“And now, the end is near
And so I face the final curtain
My friend, I’ll say it clear
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain”
-Frank Sinatra, “My Way”
“The following is a contributor post by the Lambda Mage.”
The original The Way was originally released following a successful Kickstarter campaign back in 2016, thanks to increased fan demand for puzzle-platformers like Flashback, Another World and the original Prince of Persia. What these titles have in common is that they feature a very distinctive pixel art style, somber tones and a dramatic, novelesque narrative. The Way makes no effort to conceal its roots in these classic platformers; in fact, it openly celebrates them through its direction style and general gameplay. Last year, the remastered version of developer Puzzling Dream’s original title was ported and re-published on the Nintendo Switch by Sonka, featuring some additions and gameplay fixes.
The protagonist and only playable character is Major Tom, (Space Oddity, anyone?) a scientist and former space crew member who sets out on a solitary – and ethically questionable – personal mission to uncover the secrets of an ancient alien race, which he believes will ultimately bring answers regarding his wife’s untimely death. Tom will tread through alien jungles, caves and temples in search for ancient technological artifacts in order to achieve his goal. As the player, you will solve environmental and contextual puzzles, engage in ranged combat and traverse patches of very precise platforming throughout your adventure.
In this review, we’ll be looking at The Way Remastered’s features, and how it holds up to platforming standards.
This game does an excellent job visually conveying its setting. The title screen features the grave in which Tom’s wife was laid, and from where she’s been retrieved. It’s a gloomy, dreary scene, that somehow lets the player know they’ll be on their own throughout the journey. The first chapter of the game takes place on Earth – you’ll start off in Tom’s cold, technical apartment block and follow him through his employer’s headquarters. It’s a heavily futuristic/industrial setting, quite the Blade Runner-esque environment. Although somewhat drab, everything is well-detailed, considering the limitations of the peculiar pixel art style this game adopts.
After this first chapter, you’ll eventually land on the nameless alien planet where the actual bulk of gameplay takes place. That is where this game quite literally shows its true colors! This new planet features diverse, colorful environments in contrast to the grey muddiness of the introductory scenario. It offers much greater depth in terms of what to see – the alien ruins and villages blend into their natural surroundings; the large caves, lush forests and deserts are beautifully represented through a particularly picturesque style of pixel art. At times, you might feel more like taking your time to look around than following your mission objective, and that’s honestly understandable.
The classic spritework, animations and visual/particle effects are also quite well-composed. Although sometimes it may be difficult to tell background contextual hints from foreground interactive objects, The Way Remastered tells much of what it is through how it looks, and, in that regard, I must say it’s still a very well-told story.
The Way’s soundtrack is cinematic and helps set the mood. Don’t expect any extravagant chiptunes or particularly memorable tunes, as the score in this game is mostly comprised of a somber, melodic combination of classical composition and synthesizers. The opening sequence (intro, Tom’s apartment and the warehouse) music adequately matches the surrounding darkness, but it’s nothing particularly noticeable. The planet, on the other hand, offers a little more diversity in terms of sounds. During your overworld trek you’ll hear an eerie pan flute melody, indicative of the mysterious wilderness surrounding you. Alien ruins feature mostly a droning tone sprinkled with techy synthesizer sounds. There are some intense action scenes in which the synth-bass kicks in to alert you of impending danger, but that’s the exception.
In terms of SFX, The Way Remastered also does a good job. Your blaster sounds like a blaster should. Your blaster beam downing an enemy robot sounds like it should as well. Nothing deviates from standard expectations, really. Voice acting is discreet but sounds professional enough. I particularly have no complaints about how The Way Remastered sounds, at all.
This type of platformer is a rather peculiar one, perhaps unlike what most players are used to. If you start this game expecting Mario or Metroid levels of speed and verticality, you’ll certainly be disappointed. Major Tom, like most humans, will not survive a fall from a considerable height, will not survive a laser blast to the face or being maimed by a ferocious alien bear, and, like Mega Man, he is also VERY vulnerable to spiky pits. In other words, it’s a one-hit death kind of platformer.
