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SummaryWhy don't play something strange instead of the usual stuff?
The Good"Little Big Adventure", the European title for this game, is in my opinion a much better name for this unique work of art than "Relentless: Twinsen's Adventure". Interestingly, Frédérick Raynal and some other members of the French development team were previously responsible for the first part of the "Alone in the Dark" series, that is inspired by H. P. Lovecraft, infested with zombies, and nowadays commonly credited as the grandfather of the so-called "survival horror" genre. I guess, in the early nineties no one would have thought, that the next thing, the designers would come up with, would be as cute as this. It must have been a strange surprise – like the entire game is, by the way...
Story and setting:
What makes "Little Big Adventure" so strange, is in the first place its narrative, that transcends the usual categories. The game world is hard to describe, as you can't easily compare it to something else. While most other story-telling games can be assigned to typical and well-known fictional genres like mystery, fantasy or science-fiction, "Little Big Adventure" eludes that way of describing it. If I was coerced into pressing this game into a fictional genre, I would call it a very weird fairy-tale. But still there isn't a comparison, that could really picture the setting of this game.
The whole thing takes place on a planet called Twinsun – as the name already suggests, not only one, but two suns are shining on this world. As each hemisphere has its own source of light and warmth, the climate is in fact the opposite of what we're used to: the tropical regions are on the poles, while the arctic regions are near the equator. There, a seemingly impassable string of snowy mountains, the Hamalayi, separates North and South.
Of course, there also is intelligent life present on Twinsun. There are four different races: the Grobos look a little like talking elephants and Rabbibunnies like oversized rabbits, while Spheros and Quetches are more human-like species, but also in a rather grotesque way.
At first sight, Twinsun is a very sweet and innocent place, where people have nice homes, nature is still healthy and little worries exist. It's almost like a childhood dream. But this impression is only one side of the coin: opposed to the dream is the nightmare beneath the surface. Already in the first minutes of the game, we learn about Doctor Funfrock, the tyrannous ruler of the planet. He doesn't think much about personal liberty, freedom of speech and civil rights in general. Most people don't rebel, but against those who do, he has a whole army of clones at his command.
To stop the evil Doctor is of course your ultimate goal in "Little Big Adventure". To do so, you adopt the role of a young Quetch with the name Twinsen, who has dreamed a forbidden dream and stupidly told other people about it. As even certain dreams are illegal under Funfrock's reign, you'll find yourself in jail, when you begin the game. In the course of the story you will learn very soon about an ancient prophecy, that you have to fulfill. You will discover, that your ancestors were practiced in magic. And you will have to watch, how sweet Zoe, your more than lovely girlfriend, gets arrested by two of Funfrock's clones.
Remarkable is, that "Little Big Adventure" never loses its light-hearted approach, no matter what theme it deals with. It also is a game, that can be enjoyed by all ages, except maybe the very youngest. While it does feature violence, it is portrayed in a very abstract and humorous way, that won't scare any young boy or girl around. And the dialogues are written in a rather naive tone, that everybody will understand. There is no irony, no sarcasm, no cynicism to be found. The game takes itself serious in its childishness. Some grown-ups may find this annoying, others charming – I lean towards the latter group.
Rumour on Wikipedia has it, that "Little Big Adventure" was originally planned for release on the SNES. There, it would have had good company with other action-adventures like the third part of "Zelda", with which it shares more than a few similarities when it comes to gameplay. "Little Big Adventure" has its unique twists, though. Firstly, the perspective isn't top-down but isometric. And instead of having a sword and other weapons you fight with your bare fists and throw a magic ball at your enemies. Aiming with that magic ball isn't to be called easy and requires some practice. Nevertheless the ball is your most important weapon and it becomes even stronger, as Twinsen becomes more skilled in the use of magic. Towards the last quarter of the game you gather an additional magic sabre, but by that time the ball is already more effective.
The most outstanding aspect about how the game plays is without a doubt the addition of different "modes" for the protagonist. In "normal mode" you can speak to people, open crates, read signs and basically can interact with your surroundings. In "athletic mode", Twinsen automatically runs, which is often useful, when you want to avoid fighting. The young hero also can jump when you switch him to "athletic", which adds some moderate Jump'n'Run elements to the experience. Finally there is "aggressive mode" to beat clones up and "discreet mode" to sneak past them. The easiest way to switch modes is with your function keys.
