At first glance, Journey of a Roach’s title had me envisioning an adventure along the lines of Bad Mojo, where insectile characters in grimy environments would provide an alternate perspective of a world littered with gross-out, cringe-worthy imagery. Instead, this game proves to be anything but, as its roach concept is grounds for some charmingly innovative gameplay in a surprisingly heartwarming universe, though this cheerful journey is over all too soon.
The game’s premise is as simple as its execution, quickly dropping players into a scribbly-drawn, post-apocalyptic wasteland, without much needed explanation of when or how the world actually got to this state. The opening anthropomorphic character scurrying across the lifeless debris is, after all, just a nameless cockroach, the human-caused destruction playing no significance in his existence.
However, things soon escalate – or rather descend – as the youngling roach hurries toward a glimpse of rare vegetation in the distance but immediately stumbles into a pit and gets pinned under a barrel of waste. The perspective then shifts to reveal yet another childlike roach, waking in his comfy-looking underground abode at the sound of the crash. He is the game's main character, the only roach or entity that is actually playable, and here is where the adventure begins in earnest.
After you manage to rescue your cohort from his distressing entrapment, the two cockroaches instantly become best friends and set forth on a journey to get to the surface together. One would think this would be a relatively easy task of simply climbing back up a hole, but an endless succession of unfortunate and ill-timed circumstances force our characters further and further underground instead. Along the way they run into a series of oddball characters, including an insane, treasure-hungry rat and a group of peg-legged gambling grasshoppers, all hidden within a world controlled by experimenting ants brimming with plans of conspiracy and deep corruption.
Exploration is everything in this adventure. The core gameplay is entirely centered around (and fully utilizes) the fact that you’re a cockroach. Every surface in every room in every environment is fully traversable, unless immediately obstructed for one reason or another. Walk into a wall and your perspective fluidly rotates 90 degrees, quickly revealing the wall to be another avenue of discovery. Climb over to the ceiling from the wall and again the game’s entire perspective will flip, as even standing on the ceiling reveals an entirely new "room" to explore.
This gameplay twist is integrated into a fairly traditional model of classic adventuring, so you’ll find yourself working through familiar types of puzzling from the LucasArts era, but with an entirely new level of depth. You’ll encounter conventional inventory obstacles one room at a time, but they must be approached from every angle and perspective, using the floor, walls, ceiling, and the relationship between the three realms in order to cleverly advance through each setting.
To illustrate, in one scene you'll enter a musty basement cellar where an old belligerent bee wallows in depression about the lack of revolt within this militant, ant-driven community. The atmosphere is morose and grim, to say the least. However, make your way to the ceiling and your new orientation will reveal a bohemian lightning bug nestled in a hammock, chilling out to some Rastafarian ambience. The mood smoothly becomes lighthearted and uplifting, the music and lighting full of warmth and charisma. The same wretched dreariness of your initial encounter remains in the same room, only now it exists far above your head.
Alas, the firefly is fast asleep and this little bugger has to be awoken. By flipping back and forth between the warm ceiling atmosphere and the cold basement floor, you will eventually find a way to rouse him from his slumber on the ceiling through accomplishing other objectives on the floor first. This is one of the simpler executions of the game's topsy-turvy mechanics, but it's an example of how any given room's multiple dimensions are imperative to advancing the journey.
Unfortunately, Journey of a Roach sometimes feels like little more than a tech demo for its few inventive novelties rather than a full-fledged adventure, clocking in at only about three hours or so. However, its brevity and lack of substance are mostly forgiven because the heartwarming world and characters are so enchanting that the game feels like a simple storybook come to life. The cel-shaded art design, executed through beautiful comic-style graphics, allows for a large number of lovable character models, such as a flapper-styled grasshopper that only wants to dance for her sparsely attended bar and an elderly spider-lady who's overly protective of her grandbabies. I marveled at how cute and adorable the artists were able to portray fly larvae.Continued on the next page...