Roguelites as a genre have become predisposed to being dark, gritty games that are excessively punishing grindfests. Every so often, though, a developer will try to break that mold by making something a little more lighthearted and vibrant. Away: Journey to the Unexpected embraces a brighter, more colorful world in which it takes place while also trying to pull in the best aspects of the roguelite genre, simultaneously. Players are thrown into an anime styled world inhabited by a nameless child protagonist who lives with their grandparents.
The kid’s parents have disappeared but nobody seems forlorn about this situation. Likewise, the grandparents also seem surprisingly nonchalant following what appears to be a loud noise coming from their basement. To the point that they send the child, armed with nothing more than a stick, down to investigate. At this point, players have the option to explore the family home where they may see some unusual drawings and even meet a frog that bathes in the toilet. This is pretty symbolic of what you can expect with the rest of AWAY Journey to the Unexpected. Things get weird fairly quickly and stay that way.
In the basement, players will find that a tunnel has opened up to a large forested area, but before they can explore they’ll be forced to have their first encounter with some minor baddies. This is also where it becomes apparent that AWAY has some issues with it’s hit detection. Every enemy has a health bar above it’s head along with a numerical indicator of just how many hits are needed to properly eliminate it, which is helpful. Less helpful, unfortunately, is the stick’s cross hairs that should help indicate the best time to attack. By default the cross hairs are a thin white line, but when it you are within striking distance of an enemy they become yellow with a red outline. Unfortunately, this change often takes place after the enemy has left the proper striking distance. Once it is too close to you there is nothing you can do but take the health damage that they dish out.
If you are fortunate enough to adjust to the shoddy hit detection, then you can continue on your adventure through the forest to discover that a mysterious goo is affecting the workers for an evil company and turning those employees into the monsters you’ve been whacking at with your stick. Your access to each boss is limited by three switches that you must locate and flip. In the first world these are hidden inside of a couple of mines that are randomly generated when you enter them, but in later areas the procedural generation is actually missing in action. Its almost as if the developers forgot it was one of their game’s selling points.
AWAY Journey to the Unexpected is determined to shoehorn itself in as a roguelite while maintaining that is a more laid back experience, and for the most part this could be a fitting description. There’s little to AWAY that makes it feel difficult, and that’s what makes the frequent deaths you’ll experience so baffling. Interestingly enough, there is an experience system in place and players can unlock eight permanent perks (such as short cut keys or additional health) that will help them on their journey. None of these upgrades prove beneficial to overcoming the game’s clunky controls, however, and that means a lot of player deaths feel cheap and unnecessary. Dying ends a player’s run and sets them back in their bedroom to start over again. And again. And again.
AWAY could have easily been a suitable experience for players to dabble into roguelites with a quirky and unique story arc. The ability to find additional characters and bring them into your party, as well as changing them on the fly for different abilities was a great dynamic that was just poorly utilized. It truly is a shame to see a game with so much potential be lost to finicky hit detection and features that were just never fully realized.
A copy of the game was provided for this review by the developer/publisher