Pollution caused by the Daruma tribe is causing great harm to the planet Raguy and it’s up to you as Blue to partake in a platforming adventure to defeat this menace and save the Princess Fa. There was no shortage of platformers in the 1990s, but one appearing on the Neo Geo was unusual and with its leaf-stun mechanic and ability to change the hero’s size at will; make no mistake, Blue’s Journey offers up the potential for interesting gameplay.
The action takes place across several different locations. You’ll begin in the jungle, but also you’ll also be travelling to toy-like and more industrial-looking locations. There’s a varied bunch of creatures amongst the Daruma tribe’s ranks, many of whom look quite friendly, including two dinosaurs having a pleasant chat towards the end of the first level before you arrive and send them into a bit of a panic. Who’s the real villain here?
All of this leads to plenty of visual variety throughout the game, but there's a real lack of detail; sprites are small and the tile design gives a blocky appearance to the levels. The game is not visually impressive by Neo Geo standards, nor would it stand out on the SNES or Mega Drive, for that matter. Upbeat jolly music accompanies this action, although it's slightly abrasive and can become repetitive.
Blue’s jump is a little floaty, but the gameplay works well. You can leap on an enemy to stun it and then send it spinning off into others. This is a little imprecise however, so you’ll want to use your leaf attack instead. This too stuns anything that gets in your way, but you can then pick up the creature and throw it wherever (and into whoever) you wish. A powerup is available to increase the size (and range) of your leaf, and you can collect bombs or a boomerang for an alternative means of attack.
The ability to shrink down with the tap of a button comes in handy for accessing narrow passageways for bonuses and alternate routes through levels. That doesn't come into play that often, but it also makes the lead character quicker and able to perform bigger jumps. The caveat is that you're unable to attack in this form, but being able to whiz past the dangers is useful. It’s also possible for the miniaturised version of your character to jump atop a creature in some instances and ride it through some parts of a level, should they be travelling in the right direction.
Stages are fairly short and after the opening two-level Jungle Zone there are five worlds comprised of four levels each. You only play three of these worlds however, with the game (twice) giving you a choice of route to take. Gameplay can get repetitive with the various bad guys being dispatched in largely the same way for the most part, and some of the levels are unremarkable as you move left to right, performing some basic jumps to get through. There are fun sections too, with moving or falling platforms and moments where you can swing on vines; non-destructible projectiles and circular saw blades also shake things up. Underwater sections offer a change of pace, requiring you to be a bit more precise as you hope to swim safely through and take greater care when attacking.
With only fourteen levels in a playthrough, the game is over quickly, but it offers a stern challenge with attacks coming from both sides - and the sky, too. To help you out you can collect flowers that can then be exchanged for powerups at shops; one shop even sells warps to later levels. The biggest help comes from that standard ACA ability to add extra credits whenever you like, although this doesn’t completely remove the challenge. The game is generous with its invisible checkpoints, but you can still find yourself stuck on a difficult section. The bosses (fought on the final level of each world) also prove challenging as they move about the screen attacking and throwing smaller enemies at you; its quite easy to pick up a stray hit from all the on-screen activity.
There’s not a lot of depth to the game, but developer Alpha Denshi added a number of fun moments. Prior to some boss battles you are offered the chance to surrender, which you can take, leading to a grim picture of a ruined Raguy, blamed on “Blue’s irresponsibility” - or he ends up joining the Daruma tribe, an outcome he looks surprisingly happy about.
SNK mascot G-Mantle can be found hidden in one level and you can meet several characters on your journey including a man who will reward you for listening to his story and one who’ll ask questions; successful answers lead to a choice of useful abilities. Perhaps the most interesting is a rival who challenges you to a duel which then allows for a few different outcomes when you finally reach the game’s end.
It won’t take long to see everything in the game, but there are a few options for those seeking other ways to play. There’s a simultaneous two-player mode where player two is given control of Shadow Blue, who handles exactly the same as Regular Blue. There’s also the two standard ACA inclusions, such as the single credit Hi-Score and 5 minute Caravan modes, where you try to find new ways to improve your score and then see how you rank on the online leaderboard.
It looks basic but Blue's Journey can still entertain with some fun moments and precision platforming. Other times developer Alpha Denshi favours an increase in enemy numbers rather than cunning level design to provide the challenge, and it's at these points that the game can get really repetitive. There remains enough charm to prevent boredom setting in, but there's not much content to keep players coming back. The standard ACA Hi-Score and Caravan modes add replayability, but Blue's Journey is one players will be unlikely to take often.