Harking back to two of my previous reviews, there was a time during the 90s when French game development was at its most innovative. French multinational giant Ubisoft did not exist yet, and neither did its bug-ridden rush jobs, ham-fisted game design and hype-led marketing tactics (I may be a bit bitter on this point).
During this time there was Adeline Software, a small development studio that grew from a divide within Infogrames during the development of Alone in the Dark. Becoming defunct in 2004, Adeline would only release four games, in their 11-year lifespan, titles that are now widely regarded as classics.
In 1994 Adeline released Little Big Adventure as their flagship title, an isometric action-adventure for the PC. Set on the planet of Twinsun, so named for its two hemispheres each lit by its own sun (duh), the planet is home to the, the ponytailed and humanlike Quetches, humanoid rabbits known as Rabbibunnies, anthropomorphic elephants called Grobos, and the bipedal spheres aptly named Spheros.
Twinsun has fallen prey to Dr. FunFrock, an evil tyrant who holds control over the planet by means of a clone army dispersed across the planet by a widespread teleportation transport system. A young quetch named Twinsen begins having prophetic dreams about the end of the world and is imprisoned by FunFrock who seeks to study Twinsen’s mind. Twinsen escapes FunFrock’s clutches only to find he is the chosen one tasked with saving Twinsun (and his girlfriend) from FunFrock’s evil schemes.
Controlling Twinsen is done through a unique system of four “behaviour modes”, namely Normal, Athletic, Aggressive and Discreet. Switching between these modes alters Twinsen’s move sets as well as the way in which he uses his weapons.
Although your progression through the story is fairly linear, the game is laid out in an open-world fashion, unlocking new places to visit as you progress. Each colourful location is filled with all manner of secrets, distractions and activities to keep you busy beyond playing the main quest.
In a word, LBA is fun, plain and simple. The cartoony aesthetics along with the charming music, characters, voice acting and story give a kind of upbeat enjoyment that leaves the game feeling like its grounded inside a child’s imagination. It was probably the first open-world game I ever played and being free to just explore and screw around was about as wondrous an experience as I’ve had in over 20 years of gaming.
It is not without its flaws however. The combat is sometimes close to impossible as enemies pin you down with unrelenting attacks that whittle you slowly to death and ever closer to rage quitting (I did a few times). Also the static camera only refocuses when the player hits enter or Twinsen’s reaches the edge of the screen, leaving you to often find yourself face-to-face with an insta-kill wielding groboclone.
Few adventure games stick as closely to the central idea of the genre than LBA and sadly titles as fun and charming as this are too few and far between these days. Making a game like LBA would likely be seen as a risk by today’s standards, but in 1994 no such standards yet existed. With a shallower well of inspiration to draw from, game developers pretty much had no choice but to innovate, they were creating the medium as they went and forging the genres that we come to know and love today.