Your northern journey begins with your rowboat sinking: an unseen force has shot holes through it. You wake up stranded in a Norwegian fjord, and a mysterious travelling flute player tells you to gather three items for him, and he’ll help you leave. Simple enough, right? Well, you’ll soon find out just how bizarre the surrounding world with its inhabitants and the task you’ve been given are.
Initially armed with nothing but a slingshot and stones (your infinite ammo go-to weapon), you start exploring the surrounding world. Fighting off against numerous types of big creepy-crawlies (arachnophobes, beware!), along with more fantastical creatures like trolls, witches, and ghosts. And what would a Norwegian fjord be without a good old bear or two? Later, you’ll be picking up bows, crossbows, throwing axes and magical staves to fight off your foes.
Besides the initial motivator for your journey, there’s not much else to the story. It develops in some ways as you progress through the game, but it’s not throwing twists and turns your way. Despite this, it works well, and the conclusion it comes to is fantastic.
The best parts of the game are the atmosphere and level design. Be it woods, mountains, swamps, or anywhere else the music and the surrounding area fit together perfectly. Some places are filled with the sense of dread, like Nokkpond, with the titular Nokk forcibly drawing you towards the middle of the pond against your best wishes. Then there are pure atmospheric places like Fallcrush, where your sole purpose is to go upwards and onwards while soaking in the atmosphere of the mountainside. There are also pure horror-y segments, but I don’t want to spoil those. The game keeps on giving and always manages to capture the right atmosphere for the occasion.
The level design is fantastic in that it’s in many cases very vertical in nature, and as you keep looking around, you see high-up or down-below places from which you came or to which you’re going. Many areas also feature shortcuts like zip-lines, and using those is a blast as you get to observe all the ground you’ve covered on foot. Also, once you kill the enemies once, they’re gone for good. So even though there are moments of backtracking, you can sprint without a care in the world.
I’ll admit that there are a few segments (but I do mean just a few) where the clunkiness of jumping can get in the way. Like, within the Haunted Glacier, there are clusters of ice and whatnot on the ground, and while you’re trying to dodge attacks, you just often get stuck in them. But frankly, for a 3D game made by one person, lasting over 10 hours, it’s quite the achievement to make the game feel as smooth as it is. Other than that, I guess I could nit-pick about the save system where you want to keep saving as much as possible, but it’s only possible when it’s “safe”. There are a handful of longer segments where there are only a select few spots where you can save, so it’s mildly annoying if you get past a harder segment but can’t find a place to save the game.
Overall, Northern Journey is a game that I did not expect to be as good as it turned out to be. Hands down, it was my favourite game from 2021 by a large margin. It hit all the right notes with the atmosphere, accompanied by fitting music and non-gimmicky gameplay, while also not repeating itself and constantly keeping the game moving forward without detractors like side-quests and it most certainly deserves more recognition than it currently gets.
Publisher: Slid Studio
Developer: Slid Studio
Release Date: 18.8.2021
Genres: Action / Adventure
ESRB rating: N/A
Pictures of the game: Screenshots taken by the author.
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