Founded in 1993, Adeline Software was born from the dispute between the development team led by Frederick Raynal and publisher Infogrames over the future of the Alone in the Dark franchise. Based in the city of Lyon, France, the team set out to create a whimsical action adventure using techniques they had learned during the creation of Alone in the Dark. Their first game, Little Big Adventure, made it to European shelves in October 1994. Shortly thereafter it was released in the US under a different name, Relentless: Twinsen's Adventure. Published by Electronic Arts, the game quickly gained a cult following on the PC as a result of its unique gameplay and captivating world. The French had already gained a reputation for crafting outlandish, creative game worlds in such games as Another World and Flashback, and the Little Big Adventure series would prove to be no exception. Presented using cutting edge 3D technology, the game is one of the first of its type to make the jump into the third dimension. As an aside, Raynal was first inspired to work in 3D while porting the 1990 3D platform game Alpha Waves to MS-DOS. Alpha Waves is widely considered to be the very first example of a platforming game in a 3D space and wound up being quite influential on a number of future Infogrames projects.
Following the release of Little Big Adventure, Adeline would go on to create a sequel, a time travelling brawler, and even begin work on a now cancelled sequel to Flashback. By the late 90s, however, most of the team had left to form another studio, No Cliché, which was responsible for creating games for Sega Dreamcast. Shortly after the demise of the Dreamcast and the cancellation of Raynal's return to survival horror with
Little Big Adventure, at its core, is an open ended action adventure series in the vein of Falcom's Ys games or The Legend of Zelda, in which players are tasked with exploring a large world while battling hordes of enemies, speaking with its inhabitants, and solving puzzles along the way.
In Little Big Adventure, progress is controlled by the acquisition of items, such as keys and tickets, and the completion of tasks while the game's narrative is mostly driven through fully voiced dialogue sequences peppered with the occasional pre-rendered CG video. Along the way you'll adventure through what could be thought of as "dungeons," while flipping switches, finding keys, solving puzzles, fighting mobs of enemies, and sneaking past guards. Twinsen's health gauge is replenished through collecting hearts while a four leaf clover serves as an extra life. Unlike many of its contemporaries, stealth was actually encouraged and rewarded in Little Big Adventure. Some areas even feature alarms which can be triggered by nearby enemies if you happen to be spotted bringing in reinforcements by way of teleporters. Being spotted doesn't immediately trigger the alarm, however, as the enemy must physically run to and throw the switch leaving you time to dispatch them. The systems aren't quite as polished or tightly designed as modern stealth titles and the discreet option can feel pretty sluggish, but it adds a nice layer of depth to the mix.
The inclusion of behavior modes stand as one of the more unique features introduced in Little Big Adventure. It works similar to the selectable actions in Alone in the Dark: The player always has access to four behavior modes which alter the way in which you can interact with the world. Simply holding the CTRL key reveals four options: "Normal" which is used for general exploration and engaging in conversation; "Aggressive" engages hand to hand combat; "Athletic" allows you to run and jump; and "Discreet" allows you to quietly sneak past guards. The games sport a single action button which handles a different function for each behavior mode such as jumping while in Athletic mode and attacking while in Aggressive. According to the creators, the idea behind this system was to emulate the change in mood that a person might experience under varying conditions. Character movement is handled using "tank controls" also similar to Alone in the Dark, so pressing left or right rotates Twinsen while the up and down keys move forward or backward.
In addition to the behavior modes, the player very quickly gains access to a magic ball in both games which can be aimed and thrown in order to defeat enemies and interact with puzzles. The magic ball requires quite a bit of finesse in order to aim properly, however, making it difficult to use. Even worse, waiting for a missed shot to return can leave Twinsen wide open to attacks. Often times enemies can attack in waves, causing Twinsen to be knocked backwards with each successive hit. Luring individual enemies away from the pack and disposing of them one on one becomes a necessary tactic if you plan to survive some of the more difficult sections. Between the difficulty of using the magic ball, the limited range of your melee attacks, and the relentless assault from your enemies, it is safe to say that combat is far and away the weakest element of both games.
If you can look past the series shortcomings, however, you'll find a sprawling set of games with a lot of memorable and interesting content on offer. Both games feel a bit clunky by today's standards, but they are well worth a look.
