Little Big Adventure: Return to the Planet Twinsun

While playing Little Big Adventure in the mid-90s’, I hated every second of it—it was grim, dystopian, brutal, and frightening. My developing psyche couldn’t comprehend this fever nightmare of a game. It began in a prison of sorts, but guards were wearing white scrubs, so it was more like a horrific test lab where horrible experiments were taking place. There also were security elephants that shot you with instakill undodgeable bullets. The protagonist had several behavioral modes—fighting, jumping, stealth, etc. In an aggressive mode, he twitched strangely and made scary noises like all the demons of the underworld possessed him.

I was probably 6 or 7 years old when I tried to play this game. Little Big Adventure 2 was released in 1997, three years after the first one, and met me in a more stable mental state. Still a visually grotesque game, it was far less scary—no prisons, no white scrubs, no bloodthirsty elephant guards. Instead, there was a whole town to explore, a cute dragon to cure, and a sweet wife to kiss. Yeah, it took place during a storm, the sky was dark, and rain poured non-stop—still, the effect on me was more soothing than frightening. My English was at a sub-zero level, so I hadn’t achieved any progress in the game, but it was a pretty good time roaming the town and chasing umbrella thieves.

More than a decade and a half later, while attempting to close my childhood gaming gestalt, I searched and obtained all of those games, which memories, however vague, endured in my mind. I bought both LBA games on GOG, installed them, was utterly repelled by controls, and forgot about them altogether.
Until earlier this year, when I noticed something had changed in my GOG collection. Actually, it changed over a year ago, and I missed it completely. Little Big Adventure games received a “Classic version” addendum to their title, and their library images were, for the lack of a better word, modernized. Fate was calling me back to the planet Twinsun, and I was eager to answer this call. Spoiler alert—albeit not entirely painless, it was worth it in the end.

Twinsun is a planet with two suns—one for each hemisphere. There is no day-night cycle, and a ring of icy mountains encircles the globe at its equator. Four races inhabit Twinsun—a humanoid, a bunny-like, an elephant-like, and a sphere-like (yes, these latter species are small and spherical, go figure). Instead of being a dorky happy place of eternal sunshine and colorful critters, Twinsun lays under the boot of cruel totalitarian dictator Dr. FunFrock. Elites rather often use technological advancements to remain in power. Thanks to cloning, FunFrock has access to a never-ceasing source of life force for his armies, and with teleporting technology, he can maneuver his troops instantaneously anywhere he wishes. Sounds like every tyrant’s wet dream.

Twinsen is a humanoid bloke that lives on Twinsun and suffers like the rest of the populace. There is nothing unique or exciting about him except that he is a chosen one, empowered with magical forces and destined to dethrone the tyrant, bringing peace and freedom to Twinsun. He is the protagonist—a conduit for the forces of the universe.

A classic conflict between totalitarian technology and free nature is thus established.

LBA begins, as stated previously, in a prison-lab complex, where we find Twinsen incarcerated. We help him escape by beating the shit out of humanoid guards and avoiding the bloodthirsty elephant ones. But FunFrock’s henchmen come to Twinsen’s house and kidnap his girlfriend, which triggers the rest of the story—Twinsen discovers his destiny, acquires magical powers through a magical robe and magical ball, and successfully brings FunFrock’s reign of terror to an end.

The challenge of bringing down the fascist regime isn’t being made easier by the tank controls and fixed isometric view that severely handicaps Twinsen’s Magic Ball throwing accuracy. And you’ll have to throw that ball a lot—not only to deal damage to enemies from a distance but also to solve puzzles by throwing the damned thing at levers and triggers that are unreachable otherwise. Additionally, guess what the combination of isometric view and tank control does to platforming sections—a pure delight! Thankfully, this problem was partially solved in the new version of the game with controller support that somehow, at least for me, helps to endure the torture.

The problem that the new version doesn’t solve is that you can’t save your progress at will. LBA has a checkpoint system—it autosaves on plot cues, location entrances, etc. Remember those elephant guards that instakill you? Technically, they don’t instakill but capture you, so you’ll have to escape the prison once again. The moment they see you and fire their gun, you’re doomed—only Alt+F4 can save you from the annoying prison escape sequence because the checkpoint system won’t give you any chances.

