Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Little Big Adventure 2 (MS-DOS)

Little Big Adventure 2 logo screenshot
Today's 'L' game is classic DOS action-adventure sequel Little Big Adventure 2. Though it'd be a 'T' game in North America and Brazil, as the game was retitled Twinsen's Odyssey. I've no idea why the people in charge of the America release had such a hate on for the original name, but at least they picked something that fits better this time around. The first game was about a friendly magician who lived in a cartoony world of rabbit people and elephant folk, and they renamed it Relentless! That's the video game title equivalent of drawing frowny eyebrows on Kirby game covers.

I don't think I've ever played this before, but it's hard to know for for sure. I definitely gave the first Little Big Adventure a go early last year though, and I wasn't impressed. The game came out in 1994 and they hadn't figured out yet that it's not a good idea for the hero to lose health by walking into walls. I hope three whole years was enough time for them to think hard about what they did and come up with some improvements for the sequel.

The game starts with a slow pan across LBA 1 protagonist Twinsen's new house, as he explains that he's been doing well since saving the world and even has a kid on the way. Though he seems to have gotten bored halfway through wallpapering the baby's room. Seriously, there's paper half hanging off the walls in here.

Then the camera pans out of the window, the cheerful music begins to soar and... takes a weirdly foreboding turn just as things seem at their happiest. Here check it out for yourself: youtube link, I started getting really worried for poor Twinsen just after the 2 minute mark.

The camera eventually finds Twinsen and his heavily pregnant wife down at the beach, slacking off when they should be decorating. Though they soon make a run for the house when a storm blows in and they're soaked with rain.

It then cuts to the clouds where Twinsen's pet dragon is struggling a bit in the wind.

Oh damn, he'll be struggling a bit more now after that.

In fact the guy drops out of the sky like a rock and crashes right into Twinsen's back yard. I get impression his x-rays won't look so pretty no more.

CD loading screen! Or a 'voice file transfer' apparently. Gotta love games that go out of their way to break the mood and remind you that you're playing a video game by showing the lead characters dancing on the game disc.

They're not lemmings by the way, in case you're wondering. They're quetches, one of the native intelligent species on the planet Twinsun. There's also rabbibunnies, who look like rat-men with rabbit ears and... actually that's the only other species I can remember because their name is awesome.

Hey, this place doesn't look anything like it did in the intro video! The layout's all different.

Wait, you want me to find a cure... for getting struck by lightning and falling a few hundred meters from out of the sky? But... it's pouring down out there, and I only just changed my sweater!

Oh okay fine, I'll go out and find him a 'cure'. Or a vet at least.

First though I need to see if the controls have improved at all since the first game.

Little Big Adventure 2 behaviour select screen
Wow, I honestly wasn't expecting to see this screen again. The game came out mid 1997 and it still makes the player choose between different movement modes. This was kind of forgiveable back when the first game came out and developers were still experimenting with 3D, but this came out a year after games like Tomb Raider and Resident Evil.

Here's how it works: the different behaviour modes affects Twinsen's movement speed and what the action button does. Normal behaviour makes him walk and interact with objects, Sporty mode lets him run and jump, Aggressive gives him combat moves and makes him walk around grunting and waving his arms, and Discreet is slow stealth mode. Though whatever mode I pick his turning speed will always be as it is in the image above. The game has Resident Evil style tank controls and it's a real effort to change direction.

Wow, I'm doing pretty well so far. It's a good job I ignored my goals entirely and went 'interacting' with cupboards instead. I found a key, introduced it to a locked door, and ended up getting a Magic Ball for my trouble. This is actually fairly big deal as it might be the most important weapon in the game. Man I really hope the game was going to send me down here at some point, as it seems a bit harsh to expect players to stumble down here on their own.

Hey there's a map in here as well.

