Wow, Daedalic have been churning out adventures left right and centre this year haven’t they? I thought it was impressive back when LucasArts were making one classic adventure every year, and Daedalic have released four this year alone! Granted one of them’s a Deponia game, but you can’t have everything. To be fair though their latest adventure Journey of a Roach is only published by them, it’s actually developed by Swiss studio Kobold Games, so we won’t count it for or against them...
Journey of a Roach is a sweet tale of a man-sized cockroach named Jim living in a post-apocalyptic landscape where the insects have taken over, and his attempts to get to the last flower on Earth with his roachy friend Bud. Like Amanita Design’s delightful Machinarium (which was obviously a big influence on this) the game is entirely dialogue-free, with conversations consisting entirely of speech bubbles with little animations inside them. The actual game itself consists of very basic 2D animation and 3D adventuring.
Uh, yeah, why’s a spider lady looking after baby flies?
It’s also probably the shortest adventure I’ve ever played outside of Double Fine’s free game Host Master and the Conquest of Humor. There are about 3-4 areas (not including the tutorial) with only around three rooms each of varying sizes, and barring getting stuck you’ll be finished in around two hours. Most Telltale episodes last longer than that. Compounding this is the fact that the story and plot is as basic as the animation used to tell it. That’s not always a bad thing, but when a game promises a “journey” I expect it to last a bit longer than a few rooms. My cycle ride to work in the morning is more of a journey than that. Hell, me getting out of bed in the morning and going downstairs to get some breakfast is more of a journey than that.
So what does Journey of a Roach offer other than longevity or a compelling story? Puzzles of course. Obviously not that many, but well, they’re here. There are some truly clever ones, like three bar patrons pulling the old find-the-ball-under-the-cups routine but blatantly cheating so you have to cheat back in three unique ways, and some cute ones like having to capture four baby grubs so their mother will let you past. There are some very bad ones too, like a trial-and-error electricity-connecting moment that’s far too annoying. Sometimes things will even happen that don’t make sense (even in the game’s universe), such as a giant firefly somehow fitting in a tiny jar or Jim being able to pick up an item from an exact hard-to-get-to spot that’s still too far away from it to actually pick it up.
The incredibly basic animation walks a fine line between cute and lazy
Unfortunately it’s the game’s unique mechanics and controls that make things more difficult than they need to be, artificially inflating the short playing time just by making Jim as cumbersome to play as possible. The big innovation Journey of a Roach introduces is the cockroachy ability to walk on walls – just by going up to a wall Jim will stick to it and be able to walk up it like normal, and on the ceiling too. This idea is unique, fits well with the idea of bugs, stops the game from feeling like a typical adventure, and is almost totally pointless. Apart from picking up items that are placed high up or clambering through confusing vents the ability only comes in really necessary a couple of times, including that half-baked trial-and-error electricity puzzle I mentioned which I’d rather wasn’t in the game at all. As Jim regularly either gets caught on scenery or just arbitrarily isn’t allowed to walk on a particular wall for the sake of a puzzle it’s a feature that creates more problems than praise. Some innovations in this world are good and worthwhile, while others only weren’t thought up before because they’re just not very good ideas. This is the latter.
The controls are a combination of WASD to walk and the mouse to interact with everything, which works well in theory but provides its own irritations. For example in most point-and-click adventures if you click on an interactive object the main character will walk towards the object, but in Journey of a Roach if you’re not already close enough Jim will just flash up a “I can’t reach this” animation and won’t move towards it, which gets extremely annoying after a while. Kobold even manages to get little things like Hotspots and the Inventory wrong. Items in the Inventory are silhouetted so it’s often impossible to tell what they are, while the spacebar activates the world’s most useless Hotspot Highlighter. The screen zooms out and tiny arrows point to any interactive points, which doesn’t so much highlight these points as make them even more indistinguishable from the background. I spent far too long in one area because I hadn’t noticed a ball of thread behind a sewing machine because the highlighting arrows blurred together (and the zooming out made it invisible anyway).
There are a bunch of miscellaneous problems too which don’t fit into any category but still smothered my enjoyment. Indulge me a moment as I list them. There’s no Hint System, which is a regular problem with Daedalic titles (barring Memoria) but made worse here since there are no verbal clues to pick up from the characters either. Sometimes it’s hard to pick up an object even when you know you can. The puzzle where you have to retrieve four grubs is cute, but why does it have to be completed in a particular order? Your companion Bud sounds like Crazy Frog (remember him? The most irritating thing in the world? Please tell me ‘no’). Annoying sound effects occasionally loop. And finally, the music is utterly tone-deaf, lacking any tune, rhythm or catchiness and sounds like someone beating a keyboard to death.
Stop hanging around and get on with it
So, what’s good about Journey of a Roach? Well, it’s certainly sweet. I can forgive a number of problems in the game because it’s a nice, non-offensive world with amusing characters and some nice hinted-at sub-plots – such as a bunch of fanatical gas-mask-wearing ants and an old soldier wasp’s tale of a fight against those ants that cost him his leg. Jim gives a cute “ta-da!” noise when he successful combines an item, and Jim himself is just a nice character. Also the ending is just lovely. So, general cute niceness, 10/10. Well, 9/10 – Bud just needs to shut up and die.
JOURNEY OF A ROACH VERDICT
Journey of a Roach attempts some nice ideas and is pretty cute, but altogether isn’t a particular good or enjoyable adventure. The central walking-on-walls mechanic makes things more complicated than it justifies. The music and sound effects punish you for playing. It’s harder than it needs to be thanks to a few really poor puzzles, controls, the world’s worst Hotspot Highlighter, and the lack of a hint system. Worst of all though even with bad game design to inflate the playing time the game can be finished in just a couple of hours, and even if it was the best adventure ever (it’s not) it still wouldn’t be worth £11.99/$14.99. It tries hard but I’m afraid Journey of a Roach needs a good stomping. Yes, I’ve been waiting all review to say that.
TOP GAME MOMENT
The sweet ending which almost makes it all worthwhile.