The Way Remastered requires strategic movement planning, and rushing enemies only really rewards you with a death animation. Its slow-paced nature means you’ll have to give most of your steps some thought, and as much as it can be frustrating not being able to tell whether Tom will survive a jump, the rewards certainly pay off as you progress through the story. So, this is a kind of game which just requires a different approach. You should let go of the standard action hero expectations.
This is where I particularly think The Way Remastered truly shines. The plot is straightforward: Tom’s wife passes away. He is as bereaved as he is unaccepting of it, and he proceeds to find a way to bring her back. He doesn’t quite know what to expect, but his love and faith are much greater than any possible sense of self-preservation and that’s what drives him forward (and into potentially dangerous alien caves). As I’ve said, Tom is not an action hero, he’s a scientist who must rely on his wits, technology and standard human athletic abilities to survive a perilous unknown world. I don’t know about you, but I find this kind of human, heartfelt storytelling very compelling.
I also appreciate how TWR is very concise in how it presents itself – there is often little to no text and very few NPCs to interact with, the plot is advanced through brief and effective cutscenes, and you can even find “memories” which give you some insight into Tom’s past life with his wife. I like how this game objectively establishes its lore, and the impending sense of loneliness really helps you get in Tom’s shoes in a meaningful way.
As you’d expect by now, The Way Remastered does not feature the typical hero’s journey. There are no legendary McGuffins, no prophecies to fulfill, no evil enemy to conquer. Instead, you’ll be facing the lonesome remains of an ancient alien civilization and follow the unrelenting quest of a grieving scientist trying to undo his greatest loss. Despite its otherworldly setting, The Way Remastered deals with the all-too-human themes of life, death, grieving, friendship and looking up to something bigger than ourselves. It’s a well-written, well-told story presented through a stunning visual narrative.
The Way Remastered is a pretty good introduction to Delphine Software-style platformers. If you think Another World and Flashback are perhaps too dated, or the original Prince of Persia is too clunky, it’d be fair to give this one a try just to see what this kind of game feels like. But, as I’ve said, it will put you through some tight, finnicky platforming and cerebral puzzle-solving, so perhaps this is not a very interesting game for the action-oriented. The introduction chapter serves a discreet tutorial of sorts, during which you’ll be taught how to move, aim, jump, and how you should always take heed to environmental hints. The alien temples where you’ll unlock your mid-game abilities sort of serve as their own tutorial levels, but this game does not hold your hand for long nor does it give you much margin for error. It’s a game almost held back by its need for excessive precision.
Puzzle-wise, TWR expects attention to the environment and a considerable degree of logical reasoning from the player – the game makes it nearly impossible to get a puzzle right by mere chance. Platforming-wise, it demands more focus and tight motor control than your average action-platformer. Somewhat like classic Mega Man, TWR does not forgive reckless movement, and I understand why some players might be turned away. Combat plays out similarly – it’s all about learning when to take your shots and staying out of harm’s way. The difficulty curve is neither steep nor shallow, it just plays out as you uncover new abilities and you’re expected to put them to use.
It’s been established TWR has clearly drawn inspiration from similar (aforementioned) older games, so there’s not much in terms of modern games it’s comparable to.
That doesn’t make it better or worse than other platformers, just different. It’d be out of place to compare it to anything other than the games that inspired it. It’s by no means a revolutionary title, but it’s a well-produced homage in its own merit.
My Personal Grade: 8/10
I’ve always been one for lonesome, introspective experiences in games. Super Metroid was my first game ever, so I’ve always been interested in visual storytelling, silent protagonists and feeling lost in scarcely inhabited alien worlds (Hollow Knight comes to mind). The Way Remastered delivers all that in a concise package which adequately caters for players such as myself. It doesn’t pretend to be anything more than it sells itself as, and while I understand it’s not a game everyone would enjoy, I certainly had a great time with it.
Aggregated Score: 7.6
The Lambda Mage is a psychologist and electronic entertainment enthusiast, collector and critic, primarily obsessed with producing catalogues and lists of all sorts. Also a numismatist and bibliophile, you can find him at @lambdalogs.
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Categories: Game Review