I'm on Citadel Island! This is where I started off in the first game as well, and it seems to be pretty much laid out just as it was back then. Though there's less sandbags barriers and guard posts around these days, plus it seems that they blew up the actual citadel at some point. I had to escape from that bloody prison facility so many times in the first game, so I can't say I'm sad to see it gone.

Well there's a big red arrow hovering above the pharmacy I need to visit, so I suppose I'll leave the house and go point myself towards it. After raiding all the cupboards on the way to the door of course.

Whoa, the outside world is all texture mapped 3D polygons now! In the first game the exteriors were just like the interiors and it was a pain to see where I was going.

The camera jumps between different views like an early Resident Evil game as I walk around, but the world definitely isn't a pre-rendered background (my first clue came when I discovered that I can reset the camera behind me manually).

Well I've just learned that my car needs a new part so I'll need to need to speak to someone called Baldino about that as well while I'm out. No idea where I'll find them though. I bet Twinsen himself knows but he's just not telling me.


SOON.


Surprisingly it turns out that the pharmacy really didn't have anything to treat a Dino-Fly who had been struck by lightning and dropped out of the sky, though a customer overheard my plight and offered to help me out. But then someone stole the customer's umbrella so now that's suddenly become my problem.

The thief keeps noticing me and running away whenever I chase him, so I guess I've got to be more 'discreet'. In fact you could say that I've got to switch to 'stealth behaviour mode' and stay out of sight. Would it have been so bad to drop the modes entirely and just add a stealth button to hold down? It's not like the game was ever ported to a system with a shortage of keys to press.

I will get this umbrella back though, as I've decided that this guy's unworthy of it. I mean he hasn't even tried opening it yet to keep the pouring rain off his head.


SOON.


With his umbrella returned, the customer was only too happy to tell Twisen about Ker'aooc the healer. Apparently he "knows tricks that would cure anything, even a Dino-Fly". Though he stops short of actually giving me an address. All I know is that the healer's on White Leaf Desert Island, and I'm not, and it's up to me to figure out how to resolve this issue.

In the first game I remember solving a box pushing puzzle to get myself a ferry ticket, then taking a boat to the next island, so perhaps I'll head down to the docks. Though I also remember that I was wearing a blue robe that gave me magic by that point and now I'm feeling under-equipped for travelling.

Well there's my robe, locked away behind a security window at the Twinsen museum. Can you believe he had to pay 15 Kashes admission to get into his own museum? Twinsen's far too polite to argue about it though, even though he was clearly a little annoyed.

Anyway the owner is more than happy to let me have my magic tunic back, but the lever to open up the display case is in the room upstairs, and the door's jammed so nobody can get inside. It's a good job there isn't a world threatening emergency going on right now, as I'd kind of need this in a hurry.

Alright I either need to locate an item that can open jammed doors, or find an alternative way inside, though they're not likely to have left the security room window wide open.

Man, I really need to get myself a better museum.

I climbed in through the window, flicked the lever to open the display case, got back out, paid my 15 Kashes admission (again) and... the display case had shut again by the time I'd got there.

Turns out that I missed the second button on the security console which opens the jammed door and let me stroll back down to the ground floor without paying. Man, I had to search like five different cupboards and bins to scrounge together that cash! Fortunately the money respawns when I leave an area and come back so I can never bleed the island dry.

Okay, to the ferry then, and White Leaf Desert Island!


LATER.


Agh, too many words! My screen's been blocked off by a wall of text. Couldn't he just use a message boxes like everyone else in this world? Especially as the game has full speech, so this is basically just subtitles for me.

Okay here's the story so far: I went to the docks, but couldn't buy a ferry ticket because the bad weather is preventing boats from leaving the harbour. I was told there to go find the Weather Wizard, who is the only one who can sort this storm out. So I went off asking NPCs for directions until I finally found him living near the ruins of the old citadel.

