Release Date: June 30, 2008
Journey to the Center of the Earth is an Nintendo DS-exclusive title, which is peculiar since movie tie-in games tend to be released for every platform known to man. It plays out as mostly a 3-D platformer, albeit not a very well-designed one. You take on the role of any of the three main characters from the movie — Hannah, Sean or Trevor — and you can switch between them at any time. Each has his or her own uses, which the game makes sure you use frequently; Sean can climb walls, Hannah can throw rope, and Trevor can plant explosives as you hop around the levels that actually look pretty good for a DS game.
Switching between the characters is an easy task, but other than their skills, there's nothing to distinguish them. None of the characters have any personality, all play exactly the same, and there's no reason to play as any of them other than occasional moments where you need their skills. All the characters look like a low-end Nintendo 64 game, and they only barely resemble their movie counterparts.
They sound even worse. Hearing the sound effects each character makes is the only reason I would ever change characters. The sound design in Journey is abysmal and reaches the point of being so bad that it's good — during the first few levels, anyway, and then it starts to get on your nerves. You'll laugh at just how bad the sound effects are. The sound of a sword flying through the air is clearly someone saying, "Whoosh" into a microphone. The three characters' death cries have to be some of the least menacing death cries of all time.
Faring slightly better but still quite horrendous is the soundtrack. While it's very clear that the developers were trying to create an epic-sounding soundtrack, all you get is a minute-long loop for each stage that either goes unnoticed or becomes annoying enough to turn down the sound.
As I mentioned, Journey plays out as a 3-D platformer that more or less follows the plot of the summer movie. One might expect a halfway decent platformer here, as this game comes from the same team that did the Nintendo DS version of Tomb Raider: Legend. Unfortunately, the game manages to screw up in almost every area. Given the camera, the platforming usually plays out as side-scrolling sections, but the platforming itself is a bit buggy. Often you'll need to make a jump that requires your character to grab onto a ledge and pull himself up, which the game does automatically. Unfortunately, your character will frequently think that he can make the jump on his own and won't grab onto the ledge, leading to a plummet to his death.
The platforming is further hindered by the nature of the NDS itself. Directional pads do not make for very sharp controls in a 3-D platformer, and being restricted to eight directions of movement will rear its ugly head quite often as you play through the title.
As you leap about the poorly designed levels, you'll run into all kinds of hazards. Most of these will kill you instantly and put you right back at one of the numerous checkpoints. This makes the game slightly more tolerable, since you won't have to do everything dozens of times — only four or five.
This is another huge problem with Journey. There's a certain degree of artificial game time added in, and it's done in an extremely annoying manner. Many of the levels require you to find five runes to open a door at the end of it, but the game doesn't allow you to see the runes on the map until you reach the end of the level. If you missed any along the way, which is very easy to do, you have to go back and get them. You have to wait until it's almost the end of the game before you obtain the item to see the runes at the beginning of levels. This is unacceptable in modern gaming to add artificial game time by doing things like this.
The camera in Journey is even more aggravating. It's pretty much designed for you to move forward in the level, so when you need to go back through the entire level, the camera will usually not correct itself to allow you to see very well in the direction in which you're headed. Often, you'll have to make jumps based on guesswork from the map.
Breaking up the platforming section is a large amount of minigames, which range from mining to river rafting and rock climbing. Mining gives you explosives to throw at the enemies in the game, but it ends up being completely useless to do so, as just charging an enemy and mashing the attack button is usually more effective. By the game's halfway point, I discovered that mining acts as a checkpoint, so I started using the mining spots as checkpoints and nothing else.
Journey throws other minigames at you — bomb lighting, chase sequences, falling sections, fish beating, mine cart riding, rafting sections, rock sliding and rope tossing — but none manage to be any fun, despite making good use of the touch-screen. The only minigame I found enjoyable was the rock climbing one, which has you moving your character's arms to handholds on the rock face as you climb up.
There's no denying that Journey to the Center of the Earth is a bad game. It tried to do far too much, given the resources and hardware with which it had to work. The end result is a buggy, poorly designed game that suffers from numerous issues and very rarely gets it right. Those brief moments of fun can't outshine all of the title's problems: horrible sound, bad level design, bland minigames, and a complete lack of polish. You should pass on this one.