Reinstall invites you to join us in revisiting PC gaming days gone by. Today, Phil finds sweetness in lBa2's odd world.
I will admit, I was nervous about returning to Little Big Adventure 2 (aka Twinsen's Odyssey). For the most part, the games of my formative years have held up, but LBA2 is different: it never found its place in the PC canon. It’s a niche, cult adventure—intensely loved by a group of people who, for all I know, were equally deluded. When stripped of the comforting blanket of nostalgia, it’s probably rubbish. Right?
Well, yes, a little bit. Little Big Adventure 2 hasn’t aged well, and some of its ideas must have been questionable even when it was released back in 1997. It’s also immediately clear why it’s beloved. It’s a slapstick adventure with lots of heart. For all the silliness and peril, there’s also a rich vein of positivity running throughout. It’s as endearing as it is unpolished.
LBA 2’s story is a direct follow-up to its 1994 predecessor. In Little Big Adventure, protagonist Twinsen was tasked with bringing an end to the evil dictator Dr Funfrock and his army of elephant clones. He did this by journeying across the planet of Twinsun (it has two suns,) throwing a magic ball and saying, “uh... how’s it going?” to everyone he met. Just this basic overview should give some idea of the series’ eccentricities—from the nominative determinism of Twinsen being the hero of Twinsun, to the planet’s anthropomorphic population. Also, that its ruled by a man called Funfrock. It’s all very, very French.
By the start of Little Big Adventure 2, Twinsen is established as the hero of a world that seemingly doesn’t need saving. His ceremonial tunic and magic medallion are on loan to the local museum. The intro pans through the rooms of his house, showing pictures of his previous adventure before moving through to the half-built nursery that announces the pregnancy of his girlfriend Zoe. With its serene, slow pace and haunting musical refrain, the moment is ruined only by Twinsen himself—his brash, jarring voiceover lowering the established tone.
The English voice acting is weak—a handful of people acting out cartoonish caricatures and borderline offensive stereotypes. It gives the game a misplaced hint of those early ’90s kids variety shows. Misplaced because, despite its wacky characters and Looney Tunes enemies (one is an alien in a bin, who sticks his feet through the bottom and waddles), it doesn’t feel particularly childish.
It’s difficult to picture LBA2’s target audience, because it feels so broad. The manual has a go, explaining what developer Adeline intended. “Put simply,” it states, “we have tried to create a realistic environment in a cartoonesque style.” I’d debate ‘realistic’, but there are plenty of moments where the slapstick falls away. At the end of the first mission, Twinsen and his girlfriend walk home arm-in-arm across Citadel Island. It’s a charming little event. Rare are those games that could be described as sweet. For all the action and puzzling, LBA2 works best when it’s being nice.
Soon after this, the aliens turn up. The opening of LBA2 is pretty sedate: your only problems are a storm and an injured flying dinosaur pet called Dino-Fly. Twinsen must clear the storm by rescuing a lighthouse keeper. It’s this that triggers the alien invasion. They espouse peace and friendship, but pretty soon the planet’s wizards and children go missing under mysterious, clearly extraterrestrial circumstances.
One of the strangest things about the campaign is how backloaded it is. Much of the early quest revolves around collecting things and completing tasks across Citadel and Desert Island. You’re constantly hopping back and forth between the two—heading to Desert Island to find the wizard academy, to Citadel Island to fix your car, and then back to Desert Island to jump that car over a cliff (the wizards require this as a condition for joining their order, even though car tricks are not inherently magical). Twinsen travels back and forth multiple times in the first two acts, only a brief trip to the planet Zeelich breaking the monotony.
During the second half, things become more exciting. Despite over half of the game being set on Twinsun, the alien world of the game’s final act offers many more locations. It’s a strange and eerie place—supposedly cursed by a disfigured god called Dark Monk. It exists on two levels, the islands of the planet proper, and the underside beneath monster-infested gas clouds.
Mechanically, LBA2 is clunky. Its UI and controls reside in that awkward ’90s stage before the rules were properly formalised. There are four mood stances—not including item-specific ones—and you have to manually switch between them to do things like run, jump, sneak or fight. It’s bizarre, but I like it. It’s annoying to have to switch from Normal to Sporty mode just to jump a gap, but at the same time Adeline imbued each mode with huge personality. While idle in Sporty mode, Twinsen runs on the spot and takes short, sharp breaths. In Aggressive mode, he staggers around like a drunk who’s just soiled himself—grunting manically in a way that sounds less threatening than constipated.
The biggest issue is the tank controls. Twinsen’s turning circle is appalling, which hurts when your primary attack is so geometric. Twinsen is armed with a magical bouncing ball, because his life is ridiculous. But aiming it in the isometric indoor levels is a nightmare. More often than not, you’ll miss your target multiple times before landing the hit. It’s easier outdoors, where LBA2 lets you recentre the camera behind Twinsen’s head, making it possible to line up jumps and attacks.
I don’t want to focus too much on the flaws, but they’re unavoidable—and made starker by the fact that my flawed, ageing memory had it pegged as a near flawless game. At the same time, it’s clear why LBA2 is such a cult classic. It’s ridiculously charming, to the point where it’s impossible not to start enjoying yourself. I laughed out loud at the grouchy resignation of one camel I encountered. Asked where a certain building was, he replied, bluntly, with the line, “I don’t know Twinsen, I don’t live here. I was just imported.” Written down, it’s not particularly funny. But in the game, it’s hard not to get into the spirit.
If there’s a lesson to be learned, it’s that games don’t have to be serious to be grown up. Twinsen’s second adventure is a zany, fantastical romp. It’s silly in lots of different ways. But as I guided his heavily pregnant girlfriend through a rainy, picturesque town, I realised how few games bother with such nuanced depictions of the quieter joys of life.