But now the Weather Wizard needs me to go find the lighthouse keeper, so I have to go out asking NPCs again! I don't get to choose my own dialogue, but I have to give the game credit as Twinsen will always talk about what's on his mind. If he needs to get somewhere or find something, then that's what he'll ask people about. It makes a big change from some of the retro games I've been playing lately where it's been a real effort to find the next person who had anything relevant to say.


SOON.


Okay, people seem to think that the lighthouse keeper is down at the cliffs. Though there's cliffs on either side of the island so it took me a fair while to figure out where exactly I was meant to be.

This has to be it though, as there's a cave entrance on the other side of these rocks. Plus there's a sign at the top that just says 'cliffs'. I'll have to do a little bit of platforming though first to get around to the cave.

Yes... no! Fuck. I almost had it.

Twinsen is about as good at jumping as he is at turning around (and even worse at swimming) but fortunately I do start with an extra life, so this wasn't permanently fatal. Fuck that though! Unlike in LBA1 I've got a save game button this time around, so I'm not wasting one of my precious retries leaping across rocks that might not even take me where I need to be.

he wants to tun me into a rabbibunny-melba screenshot
Hey this really is where the lighthouse keeper has been hanging out!

He's been captured by someone called Tralü, and I didn't get far into the first game so I'm not sure if I'm supposed to know who that is. He got a name like a metal band though, so I'm going to avoid running into the guy if I can. Twinsen's only slightly better at combat as he is at jumping and turning, and there's no experience points in this game, so I'll probably last longer if I resist the urge to kick every enemy I meet down here in the face.

Okay I need a key to get this gate open, so I'll go raiding the barrels lying around and see what turns up.

No luck with the barrels so far, but I've found another way to get gates open. These levers can be activated with a direct hit from my yellow magic ball, and I'm going to keep fine tuning my aim and lobbing it over until I eventually get it to connect.

I know for a fact that this has to work eventually... I kind of gave up and checked how to get past this bit in a walkthrough.

Look at all those faces in the rock, laughing at my failure. Jokes on them though... I'm the universally beloved saviour of the world, and they're a face stuck in a cave wall. And... I finally nailed it. The door's open, and I can proceed to the next room of this flick screen isometric dungeon, while they're stuck here forever with only respawning bats for company.

Agh, fucking bats! Actually I think that was a bird this time, but it's same deal. They can't hurt me much, but I can't hit them much either so neither of us can really find much satisfaction here.

And then I go and slip off the bridge into the water and get Twinsen killed again. The funny thing is, I actually made it to the other side and unlocked the gate. But I continued to hold the up button, so he slid right off the still opening door.

Mr Tralü I presume?

He keeps spitting three way shots at me and I can't get close without getting stunlocked, so now I'm trying to keep my distance and throw my magic ball at him. You can see it sailing past him on the left right now in fact!

If this game forces me into many more fights after this we're just not going to get along, as the combat in this really is kind of terrible. I'm not finding it any fun at least, even when I'm winning. Yep I actually beat Tralü first time here and saved the lighthouse keeper with only a tiny bit of my health bar remaining.

Interestingly Twinsen's wife Zoé was there to meet him at the cave exit and the two of them went down to the lighthouse together. I'm still actually controlling Twinsen right now though, walking through the rain with his wife so that they can both watch the Weather Wizard clear the storm together.

I'm really struggling to think of another game where the hero gets married and actually does things with his partner in game like this. I keep expecting for her to suddenly get kidnapped again (like in the first game) to give Twinsen the motivation to step up and be a hero, but it's cool that they've resisted that cliché for now.

The wizard summons a CGI cutscene and the skies finally clear! It seems like a lot of effort just so I can take a ferry ride and find a healer, but I'm sure Dino-Fly's worth it.

But then aliens arrive in their yellow UFOs and announce that they come in peace. Those bastards.

They couldn't land until the skies cleared up you see, but they're here now and... well, I guess they'll be hanging around in future, doing a bit of shopping and checking out the sights.

