I moved over to the Master Race, or PC gaming as those who aren’t in the know would call it, around 1994 and my first real computer (I grew up on a Spectrum 48k) was an Olivetti 486, I confess the model number has long fell into the trenches of my memory, but it opened up a whole new world of opportunity to me as a gamer. PC gaming had always been one of those dark arts I had seen in my local Electronics Boutique store, but one that seemed so mysterious that I, a mere mortal, would never be able to understand or partake in.
How wrong I was.
There were two games that stick out as landmarks for me gaming on a PC. One of those was the Microprose classic UFO: Enemy Unknown (later rebranded X-COM: UFO Defence), and the other was a little-known game called Little Big Adventure. A game so mind-blowing for me that I still look back on it fondly to this day. In fact I recently re-purchased it on GOG just so could still own a copy of it. Whenever I mention this game I can’t help but get a little bit excited when someone else remembers it. Published by EA in 1994, the game was just so damn imaginative for the time. If you think of Windwaker then this was the Windwaker of its day. In fact the concept was quite similar, as Twinsen, the protagonist of our adventure, you would travel from island to island, solving puzzles, defeating bosses, all in the name of rescuing his love, Zoe, from the clutches of the evil Dr FunFrock.
One of the things that sticks out in my mind so much with this game is the opening where it’s explained the planet Twinsun is a planet locked between two stars, and as such, a wall of ice has formed literally carving the world into two. For a game of this time, trust me, the storyline was revolutionary. Twinsen was a child of prophecy, foretold he was going to overthrow a tyrant and free the planet from evil. A usual storyline and most video games at the time were light on the amount of story they had, certainly in the console era, but with the rise of RPGs something was changing. Storyline was becoming key.
For years video games had just been a distraction. They couldn’t hold a candle to what films could do, they were limited in the stories they could tell, often just a flat graphic with some text if you were lucky, but with the rise of 3D technology to open up the boundaries imposed by the tools available at the time, story was becoming king. Games like Return to Zork, the Monkey Island series, all descendants of text-based adventures that had originated on the days of the Spectrums and Amstrads, now creators were given the freedom to tell the stories they wanted through interactive story. Whilst I’m not trying to argue Little Big Adventure could fall into the category of an RPG, it certainly concentrated on the story more than a lot of games around at the time. It was just a fun game to play.
The game had a strange, but effective mode of being able to switch Twinsen into four different attitudes -Normal, Athletic, Aggressive, Discreet, and each one would allow you certain abilities when you was in that mode. It was an approach that we’ve seen echoed in games to this very day. There was something just so polished about the game.
I can remember being awed by the finish of it. To my mind at the time it was one of the most stunning games I had seen. I had migrated from 16-bit graphics to a PC that could produce rendered sprites, never before had my eyes seen anything like this. This was long before you had strategy guides on the internet, and news was relied upon through various gaming magazines, most of which have bit the dust since then (how I miss Mean Machines). Gaming, and the side you chose was very much restricted to the playgrounds at school. It was the same attitude people have today in the console wars, but on a much smaller, personal scale.
I was in a new type of club with my PC, one of the geeks that hung out in the computer room. We’d chat about different PC games there, play the odd round of Doom, but no one had ever heard of Little Big Adventure.
What was so appealing about LBA was the sense of freedom and adventure it instilled. It was practically a free-roamer, once you had secured a boat you could go anywhere the game demanded of you. Not to mention the strange cast of characters they had mixed up. With the oppressive Grobos, a race of oppressive elephants, there was a dreamlike quality to it. One that often comes when people make animals anthropomorphic, and if you want to look at an interesting cast, I’d suggest giving this game a chance.
The game also stood out for having a voice cast. Something I had never seen before in the 16-bit era. I hadn’t completely abandoned consoles by this time, far from it, I’ve always had a console, but this was a quality we just wasn’t getting, not until the PlayStation debuted a couple of years later.
Little Big Adventure is one of those games and stories that has stayed with me into adulthood. If I could go back and experience it again through my young eyes, I would. I often think about replaying it now, but hold off. I like the memories I have of this game and I feel retreading over them with my adult eyes could soil my feelings for it, so I resist, but every now and then I get the urge to replay it.
But then, I never did play the sequel, so there’s always that to play…