Every few years a new game or series arrives on the market and is seen as one of the most revolutionary releases of all time. However, just like gaming hardware… This can go from the new standard to beat, to a harsh lesson of how not to make a game a few years later. Are older games as bad as we remember? Or are some older games seriously over-hyped instead? Let’s dive into a PC classic, with Little Big Adventure 2 (LBA2).
These days it’s expected that a big release will get a Playstation & Xbox release, with usually a PC and Switch port alongside it. You do get the exclusives titles such as HALO, Bloodborne, Forza and Uncharted and they’re usually marketed as a console exclusive, making you purchase whatever console you feels suit your gaming needs. But back in the 90’s the gaming exclusives were a lot more divided, each console had a huge array of exclusive titles but it was never fully advertised this way. While the Playstation and N64 duked it out with it’s own exclusives, it was the world of PC games that got some of its most interesting titles. See, the PC gaming world lived in it’s little bubble for some time and while there some ventures out there (Starcraft 64, Quake, GTA 2) you’d rarely see a PC game ported to console, creating a space in gaming history that has some absolute gems you won’t find anywhere else – one game in particular being Little Big Adventure 2.
Little Big Adventure 2 was released in 1997 was one of my first big adventure games. For the time I thought this game was amazing, a fully 3D open world, NPCs you could talk to with full voice acting (and also beat up), shops to buy items from, mini side quests for extra items and a long in depth story with full motion cutscenes. This was such a drastic jump from games I’d seen at the time and I was shocked that this game could even exist.
I feel we can’t talk about LBA2 without talking about it’s predecessor, and while LBA1 (released 1994) mostly followed the same concept I feel it’s aged much worse and suffers from archaic PC game design from the era. It used a 2.5D open world (as in the the world was a 2D backdrop with added depth to look 3D) which is a concept that LBA2 would also use for its interior environments, but is used for everywhere in this game, which loses a sense of wonder to the exploration. NPC models were 3D but they just seemed clunkier and a lot more blocky that other 3D models on other games of the time. The game is an absolute pain to install also, and this isn’t just an LBA problem, but for all PC games of the era as it suffers as an MS-DOS only version, and getting that version to work flawlessly requires some tech skills (although there a fan made patch made to address this later for Windows machines). But the worst part of LBA1 was the classic PC gaming trope of been way too cryptic and vague on what to do next. You talk to every NPC, you explore every corner, you use every item on every interesting block and it gets extremely grindy. This is also made worse by the fact that your character is a wanted criminal on some islands, or some other islands are in the state of civil war so it’s not that easy to get around. LBA1 was a compelling game and for 1994 was a pretty big deal, but isn’t a game I could recommend these days. LBA2 however had very few of the issues that LBA1 had.
Most importantly LBA2 had a windows version, pop the disc in, click install and you’re done, nice and easy. The world is fully 3D with hardly any loading screens so exploring is a lot more interesting. The best part that makes LBA2 so much more playable is the straight forward story and the in game map with markers telling you where to go, and if you don’t know where to go some one in town can tell you where to go next. It makes the game so much easier to play and much less of a headache. Not to say it was a simple quest pointer on where to go next, sometimes it did require you to ask around and do some exploring but there would always be someone who could give you the exact location if you asked around enough.
LBA2 follows the hero of the last game Twinsen, who lives with his girlfriend Zoe on Citadel Island on the planet Twinsun (I only just found out they were spelt differently) One stormy night his pet Dinofly gets struck by lightening and Twinsen has to find a cure to heal his friend, but along the way he gets sucked into a dark story of kidnapping, dictatorship and alien invasion that will take Twinsen to familiar places from the first game, to his planet’s own moon, and to far off planet of Zeelich. LBA2 story was nothing too abstract or over the top but for the time I feel it was a grand adventure that far exceeded everything out there. The areas you visited were pretty diverse and creative, the planet aforementioned planet Zeelich was always a great concept to me. The planet was covered in a thick layer of smog, so people lived on islands above this smog. There was an elevator that could take you underneath the smog to a volcanic underworld which was called ‘The Undergas’ which had it’s own array of interesting characters and islands. The Planet Twinsun sadly only features 2 islands but it’s large voice-acted cast of various species was a big deal at the time. Other games would feature some voice acting but never before had I seen a game before where every single character – big or small – had voice lines. What’s more is that you could beat up anyone you could get close to, this was at a time where games wouldn’t let you have such violent interactions with friendly characters, I found this to be another reason with this game world was so engaging. The music though, oh wow, it brings a smile to my face even now. The main theme is so upbeat and so jolly, but other parts of the game could be dark and sinister with looming music used to set the mood too, and the graphics do a great job of setting the mood too. Like most old games the graphics are noticeably blocky and low res, but I don’t think it’s bad. It’s the same way you’d look back at Half Life or Ocarina of time and understand that yes, they are blocky and dated, but not bad enough for just to dismiss the game. LBA2 also uses its colour pallet to it’s advantage too. The islands on Twinsun used a wide vibrant colour pallet that’s happy and endearing, whereas the planet Zeelich uses drab pale colours to install a sense of a drained society that makes it a uncomfortable place to be.