Twinsen pops his head inside one of the UFOs to see what they're up to, and discovers that they're much squarer on inside. Plus the aliens are coming up with cunning disguises and apparently scheming to spy on him, but like always he's much too polite to say anything about it.

Speaking of Twinsen's voice, he's got a new voice actor this time around and sounds far more awake and enthusiastic about things. He used to sound like a bored Tintin but now he sounds like more like a regular Tintin. It seems like the actors weren't really given all that much context for their lines though, as they sometimes come out with weird readings or put the emphasis on the wrong words. Not the rabbibunnies though, they're always great.

Oh right I'm supposed to be saving my injured Dino-Fly aren't I? Can't quit until I get this guy healed.

You can really see the limit to the draw distance in this shot, though I can at least see all the way to the docks from the hill behind Twinsen's house. That's like half the island! It's going to be handy too as I need to take that ferry and I think the camera's forgotten that it's supposed to be following me around.

I've gotten into the habit now of tapping the key to re-center the camera behind him every few steps so that I can see where I'm going. It's a bit of a pain, but on the other hand I'd have hated Resident Evil a whole lot less if they'd given me a camera button in that, so I'm disinclined to whine.

Ever get the feeling that aliens are staring at you wherever you go?


WHITE LEAF DESERT ISLAND.


I'm definitely getting the feeling I can't kill them yet. Well I can't take down the two or three that I've found hiding behind walls and boxes anyway. I did manage to beat up an antagonistic bin earlier though, keeping him off balance with a series of devastating punches and kicks (I switched to aggressive behaviour and held down the action key while pulling in his direction until he eventually died). I wouldn't recommend trying it yourself, as he dropped basically nothing afterwards. I would've gotten more just by searching a regular bin!

I found the umbrella guy again in his shop, but this time he told me that the healing wizard was out and I should go looking at the school of magic instead. So I went asking around for the school of magic and someone told me to ask the guy at the Hacienda... this is basically what the game's going to be from this point on it seems, going from NPC to NPC until I reach the one who can actually help me.

On the plus side, by barging into every shop on White Leaf Desert Island I eventually stumbled across the guy who had the part for my car! One ferry trip to Citadel Island and back later and I've got little 4x4 kart to drive around the hills in! Zoé was the one who fixed it up and brought it over for me, so she's still around and helping out. Still not kidnapped yet either, surprisingly, considering all the aliens sneaking around in town.

Look, there's one disguised as a cactus on on the left right now, trying to snipe me as I drive past. I'm on to you mate. It's hard to really feel threatened though when most of the time the music sounds like something out of The Sims.

Wow, I think I've finally solved the mystery of why racing games never tried using Resident Evil-style cinematic camera angles. I think I'll stop screwing around on the track now and go back to hunting for this school of magic.

Man, I must have heard him say "I'm trying to find the school of magic," a dozen times by now with the exact same voice clip.


LATER.


Aha, a secret winding path leading into a graveyard.

Yep, I'm pretty sure I'm on the right track now.

Man, now I have to get past all these ghosts before I can even get the gate open?

Fortunately it didn't seem to occur to the designer that I can just leap off the stairs, jump from table to table, and skip the puzzle entirely. Hah, you wizards ain't so smart. I'll break into your tiny desert island Hogwarts yet.

Oh balls.

Those crafty bloody wizards have rigged this place to shower me with hurt if I try running up to the chest to get the key. All I want to do is find a guy to heal my Dino-Fly! I don't deserve this!

Then when I finally do figure out how to get to the chest, I have to turn around and get back through the patrolling ghosts to get out again, and this time there's no way to jump across tables. Guess that puzzle designer knew what they was doing after all.


LATER.


You're shitting me. I did all that work to get here and now I have to pay 120 Kashes to enroll before I can learn healing magic. I only have 115 Kashes on me! I'm going to have to leave, find the cash, then fight my way past the ghosts and balls again to get back inside!

