JOURNEY / Midway / Arcade
When I first played Journey, I assumed it started out as just some generic sci-fi game that some programmer at Midway was working on, when the fevered brains of the Corporate Leadership suddenly decided to capitalize on Journey's popularity with a license. So they just happened to select this guy's project, and hastily shoop digital cutouts of Journey band member faces into it. I'm not sure exactly how it went down, but after doing some reading, I'm now inclined to think this game was actually planned like this from the ground up, given that the trippy flashing face and the Journey spacecraft are apparently from cover art from one of their albums or something.
It's hard enough to get people to believe this game isn't a joke made by someone on the internet, let alone that it was actually planned and released as a commercial product this way.
I've never listened to the entirety of Journey's 1983 album Frontiers, nor have I dropped massive quantities of psychedelics, but I imagine this game would be a lot like the visions I would have if I combined those two activities simultaneously (this very process was likely how this game came to existence in the first place.) Journey's instruments have been captured by Groupazoids - apparently intergalactic groupies - and so they hop into their handy little spacecraft to go chase them all down. Trouble is, each is sequestered on a different planet, and only each individual band member can handle the raw power of their own instrument. I'm unclear as to why rabid Journey fans would want to keep them from performing by hiding their instruments behind deadly traps, but attempting to kill them with a barrage of artillery when they recover the instruments is even more baffling. This is the challenge each member of the band will face, however, first negotiating a timing-based trap to get to their instrument, then attempting to flee back to the spaceship before a barrage of cannon fire sends them on their separate ways.
The mini-games are OK, I suppose, for 1983 standards. Steve Perry must negotiate a rather easy maze of opening and closing gates before being viciously set upon by a never-ending tidal wave of deadly blocks. Neal Schon has to jump flashing bars on a downhill slope in something like Donkey Kong in reverse, Ross Valory times jumps among a series of rising platforms, and in all cases the level ends with a frantic blast-fest using the power of the instruments to make a break back to the spacecraft. It's all simple stuff that's been done in other preceding games, but something about the awkward digitized heads combined with the Mega Man-esque chiptune renditions of popular Journey songs of the era somehow makes it all at least a little appealing.
Apparently the game is supposed to conclude with a concert in which a cassette recorder inside the arcade machine would play a truncated version of "Separate Ways" while you controlled a security guard attempting to keep crazed groupies off the stage. I've never personally been able to get that far, as losing all three lives means starting the whole shebang over again, and if you're playing on MAME you won't get the full effect anyway unless they integrate digital sound samples. Personally, I think I've heard enough Separate Ways to hold me for a lifetime or three, not to mention played enough limited old-school arcade games. I have to admit this game is kind of bizarrely appealing, though. Definitely "so bad it becomes kinda good" territory.
* Gameplay Video