There are plenty of stereotypes about what kind of videogames different nations make. From the USA, you get explosions and Hollywood bombast. Germany gives us micromanagement. England's the home of the quirky. And France? Along with Japan, it's where the weirdness comes from. Case in point: Little Big Adventure—or Relentless: Twinsen's Adventure, as it was called in the US.
What's so strange about it? Everything. The rabbit people living alongside cloned elephants who shoot knock-out bombs from their trunks. A hero called Twinsen on a quest to save the world of Twinsun, no matter how confusing that is. You can even—on second thought, forget that stuff. All you need to know is that the series' main villain is a twisted scientific dictator named Dr. FunFrock. The rest? Merely detail.
Both LBA games were cult hits in Europe, and they still hold up reasonably well—though the first is much more fiddly (you even take damage if you run into walls). Most of it was spent exploring Twinsun itself, taking down Dr. DullPants's evil empire with the help of a magic ball, a flying dragon creature, and one of those convenient prophecies that villains must really get sick of. LBA2 picks up later on, as a simple hunt for medicine leads to the discovery that Twinsun's wizards are disappearing. Could it have anything to do with the friendly alien race that just landed?
Welcome to Zeelich
While it's nowhere near as freeform, there's a distinct Zelda vibe to LBA2's world. It's soft-shaped, with lots to poke and prod at, a steady stream of new toys like jetpacks and buggies to play with, scenery that dispenses coins, and a genuine sense you're exploring a world built with love. Like many sequels, it makes excellent use of familiar ground to let you see how things have changed, from Twinsen's now peaceful village on the once-fortified Citadel Island to a return trip through the dungeon called the Temple of Bu. But soon enough, you're jetting off to a new world entirely: the gas planet of Zeelich.
The hardest thing to get used to is the control system. Twinsen moves fluidly enough for a 3D game released in 1997, but he has a tendency to get stuck on the scenery, and gets both frozen and thrown backwards when hit. He also can't swim to save his life—literally. Roughly 70% of the deaths in LBA2 come from accidentally touching water and drowning instantly, and the other 30% from being trapped in a damage loop by even the weakest of enemies.
Most unusual is that all of Twinsen's non-drowning-related abilities are split into four specific attitudes: Normal, Sporty, Aggressive, and Discreet. These days, we'd expect skills to be mapped to shortcut keys. Here, if you want to jump, you first need to switch to Sporty. About to start a fight? You can throw your magic ball in all the modes, and it handles differently in each, but you don't get to throw punches if you're not Aggressive. Be glad this idea died here.
A hero's odyssey
There's something wonderful about playing such a unique game. There are frustrating bits, such as struggling with the weak combat, but the adorable characters and goofy animations put a smile on your face almost from the start. It's not really a comedy, but that doesn't mean you won't laugh at its absurdity on a regular basis. The undisputed highlight comes in Twinsen's first encounter with his nemesis, the evil Dark Monk, with the single most badass line in the history of gaming: "You suck big time, and I'm going to take you out, and I don't mean for pizza!"
Even before that, it's a game of memorable moments. My personal favorite is that after the aliens—called esmers—land on the planet, their secret police try to keep a low profile by donning disguises, leading to cacti and garbage cans taking opportunistic pot-shots at you. There's a secret you can only get by running into the women's steam baths. Everywhere you look, there's something cute, from getting the world's most useless jetpack to seeing Twinsen's sword-fighting technique. Also: Mecha-penguins! You can buy them, and they explode.
The only real downside, if you don't have nostalgia on your side, is how long it takes to get to the good stuff. LBA started by throwing you onto a fortified island and stamping on your face until you learned the ropes. LBA2 is much more laid-back, to the point that it'll likely take a couple of hours of play before anything much starts happening—and you spend those hours doing menial tasks, like healing a sick pet and running down an umbrella thief, instead of heroic deeds. But that's fine. Sometimes you want high action. Other times, it's enough to just sit back and let a work of art wash over you at its own pace. LBA2 will reward you if you do.