by Travis Fahs1
Little Big Adventure Review
Now Littler, Still Big.
It’s been a very long time since we’ve heard from Little Big Adventure. Created by Frederick Raynal after he pioneered the survival-horror genre with Alone in the Dark, it was a sprawling, ambitious adventure, meant as Raynal’s magnum opus. Along with its 1997 sequel, it offered a compelling vision of action-adventure gaming for a nascent third dimension, and to those that remember, it’s regarded as a classic. It’s been a long time since then, though, and DotEmu’s new port comes as a pleasant surprise, but also faces some serious challenges making a clunky, old-school PC game work with a simple touch interface.
I absolutely adored this game when it was originally released in the US as Relentless, but it’s hard not to recognize how dated some aspects are. The art design, while colorful and not without a certain naïve charm, reeks of early 3D modeling, with simple characters constructed from basic geometric primitives. The music is still wonderful, and the midi tunes have been rendered at a quality higher than most of our old FM cards could muster, but the horrid voice acting is almost offensive. Only English voices are available, but it’s not much loss, as the other languages were just as poorly acted.
If you can get over these basic presentational shortcomings, there’s still an ambitious and engrossing game here. Little Big Adventure follows Twinsen, a young man (a Quetch, actually, one of four species/races on the planet) who has been dreaming of the Goddess of a forbidden religion, and finds himself imprisoned by the planet’s despot, Dr. Funfrock (yeah, I know). It’s an obvious precursor to games like Beyond Good and Evil, and despite some silliness, it’s an adult game with a mostly serious tone.
Much has been done to adapt the game’s controls, and while the results aren’t perfect, the original controls weren’t exactly the best either, and it feels like a lateral move. The awkward tank controls are gone, and in their place a simple tap-to-travel system. This works very well, and doesn’t seem to seriously alter the way the game is played. Some of the other changes, however, demand a little more explaining.
One of LBA’s main hooks was its “behavior” system. Twinsen had four different “behavior” types that could be switched between on the fly: Normal, Sporty, Aggressive, and Stealthy. Each of these modes affected how characters would react to you, and would allow you to perform different kinds of actions; running and jumping in Sporty, fighting in Aggressive, and sneaking in Stealthy. For the port, DotEmu has streamlined all of these except for Stealthy, such that you’ll automatically switch to perform an action. Double-tap or jump anywhere and you’ll invisibly switch to sporty, and then back again when you walk anywhere with a single tap. Double tap an enemy and you’ll run toward him and automatically attack and fight, greatly streamlining the game’s awkward combat. There’s still a toggle switch for sneaking, however, so that remains pretty much unchanged. These changes work reasonably well, but the vestiges of the old system might make it confusing to some new players.
Graphically, very little has changed. The same untextured models and low-res isometric backgrounds appear here as they did in the original, with almost no added effects or enhancements. There’s no attempt to mask that this is a nearly 20 year-old game, but it’s still functional. There’s a little bit of scrolling, where originally the game had none, but the most striking change is the simple ability to zoom in and out with a pinch. This actually has some real gameplay repercussions, as you can now see a great deal further than you could in the original.
Alas, the game does little to address perhaps the original’s most vexing flaw, its save system. LBA’s save interface was notoriously clumsy and involved copying files and exiting the gameplay. This port has eliminated this nonsense, but it’s also cut out the save system entirely. You’re now at the mercy of the game’s autosaves, which might be fine if the save points weren’t both invisible and sometimes frustratingly far apart. This seems especially unfortunate in a mobile game, where brief plays or interruptions are a reality of the medium.
If you can get through this, LBA is still a masterpiece of design. It has a huge, fairly open world full of unique and varied scenarios, many of which have multiple approaches to complete, as well as secrets and optional areas to explore. It’s a positively huge game, as well, and while I couldn’t give you an exact hour count, it seems on par with most RPGs. It’s easy to get caught up in LBA’s world and story, just as it always was, but the lack of a better save system, or modern contrivances like a like a quest log/indicator do a lot to undermine this game as portable entertainment. Little Big Adventure is still best enjoyed patiently in long sittings, perhaps on a tablet, and is best taken with a heavy dose of nostalgia.
Summary: It’s great to visit this wonderful cult-classic again, but its adaptation doesn’t seem to have extended to an improved save system and the title shows its age in many ways.