Journey of 1000 Stars is an insane game. As in, raving-dog-with-rabies-insane. As in, when you have overcome what seems like a hardcore gaming achievement of a lifetime, the game greets you with a cheery, casual “Begin!” and turns the difficulty up by 100%. And then expects you to do the same incredible feat, 20 times over.
“1000 stars”. It’s in the name, the insanity. For new players, jumping and juggling your way to just 10 stars seems impossible. Getting to 30 puts you in the top echelon of elite players. When you hit 50, you feel like a gaming god, only to have the developer, Farbs, pour a bucket of ice-cold water in your face and present to you the reality of the game.
I have a high score of 69. That puts me at 4th best of all time on the Android leaderboards* and 20 points beneath the creator of the game. The Play Store description claims that the human record is 104 stars.
But all those numbers are irrelevant to the one number that matters. There is only one real factor to measure your success in this game: have you collected more than 1000 stars? If not, you have not succeeded. That’s what the name tells you. Anything less than a score of 1000 stars is just a stepping stone to the journey’s goal.
So what lets you keep going? What staves off the insanity? For me, it’s the friends I make along the way.
The game is incredibly well designed. Anything you do, whether it’s jumping on clouds or collecting stars, feels like smothering your face in cotton candy. The music by BigGiantCircles is a brilliant masterpiece of pure joy. When you die, the game restarts without you having to press anything, so that you are never prompted to even think about stopping.
The random movement of the clouds is so carefully balanced that it feels like there is something sentient placing them for you. They are never unfair. When you run out of things to stand on, you know that you should have thought ahead.
But none of this is to me the greatest achievement of the game. Nor is it the insanity of the goal of the journey, how brilliant that may be. It is the surprisingly complex relationship you develop as you journey and develop together with the “monsters” in the game that captivates me.
Let me take you by the hand, friend, and tell you the story of the friends you’ll meet in the great Journey of 1000 stars.
Stage 1: Anger
At 2 stars, a “friend” joins you. The orange. I’ll call it “he” for no specific reason. In the beginning, he follows you around. He is very much a “friend” in big fat quotation marks, as you experience again and again that he ruins your jumps and twirls by stomping on your head, or worse, jumps on clouds that you were supposed to land on.
You don’t understand him. “Leave me alone” you whisper angrily to him as he once again cuts short your perfect jumping arc. What does he want?
After 5 stars he subtly changes behavior. It’s not something new players will notice, but he stops following you and begins his own journey! He starts collecting the same stars you’re after! This only angers you more. Those are *your* stars!
Stage 2: Hate
If you’re perseverant, you’ll reach 10 stars, and now your troubles seem to double: another monster, this time red, joins you. Apart from having “cute” little flappy ears or arms instead of a crown, she doesn’t feel much different from the first idiot. She’s also trying to steal your stars, and thus, she must be an enemy.
Hunting the stars become downright dangerous now. With two maniacs jumping around wildly without a care in the world, your attempts to get to the stars first are ruined again and again. You get better at the game, so you get past 10 stars more regularly but once *she* joins, it just feels *unfair*.
“They don’t even get anything out of it!” you think. “I have a high score to obtain! They’re just stupid artificial gnomes out to ruin my day!” You no longer dislike them. You actively *hate* their presence.
Stage 3: Exploitation
A freak occurrence happens.
You’re falling toward the bottom of the screen, knowing that you’ll probably fail once more, already preparing for the next round of rivalry and combat. Suddenly, a cloud comes out of nowhere. You land on it, and survive for a short while longer, reaching a record 16 stars. You realize that it arrived because one of the idiots sent it flying your way. Not on purpose, but simply while doing their thing, hunting your stars.
You don’t think much about it.
Then, once again, you’ve almost ended another journey, when an even more memorable event takes place. The orange monster has fallen out a short while before you and now bounces energetically back out of the bottom of the screen, letting you take off on his flat head, sending you back in the game.
You’ve thought about this happening before, but didn’t really see it as a viable way to save yourself.
You realize that you might have been thinking about the monsters in the wrong way. Maybe the idiots could actually be useful. You start aiming for their heads more to get higher. You get in close and physical with them more often, since sometimes that actually works to keep you alive.
Stage 4: Avoidance
Patience is key. You’ve known this for a while now, since it takes a lot of patience to get to the close to 30 points, you’ve achieved now. But now, you take this truism to its extreme. Instead of going for the stars, trying to get them before your two helpers, you begin hanging out in the opposite side of the screen.
You only collect stars when they appear right next to you. If a star appears close, but not close enough to get immediately, you flee like a scared mouse as far away as possible, to avoid the mayhem you know is coming that way. The two monsters come stomping through, they get the star, their stomping rearranges the clouds for you and then they head off in a new direction.
This works wonders. You cultivate your patience, you focus only on surviving, on making sure there is always another cloud. You improve your high score.
But something is still missing.
Stage 5: Friendship
They’ve helped you a lot by now, the two sweet fools. You feel yourself warming up to their odd, carefree ways. You realize that the first five stars are actually the most challenging, since the orange one doesn’t start getting the hard-to-get stars for you until after five.
As you get comfortable with their presence, you also become more brave. Patience is important, sure, but sometimes the clouds are too fickle. Even though you’re focusing on survival, sometimes it’s just not working! It becomes clear that the true path to survival is to not only count on the clouds. You have to count on your companions as well.
Your interactions with them become more complex. Sometimes you join them in the hunt for the star and other times you let them have their fun. You weave in and out of their company, you help them get to the stars that you know you won’t ever reach, you let them jump on your head to make flat jumps, you get in, you jump, you move, you dance with them.
You break your record. You know you couldn’t have done it without them. You still have an incredibly long journey ahead of you. But suddenly, it doesn’t seem that far.
Because you have two new friends to bring along with you.
Stage 6: Betrayal
For the first time, you start climbing the late 40s. “OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD, ARE YOU SEEING THIS” you shout to your two friends, Crownie and Ears**. They are seeing it.
You hit 50 stars collected.
A new guy appears! He’s wearing skulls! He seems fun! The first two seemed bad at first, and managing three does seem harder, but surely, you’ll get used to it. Just like you’ve done before.
But what’s this? He’s not going for the stars? Oh my god, what is he doing??? He’s ruining EVERYTHING! He’s just jumping around from side to side, seemingly just creating as much chaos as possible.
He messes up your cloud formations. You fall to your death. 52 points.
It can’t be that bad though, right?
After countless trials, you get past 50 once more. This time, you’re prepared. You get a bit further. But then, he kills you once more.
You feel betrayed. You built up a more open mind towards strangers and strange things, and this guy just waltz in and takes advantage of that. You learn another lesson: some people should just not be trusted.
You embark on the next journey. Armed now with two friends and an iron-hard, scar-tissue-covered resolve to overcome your new enemy, you set your eyes on the ultimate goal.
*out of only 43 on the short list. It is sadly not a super popular game
**I’ve read in the excellent press release for the game that they’re actually called Monkey and Pigsy, but I’ll keep on calling them Crownie and Ears, thank you very much. The skull guy is called Sandy.