The game world is quite a varied one and actually rather big than little. You will come to visit several towns, dungeons, a desert, mountain ranges and military bases – among other. It's very well done, how the world more and more opens up as you make progress. In the beginning you can only explore a very limited territory in the southern hemisphere of Twinsun. But when you get your own ship, you will finally gain more freedom. Later, Twinsen will even find a way into the northern hemisphere and befriend a flying Dino, who will take him to the skies. All of this – how the hero becomes more powerful, earns new abilities, fills his inventory and explores the world step by step – is very well-captured "Zelda" style of gameplay.
"Little Big Adventure" features SVGA graphics, which was no standard in 1995. Therefore you have no scrolling, as it would most likely have overburdened contemporary machines. Instead of fluid scrolling, the game just jumps to the next scene, when you get to the edge of the display. But this is a small price to pay, when you look at the fantastic visuals. The textures are crystal-clear, there is an amazing attention to detail and every location has its unique style. Those little towns you'll come to visit are perhaps the best example. They look like a surrealist's impression of little real-life suburbs, where everyone has a nice home and a fenced garden. Trees and lush green meadows flourish together with happy and satisfied people. The visuals are strange, but appealing.
When in athletic mode, Twinsen moves a little awkward, but otherwise animations are absolutely wonderful. All characters are based upon polygons and particularly the enemies are done with style and quite often a lot of humor – in the end you may almost come to like some of them. For example the bulky soldiers, that are wielding their guns in such a funny way, when they make their patrols. They even have slightly differing personalities: while some fulfill their military duties with great accuracy, others prefer to take a nap and one guy even takes a pee behind a tree as you surprise him. As in "Alone in the Dark" – only in a much more comical way – some undeads found their way into this game as well. Despite their sluggishness they are actually quite dangerous for your health meter, until you found an item called "The Book of Bu", which makes them so awestruck, that they stop attacking – instead they will bow down at your feet in a brilliant animation, which is again very amusing to look at. In fact, even tanks look rather funny in this game, while bullets fly swiftly through the air like small, colorful ping-pong balls, that Twinsen has to avoid by all means. These rather cute enemies of this military caricature are perhaps the most important guarantors for the light-hearted feel of the game, that stands in contrast to the themes it's dealing with.
The soundtrack of the game is just as good as any part of the presentation. I was often humming certain themes – not only during play, but also afterwards. The only part, that is completely unprofessional, is the voice acting. But you've got to hand it to the actors: although they are certainly amateurs (sometimes with slight French accents), their weird performances mostly just match. For example, Twinsen's quirky voice surely needs getting used to, but after a while, I found his way of greeting people – wishing a "Good day!" or asking "How's it going?" – rather funny. In the end, the presentation of the game is creative, bizarre and above all coherent. The different parts, even the unprofessional ones, just fit together.
The Bad"Little Big Adventure" is a matter of taste – more than most other games. Much of that stuff I wrote in the section above could in another player's mind belong into this section. It's easy to like or even love the cute, colorful visuals and the childish dialogues. But it might also be easy to hate it or just feel too old for it. What is good style? The answer is subjective.
But "Little Big Adventure" has some objective flaws either. Above all is its tendency to be very frustrating. Sometimes you stroll around with maximum energy, suddenly get hit by an enemy, stagger around and collect a second and a third blow, until you die without having had a chance to react. This is not what I call a well-engineered combat-system. "Zelda" clearly is several steps ahead in this section, as it is less unforgiving to your mistakes and – thanks to a wider choice of different weapons and enemies – also a lot more diversified.
What is not only frustrating but enraging, is to die from running into a wall or a table! This is actually possible, as you suffer damage from bumping into objects, when you're in athletic mode. Even worse is the automatic save system, that doesn't allow manual saving. You can only copy existing save game files, which is very cumbersome. And the game just saves every "progress" you make – even when you get arrested! Especially in the beginnings this will happen quite often and it is a tad annoying to break out of prison, when you do it the tenth time already...
Another criticism I have is, that the game is too linear and therefore misses some opportunities. It has a huge and open world, but the openness is more or less wasted. Of course you can always do some backtracking, but in most cases you won't discover anything new. Why are there no secrets to be found? Or some interesting side quests? This would surely have given more life to the wonderful setting.
The quality in level design is decreasing. In fact, "Little Big Adventure" spends some of its most well-crafted dungeons early in the beginning. A good example is a temple beneath a desert, that is cleverly constructed, has some really good puzzles and is in addition quite long. Later areas are in contrast often very short and straightforward, which is a bit disappointing. And speaking of disappointments: the final battle against Dr. Funfrock took me less than a minute to win! And that after I went such a long and difficult way to face that guy...