Name: Journey to Silius
System: Nintendo Entertainment System
Genre: Run and gun 2D side scrolling platformer
Release Date: September, 1990
(Editor’s Note: This review was done playing a US copy of Journey To Silius to completion on a North American Nintendo Entertainment System, both being purchased by the reviewer.)
Journey to Silius is very interesting, yet obscure run and gun game. Developed and published by Sunsoft, the game falls into an odd space graphically, musically, and mechanically. This title focuses mostly on shooting and traversing the environment through jumping from one platform to the next in a ‘stage to stage’ structure. However, it does not function at all like its peers in the genre.
In Journey to Silius you play the role of Jay McCray. The year is 0373 of the space faring era. Jay’s father, a prestigious scientist, is working on a project to develop and create a space colony within the Silius Solar System (SSS). Unfortunately, he and the rest of his research team are killed in a nuclear explosion that completely obliterates the entire station. Jay is told that his father’s death was simply a freak accident. However, after searching through his father’s room at home, Jay finds a floppy disk with a text file explaining that terrorists had been planning an attempt on his father’s life to stifle the creation of the space colony. Jay decides to follow in his father’s footsteps to develop the space colony, but not until he makes his way to Silius in order to find these terrorists and kill them, thus avenging his father’s murder.
The story is very disjointed and some areas of it are ambiguous, but not in a way that makes it seem like it was intentional. As a result, there’s a bit of disconnect between the narrative and the core game play of Journey to Silius. Also, there is only one cut scene which explains this and there are no other scenes that carry the story along throughout the game, so there is no real character or story development. This would not be necessary in normal cases, but this game made the start and does not have any follow through. In the end, the game’s story is pretty weak.
However, the other aspects of Journey to Silius are most likely to make you overlook this one shortcoming. The shooting portion of this title is solid as it takes a cue from other Nintendo Entertainment System games like Bionic Commando and Rolling Thunder. There is no aiming upward or in diagonal directions. This could normally cripple a run and gun game made after the game Contra, but each of the stages in Journey to Silius is designed to cater to Jay’s shooting capacity. Another aspect of this game that makes the shooting more accessible is the inclusion of an inventory where Jay can access any guns he finds after killing enemies. Jay starts out with a simple hand gun and a shotgun, but can eventually acquire weapons like a laser cannon and grenade launcher. All the other special weapons have and share a limited amount of ammunition as where the hand gun has unlimited ammunition. Some of these weapons will make some sections of certain stages much easier to get past without taking on damage.
One interesting thing to point out about the enemies in Journey to Silius is that most of them are environmental hazards like distant missile silos, ceiling and floors mounted laser cannons, land mines, flame throwers, motion sensitive spear contraptions, and so on; not necessarily just sentient enemies. There are sentient enemies that range from slow to fast and some are armed and this combination both sentient and level centric dangers combines to make a great challenge for gamers who seek to test the mettle of their game playing prowess. Another core aspect of Journey to Silius is the platform game play. This is the very thing that requires getting used to, as it does not function like any other game of the genre that uses a jumping mechanic. Jay is able to run, crouch and go prone, and jump to the right and left. The surprising aspect about the jumping physics is that while in the air you have little control over Jay, which is much more realistic than other games that came out around this time. Also, if Jay runs off an edge he will fall in a diagonal direction rather than falling straight downward, again going with the grain of realistic movement.
With increased realism in movement comes increased difficulty. With that, Journey to Silius has a significantly steep learning curve. This is not for anyone who is not willing to unlearn movement and jumping mechanics of other popular platformers like Mario and Mega Man. Most first time players will find themselves falling on top of enemies and hazards that they were inherently trying to avoid. Another part about the jumping in the game is whether or not you are in the middle of a jump, getting injured will make Jay shunt backward. If you were in the middle of jumping over a bottomless pit and get injured in the process, chances are you will be met with instantaneous death. Journey to Silius’ difficulty is substantial, but it is not cruel; it is just unforgiving. The controls in this game are solid and responsive for the most part. The only weird part about the game in terms of control is that while changing direction or going into a prone position you cannot jump. However, this is just a small issue and can again be chalked up it being because of this game’s theme of mechanical realism.
The graphics in Journey to Silius are fantastic and exceed the watermark left by other games that have come out during the same year. Everything from character sprites to the stage environments to the bosses that takes one half to the whole screen, the artwork crammed into this 2 Mbit cartridge meets the current standard at the time. Jay’s animations have three frames at the very least with ducking, but can range up to five frames when he turns from left to right and vice versa. Each action stage is more unique than the last with one of them having some automatic scrolling action. You will not see the same enemies from one stage in the next, so there is not a lot of rehash when comes to the level design making the experience fresh.
The high point of Journey to Silius has to be well made and exhilarating musical score. The music of this game is quite possibly the best you will ever find on a Nintendo Entertainment System title or any 8-Bit platform from both a technical and entertainment perspective. Journey to Silius is one of the few games of the time that has actual base tones in the music. Sunsoft uses this sound technology to create the most heart-pumping and dynamic soundtrack that will provoke and convince you to press forward through the frantic action of shooting mechanized enemies while trying to traverse the tricky pit and hazard riddled level environments. Actually, the music in this game is more bound to drive you to play it from start to finish than the story the game tries to have. Though the soundtrack is absolutely phenomenal, there is a bit of rehash with the music. The first stage’s music is also recycled for the final stage. However, the overall quality of each of the tracks sort of makes this a moot point.
One thing that cannot be overlooked in terms of the audio in Journey to Silius is the sound effects. Nearly all of the sounds in it are recycled from previous games developed by Sunsoft. They are not altered or improved in any way to complement the soundtrack in any sense. This aspect, like the story telling, gives off the impression that no one involved made any attempt at making the effects original. Another issue is that most off the sounds are so low in in volume that they are drowned out by the bass heavy music featured in Journey to Silius.
There are a couple of minor issues that may rub some gamers the wrong way. To start, if Jay is in the middle of a ducking or turning animation, pressing the ‘A’ button to jump will yield no response. Another quirk in Journey to Silius has to do with health and ammunition power-ups. The inclusion of both can hypothetically aid you in the game. Unfortunately, these pickups (specifically the health) are so woefully seldom that you will probably forget that these power-ups even exist. Though this is the case this goes along with the overall difficulty of this title.
With that being said, Journey to Silius is an unforgettable experience. Despite a few kinks in this game it stands well with its immense difficulty. With its breakneck and frantic shooting and side scrolling action, challenging platform game play, a robust arsenal of weapons, and an absolutely phenomenal soundtrack Journey to Silius is bound to delight both the hardcore and the general game enthusiast and will make a great addition to anyone’s NES library. No one should go without experiencing this undeniably classic game.