the games!
This was their first game on the PS3. According to the instructions, flOw was originally a PC game that got very popular, and Sony asked them to make a version of it for the PS3. You can definitely tell it was their first game, but it’s not too bad. In the game you play a bunch of shapes that fit together to look like a microscopic organism. Your job is to eat smaller organisms to grow bigger, so you can eat bigger things. The game is set on a 2-D plane, but you can move into and out of the background by eating red or blue cells, which appear in every plane. You have to watch out for things that can eat you, though. But if the bigger guys eat all your parts, you don’t die, but you do get set back to the 2-D plane before where you got eaten. After a while you can ‘evolve’ into different things. For instance, first you start out as a snake thing, but can transform into a round jellyfish thing after you get big enough.
If I missed any details about the game, it’s probably because these games are very minimalist and don’t tell you much about what’s going on. I guess that’s part of the charm of these games, but it does make it hard to write about. You control your little critter using the Sixaxis motion controls. They actually work pretty well here, and it’s nice to play a game that uses that aspect of the controller. It’s almost like Sony forgot that existed, but that may be just as well since motion controls are a bit overrated. So while I didn’t get into flOw as much as Flower or Journey, it’s still a pretty interesting game. I think I like it because it reminds me of Pac-Man.
I think out of the three games on this collection, Flower is my favorite. Don’t know why, though. This game also uses the Sixaxis part of the PS3 controller, and does so rather well. You use it to ‘steer’ wind around and blow flower petals. When a flower petal touches another flower, it’ll bloom and you’ll add another flower petal to your assembly. Pretty soon you’ll have a collection of petals in the wind that would make any person with allergies wince. By blooming groups of flowers, you’ll bring the land back to colorful life and open up the next area. There are six areas overall for you to do this in.
This game is meant to be relaxing, and it is. I’m not even sure if you can ‘die.’ In one of the levels are a bunch of shorted out electric towers, and if you hit those, your petals will be knocked back. But I’m not sure if that depletes your petal supply or not. I hit multiple towers and never died. The game also has a ‘machine vs. nature’ theme, as in the last level, your petals eat a can of spinach or something and are able to knock out the electric towers and bring back color to the city (kind of reminded me of de Blob). So while Flower is a bit short, it’s weird and kind of neat, like Katamari Damacy. So I like it.
The trouble with these games is that they don’t give you a lot of story and background, which is actually a good thing because it lets you use your imagination. But it also makes it hard for us writers to tell you what the game is about, because my interpretation of Journey may not be as good as the game makers’ interpretation, or even yours. But I’m going to try anyway!
So in Journey, you play as a guy dressed in red robes. Actually since female video game characters are more interesting, we’ll say he’s a girl. And the way the red robes are worn, it makes your character look like a walking ketchup bottle. I have to say that I saw a lot of people dressed as walking ketchup bottles at PAX. So anyway, the walking ketchup bottle sees a glowing thing crash into the top of some mountains, and now she must travel through a large desert to see what it is. Along the way she’ll discover ancient ruins of an advanced civilization, and learn what happened to it. She’ll also meet some flying red creatures that look like little movie tickets. These ticket creatures can help her jump and eventually fly for a short while, to help her reach high places. Later on you’ll meet bigger ticket creatures who look more like carpets and resemble sea creatures like stingrays and jellyfish.
At the end of each section, the walking ketchup bottle will see a vision of a tapestry that tells the story of what happened to the ancient civilization. From what I can tell, a long time ago these people used those ticket and carpet creatures to power their huge cities, but war caused them to rip the tickets and carpets up and fight over what was left. Eventually the civilization fell and was buried in the desert. I won’t tell you what happens when you make it to the top of the mountain, because the game is still relatively new and I don’t want to spoil it for you.
One neat thing about this game is that you can travel with another player online. But you won’t know who it is, and you can’t communicate with them outside of a little ‘ping’ sound that has a symbol with it. I think these symbols are called ‘wonders’ and each player’s is different, apparently. Mine looks like a happy face. At the end of the game, you can see the PSN names of everyone you travelled with, which is cool. Playing online doesn’t help much, but you can charge each other’s jumping power (I think), and if another player knows where to go, you can follow them. Just like the other games, I don’t think you can really ‘die’ in Journey. I think the game is more about the experience of exploration, and the ambience of the trip. I have to say the music is very nice, too. If only they can take that ambience and make a really cool Zelda-like game with it. Like Flower, Journey is also really, really short.
Game Jam Games
At first I thought that was all the games in this collection. But remember when we talked about how the instruction booklet told about thatgamecompany’s Game Jams? Well, the games that they made during this 24 hour exercise are on this disc, too! So we’ll go over those real quickly as well.
I know they warned in the instructions that the Game Jam games were a little rough around the edges, but I didn’t think it would be this bad! In this two player game there are gravediggers and zombies and you’re supposed to collect skulls and bring them to a crypt for points. But it’s hard to tell what everything is because all the characters are just blocks. It reminds me of a really bad Atari 2600 game. Aside from some of Atari’s good 2600 arcade ports and Activision’s 2600 games, I really don’t have very many special memories of the 2600 for that reason (now the 5200, that’s a different story). The only thing I figured out how to do in Gravediggers was jump.
This two player game is a little better, but not by much. The graphics look like notebook doodles, so at least you can tell what everything is. And the voices are just recorded people saying things in a disinterested tone, so it is a bit humorous. In this game, you control a duke who can rally peasants from their houses. Guide them to trees to chop them down, and then have them take the wood to your tower so you can get gold. The king who rides around aimlessly on his horse will then pick up the gold and give you points. Only problem is I couldn’t figure out how to build the tower where I wanted. It would just flash and disappear.
Not sure why they called it that, but this one is my favorite of the Game Jam titles. This game has a science fiction theme, with 16-bit style graphics. The backdrop looks like the top of a spaceship with planets in the background. It’s a two player game, but one person can play by themselves just fine. There are only two waves, and you must shoot hordes of space creatures coming to get you. You play as a little girl with blue or green hair, and you can shoot a short projectile weapon to defeat foes. In the second wave you’ll also have to deal with a giant boss. If you collect a Viking helmet, hold down the R1 button and your little space maiden will transform into a hulking Amazon woman. In this form, you move slower and can’t shoot, but you can perform an awesome dash attack for mowing down foes. Switch between the two forms to dispatch all the bad guys and get the most points. If you get hit, you won’t die but you’ll lose half your score. This game reminds me of two iPad games I downloaded for free called ElectroMaster and HungryMaster, two mock 16-bit arcade style games that are really fun.
The Journey collection also includes three PS3 backgrounds you can download for free featuring Flower and Journey. Plus a code to download Flower and Journey gamerpic avatars, and another code for a free month of PlayStation Plus. I have to say that while this is a great collection, would I buy these games separately on my own? HECK NO! But they’re great in a collection for some reason. The main problem I have with these games are that the goals are not very clear. Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate open ended games like this. One of my favorite games of all time, Animal Crossing, also doesn’t have apparent goals. But it’s designed so well that you can make up your own goals, like paying off your house, collecting a certain kind of furniture, or in my case, getting all the NES titles in the GameCube version. I wish thatgamecompany’s games were more like that. But oh well. It’s still a fine collection and I’m glad I was able to experience and play these titles finally. I think people who are really smart and intelligent would appreciate this collection, as well as folks who are interested in the game making process. Speaking of PS3 game collections, I also picked up the Ratchet and Clank Collection, but I haven’t had a chance to play it yet because I’ve got too many other games to review right now! But oh well. And that’s all for now, later! –Cary