Journey: Escape (Data Age)
When people look at high profile failures on the 2600 the list usually starts with E.T. and ends with Pac-Man with nothing in between, but there is a game that is oft overlooked by the general public and that game is the one and only Journey: Escape. This is the game that killed Data Age, the marketing for this game cost the company 4.5 million dollars, roughly adjusted for inflation that’s over twelve million dollars today, that may not seem like a lot for a game today, but think of it this way Data Age spent more on marketing for their failed game than it took for Naughty Dog to develop every single Crash Bandicoot game for PS1 or Gearbox’ to develop Gears Of War (Here’s a link to the article.) Due to the fact that this is a Data Age game it automatically gets a bad rep, but is it deserved? Critics back then didn’t seem to enjoy the game that much and it seems these days the game will get little more than a shrug and a “meh”, so let’s go in (kinda) detail and look at Journey: Escape, starting with the visuals.
This is one of the more visually interesting games in the 2600 library, and I don’t say that lightly, it’s clear that a large amount of effort went into making this game. There is a crap ton of stuff whizzing by, sprites everywhere and there is no discernible flicker to be seen, the only flicker I saw was on the intro screen, and yes the game has an intro screen. It’s an image of space with a large planet in the top right of the screen and a distant red planet at the bottom (that’s the thing that flickers) when suddenly the screen flashes and the large planet explodes releasing Journey in their giant scarab spaceship of doom, death, and destruction. The playable section of the game has the coolest background I’ve seen in a 2600 game, it’s just so pretty to look at. Obstacles are also well done if not slightly abstract; there are the shady promoters with their beige coats, shifty eyes, and fedoras, there are the raging hormonal groupies who are represented by giant love hearts with goofy little legs, then there are the photographers which are just large cameras with even larger flashes. Stage barriers also make an appearance, though they look more like those yellow things that were supposed to be cars in the 2600 port of Pole Position. Also this game has aliens, there are two types of alien, the blue ones that look kinda like the Alien Stalker from Escape From The Mindmaster, and their potato headed king, I like to imagine that the Potato King is my profile picture. Again, all of this runs smoothly despite there being times when there are over 20 sprites on the screen and with no flicker at all, truly a programming marvel.
The music is kinda terrible, I don't really like Journey, so I don’t really know, or care, what any of the music is, I know the music from the intro screen is Don’t Stop Believing (maybe), but whatever music plays when the game does is just blegh! It’s just a eight second loop that seems to be out of time with itself, truly a case that can only be solved by the mute button, a truly awful piece of ‘music’. Hmmm that was shorter than expected, so let's not dawdle and just get right on to the gameplay
Have you ever played Answer Software’s ‘Gauntlet’? ‘Cause this game is basically Gauntlet Lite. In this game you avoid things whilst trying to get to your scarab escape car before time is up or you lose all 50,000 dollars from the gig you just did. The premise truly is that simple, avoid the groupies, promoters, photographers, and stage barriers, whilst collecting the blue aliens for brief invincibility and Potato King for an extra ten grand (a drop in the ocean for him). A few problems with the game though… Issue one, you can accidentally run past your escape car which will result in a time out and a game over. Issue two, that escape car that you can miss can also move and is random in where it appears from. Issue three, you get WAY too close to the top of the screen when running at full speed, I get that it’s a risk and reward thing but you HAVE to run at full speed to reach the car in time, if you ran full speed without getting hit you’d likely have less than ten seconds remaining on the clock, oh yeah, this shit has a timer. But despite the detractions it’s still a fun and original little avoid ‘em game, a rather sparse genre on the 2600 (unless you count Activision’s earlier copy paste offerings.) It’s still worth a couple plays every now and then, and if you can beat the game… well you’re just a bit crazy.
Due to how common this game is I can’t really put it in the Collector’s Zone since its highly likely that just about everyone has a copy in their collection already. It’s fairly easy to find this game out in the wild, but I would recommend against going to Ebay since prices are a bit stupid. I originally got this game for a buck but later found an okay boxed copy in box for twelve dollars, a sad fall for a game whose advertising budget was as large as the development costs for Gears Of War 2. Not even Journey could save this game, who am I kidding? Journey ain’t saving anything anymore.