This is all that asshole at the Twinsen museum's fault! If he hadn't charged me twice I would've had the money already. I'm going to make damn sure he gets an exhibit all of his very own when it comes to update the place, about the asshole who made the saviour of the world search through bins for spare coins all because he couldn't recognise the face of the most famous person on the planet.

Hang on... is that rabbibunny dressed as a bunny girl? Well I guess she is a magicians assistant.


EVENTUALLY.


Now that I've finally paid to join wizard school I've been given three trials to complete:
  1. Hit eight moving targets with my ball within a time limit.
  2. Find a rare plant hidden out in the desert.
  3. Make my way through an invisible maze suspended above an infinite void.
Well I'm fucked then aren't I?

Actually to be honest I'm doing quite well so far, attacking each problem with renewed enthusiasm and perseverance, now that I know for sure that none of these tests involve having to fight anyone or ask a chain of NPCs where to find something. Plus I'm not just in this to heal my Dino-Fly anymore, I'm doing this to get my very own robe and wizard beard!

Then maybe the alien bins won't recognise me anymore and they'll leave me alone for once.

I did it! I cured my Dino-Fly, and all it took was mastering the mystic arts, banishing a storm, getting some radical air in my 4x4, leaving the world vulnerable to alien invasion, and asking every single person on an island where the bloody school of bloody magic was. A small price to pay to be able to avoid buying ferry tickets ever again.


CONCLUSION

Little Big Adventure 2 is a whole lot like Little Big Adventure 1, which makes it difficult for me to figure out why I like it so much more. I think it helps that I was allowed to walk around Citadel Island for a bit and get the hang of the game before being shot at everywhere I went by fascists this time around. Also being able to save any damn time I feel like is a massive improvement over the first game's set up.

Another thing that definitely helps is the new improved 3D engine that gives outdoors a new dimension, as it meant that I had a much better idea of my surroundings. All the buildings on Citadel island were in more or less the same place in both games, but it was easier to navigate (and less claustrophobic). Of course it would've been better if the camera followed me around in real time but I guess the developers just couldn't get it running fast enough for that.

It's still got that ancient behaviour select system right out of Alone in the Dark, but at least it lets me talk to people without switching out of athletic mode first this time. In fact that's basically the game all over: it does the same thing as LBA1 but it's far more bearable to play, which gives the charm a chance to come through. I still don't think it's a great game, but I started enjoying it around the same point they gave me a buggy to drive around in and now I'm curious to see where the plot's going so... I guess I have to give it a gold star.



There's one more game request finally off my list (under 50,000 left to go!) To celebrate, I'm going to put a comment box below for you folks to leave your thoughts on Little Big Adventure 2, my writing, my website or anything else within the bounds of sanity. Enjoy.

7 comments:

  1. These animated gifs are incredible.

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    Replies
    1. Seconded. How do you get them to be so high quality but with such low file sizes?

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    2. I play a lot of low resolution games with low colours. Seriously, that's my trick. Sometimes I'll cut out every other frame, or I'll freeze a background if it's noisy, but usually I can get away with showing the graphics as they are because old games have simple art and not much changes between frames.

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    3. Ah, gotcha. Thanks for the reply.

      One more question, if that's cool with you: what do you use to screen-capture that gets you pixel-perfect images to make gifs from?

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    4. For this I used a program called AnimGet, which captures the individual frames and stores the timing between each one. I wouldn't recommend it though, as I need to use a homemade script to import that all into Photoshop and save it as a gif from there. There's probably smarter ways of doing it anyway, like sometimes I'll use video capture software with a lossless codec and import the avi file right into PS. Plus there's programs like LICEcap that'll capture a section of screen and save the footage straight to gif.

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    5. Thanks again, appreciate the help. Keep up the great work with the blog too!

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  2. Both this and its prequel are among my favourite games ever, but I'd rather not spoil my memories by playing them again. I'm sure the controls would be unbearable nowadays.

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