The battle system is built upon the exploitation of the hit-stun effect. Each hit that lands also stuns the target for a moment. This means you can weave chains of hits without leaving your adversary a second to breathe and retaliate. The problem is that the same works also the other way. It isn’t very pleasant to find yourself cornered by a couple of dudes that hit-stun you in turns, burning away all of your health.

So the usual LBA gameplay loop is escaping prison, then running through an outside location, getting stuck somewhere in the fence due to the shitty tank controls, and failing to escape until a couple of bad boys arrive to capture or hit-stun you to death. Remember, you can’t save the game, and also enemies respawn each time you re-enter the location. The sum of all these factors creates a rather sorrowful experience overall.

The sequel, on the other hand, makes an exactly opposite impression. The main reason is that the game allows you to save—it technically makes the clover leaves mechanic redundant, but who cares! Saving, the player’s ultimate universal superpower, saves the day in LBA 2 and spares you tons of potential frustration.

Without that unbreachable barrier, the world of Twinsun became more welcoming and approachable. Also, the fall of FunFrock’s tyranny helps the general feeling of breeziness and calm—the planet finally became a dorky happy place of eternal sunshine and colorful critters. Although a personality cult obsession is still a bit creepy—Twinsen’s statues are everywhere as the freedom bearer and the world saver.

But at least tyranny’s gone, right? Retired Twinsen and pregnant Zoé live happily in their chateau in the mountains until the storm hits, and their dragon-friend Dino-Fly gets hurt. As Twinsen returns to adventuring and solving puzzles to cure the dragon and clear the skies, strange alien creatures arrive to Twinsun. Promises of peaceful intentions turn out to be blatant lies, and aliens treacherously attack and capture the planet, crushing it down with the tyranny’s boot once again. This time at least, dethroning the tyrant is far more manageable. Apart from the saving the progress at will option, two aspects of the gameplay underwent a considerable improvement in LBA 2 compared to the game’s predecessor.

Firstly, the pacing. Instead of throwing you into prison and radiating stress from the get-go, LBA 2 unravels gradually and graciously. A happy status quo gets shaken with a massive storm—a harbinger of things to come—and our hero begins his adventure first for personal reasons (to help a friend in need). Eventually, the stakes get higher, and Twinsen’s goal shifts to saving the world—not one, even, but two.

Evidently, the second aspect is the scope. LBA 2 feels enormous—especially with the almost chamber-like claustrophobic feeling of the predecessor. The main reason is, of course, the scope in itself—Twinsen’s adventure this time takes place on two planets, each having several vast islands with caves, cities, casinos, hotels, racing tracks, and lots of other things to do and places to visit. LBA 2 is undoubtedly an open-world game—like many games were when the «open-world» had not yet been a marketable label. Additionally, the open-worldness is technically enhanced— outdoor locations are no longer broken into smaller bits like in the previous game. Moreover, the new version of LBA 2 introduces the over-the-shoulder camera that modernizes the «game feel» and assists greatly in navigating the world.

LBA 2 is more than just playable. It’s enjoyable, charming, and full of heart. As always, it’s the small stories and delicate touches that create all this magic—there are lots of minor characters that make major impressions. I don’t want to spoil anything regarding these small interactions because this is what makes LBA 2 tick in the end—it’s more important than the plot or mechanics. Mostly.

Yet, it wasn’t enough for me to finish the game. Platforming is where I usually draw the line in lots of games. Unfortunately, LBA 2 is not an exception. I’ve even managed to endure the slowest and jankiest jetpack ever seen in videogames history! But jumping over platforms is too much for me—even with all the tweaks and fixes of the GOG version.

Nevertheless, I highly recommend and encourage everybody to play Little Big Adventure 2. This game comes from a time when «adventuring» was something mysterious, surprising, and charming—not formulaic and by the numbers. Yes, it’s mostly smoke and mirrors, but it works. It works until it doesn’t—but until then, you’ll have a great time! Guaranteed.

By the way, there’s a new game in the series being talked about. A reboot—no more, no less—is planned for 2024. Let’s not build up hopes too much, but hey, good things also happen in this industry from time to time. I want to believe that Twinsen will be reborn!

…and I’ll manage to finally finish a Little Big Adventure game for a change…

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