Mechanically is where the game has aged horribly though, even though I think a lot of game has held up decently well. The story is nothing spectacular but holds up for a 90’s PC game. The graphics while noticeably dated aren’t exactly ‘bad’ they’re just old. The music is still stellar and probably the best part of the game. The voice acting is ok, it’s not brilliant and comes across as a bit goofy at times. I sort of want to believe this was an intentional choice to make the game silly for younger players, but it’s okay at best. The gameplay though… it’s aged pretty badly.
Twinsen has 4 ‘behavior’ modes which can be changed at any point, each with their own unique ability with their interact key (defaulted to the space bar). Normal has a standard walking speed, the ability is to talk to people and interact with items. Sporty is the one you use most, Twinsen runs fast and space bar is jump. Aggressive makes you walk around like a drunk and can punch and kick and discreet makes you tiptoe around with the space key going into hide mode. It’s worth mentioning that all abilities can have the talk/use interact function assigned to any key, so that means normal mode isn’t needed, and discreet mode is needed only twice in the entire game, so for most part you’re in sporty or aggressive, and even then aggressive becomes pretty redundant once you get some more items. Twinsens main form of attack is his magic ball, an item that works as some kind of magic boomerang, you throw at people, switches, items you want to grab and it will return to you always. Other items you can pick up include a blowgun, darts, a mini jetpack and a healing horn. Now none of these are the actual issue with the game, it’s pretty interesting to have a diverse set of behaviors. It’s more so how punishing the game can be if you get yourself into a bad situation. One of the major issues is the build up to any attack. Throwing the magic ball takes a second or so to throw, the blow gun you have to bring to your face, throwing a punch takes a second for you actually punch and if you get hit at any point during this then it’s not gonna happen. The game also employs the horrible knock back feature. You get hit and there’s a second animation of you getting knocked back, during this time you still take damage, and the moment you’re out of that knock back you’re probably about to get hit again. This mechanic, combined in the late game where several people will be attacking you means it can get extremely tedious and tough to get anywhere, in fact I have no idea how I did it when I was younger as the only way I got through it recently was to tap the ctrl button (Which opens the behavior mini menu) as it nulls the knock back animation giving you a chance to attack but I shouldn’t need to exploit a game to beat it, it’s just poor game design. The game also features platforming elements, in the outside 3D world these aren’t a problem as the camera can always be centered behind Twinsen before he makes jumps. However when indoors the camera angles are set (using the set 2.5D angles) so you can never truly get a decent idea of where Twinsen is facing which can lead to some failed jumps.
Overall those were my only problems with LBA2. LBA1 suffered similar problems, such as running into a wall can damage the player and I’m quite sure the WinLBA patch addressed that by turning it off, but to my knowledge no such patch or game mod was ever released to change the knock back behavior in LBA2, and at this point there probably won’t, but that doesn’t change my opinion of LBA2. This game is so important to me for being one of my first big open world experiences, yeah I’d played a large array of games before this, Red Alert, Sonic 2, Doom 2 and those games all fantastic and some of my favorite games of all time, but LBA2 was something else. It was an epic adventure in a world of colorful characters who all spoke to me, who I could interact with and they could interact with me. The story kept me going to see what would be the next big twist in this ever growing tale that started out so simple. The music, the main LBA theme particularly has a special place to everyone who played this game, so much it had Kickstarter campaign for a symphonic suite. Little Big Adventure 3 was always rumored for years afterwards, but creators Adeline Software went defunct in 2004 so it’s very unlikely we’ll see anything, and even if there was a chance I don’t think it would fare well in gaming world of today. This is a type of game that belongs in its era, which is a shame, but also a blessing. What this game is for a lot of people will be a happy memory of one of their first big adventure games for all time, and as interesting as an attempt at LBA3 would be, I think the game is best left as a game I can look back on and smile over what an amazing game Little Big Adventure 2 was.
LBA1 and 2 are available on Steam and GOG, however the LBA1 release is the ‘enhanced edition’ (on Steam anyway) which is a poor attempt of a ‘enhanced edition’ as it’s a port of the Android port which used touch/ click to walk controls, and suffered from resolution issues. LBA2 is worth your time, but if you must play LBA1 I’d recommend finding a copy of the PlayStation 1 version as you’ll have some guarantee that it will run smoothly and safely.