Little Big Adventure (少し ビッグ アドベンチャー) / Relentless: Twinsen's Adventure - DOS, FM-Towns, PC-98, PlayStation, Windows (1994)
The first game takes place entirely on the fictional planet Twinsun, a planet which is orbited by two suns, resulting in frozen tundra encircling its equator. Four different races inhabit this world - Quetches, Rabbibunnies, Grobos, and Spheroids - resembling anything from humanoid rabbits to walking soccer balls. Twinsun has fallen under the rule of Dr. Funfrock who has herded these four races into the Southern hemisphere for their supposed protection. Using portal technology capable of sending its users to any connected points across the planet, Dr. Funfrock employs an army of clones in order to maintain strict control over citizens. Under Funfrock's control, the islands have fallen under martial law forbidding the discussion of any and all things relating to the Goddess Sendell. So we begin with our plucky hero, Twinsen, who has been experiencing visions of this nature resulting in his incarceration within one of the asylum facilities after he is caught talking about their meaning. The player begins by escaping from prison and returning home to find Twinsen's girlfriend Zoe in an attempt to explain and understand the situation at hand. Shortly after Twinsen arrives at home, however, Zoe is kidnapped by two Grobo-clones, which then sets in motion the rest of the adventure. What begins as an attempt to rescue his girlfriend becomes something much greater, as Twinsen discovers that he is a descendant of a race which has long since protected the planet. You must help Twinsen discover his true power and overcome the many challenges he may face in order to restore balance to the planet.
The planet Twinsun is dotted by a multitude of islands and land masses across its surface and you'll travel to each of them over the course of the game. You're always free to tackle just about every situation as you see fit despite the fact that the quest is ultimately rather linear. It is possible, for instance, to go directly to Dr. Funfrock's fortress and attempt to take him on very early in the game. Of course, Twinsen is no match for his automated turrets stationed out front but it plants the idea that the player is free to explore the world as they see fit. Twinsen is able to travel to different islands through the use of non-controllable vehicles, such as ferries, along with a flying dinosaur-like creature named DinoFly.
The behavior system works well most of the time, often allowing for different approaches to each scenario, but it is not without fault. For instance, only normal mode can be used to interact with the environment or start a conversation but, limited by slow movement speed in this mode, you'll wind up using Athletic mode for quicker environment navigation resulting in the need to change behavior frequently. Athletic mode has its own troubles as well, however, with Twinsen taking damage every time you run into a wall. Also, as noted above, combat can become a bit frustrating at times throughout the game. Twinsen eventually gains access to a sword, however, which improves melee range a bit. Even still, the lack of an invincibility window upon taking damage makes for some very frustrating segments. Thankfully, for much of the game, it is possible to avoid encounters entirely using the aforementioned stealth system which helps reduce the frustration.
Despite these issues the world delivers an atmosphere strong enough to overcome the game's technical and design limitations. The game walks a fine line between the saccharin and the bitter, often juxtaposing flowery fields and cuddly creatures with themes of persecution and war. It's the kind of place where the doctors and guards you might defeat while escaping from an asylum each disappear with a resounding "BOING," while leaving hearts and gold coins in their place. It's an "unhappy-happy" kind of place. There's a lot to see as well with islands offering up everything from seaside towns to large snowy mountain ranges, all the way to boiling hot deserts. It is through these moments of exploration and discovery that the game is often at its most memorable. Towns are full of individually animated citizens going about their day, while clone guarded checkpoints serve to limit access to certain areas. You're always free to explore and push the limits of the game world however you see fit, though. Want to gain access to an area you shouldn't yet visit? No problem, just punch or sneak your way through. Not enough coin for a shop item? Steal it and sneak out.
The world itself is rendered through a combination of gouraud-shaded polygons and pre-rendered isometric backgrounds all displayed at a crisp 640x480 resolution. The engine was capable of displaying half a dozen or more characters on screen at one time without incurring a performance penalty. This allowed the creators to deliver appropriately bustling environments which really helped sell the player on the idea of a densely populated planet. It saw release on the PC first on CD-ROM, with a pared-down floppy disk version appearing at a later date. The floppy version contained the full game but lacked the Redbook audio, voice acting, and pre-rendered CG cutscenes of the CD-ROM version, instead replacing them with static images and an all MIDI soundtrack. The game also saw a much later release on the Sony PlayStation in both Europe and Japan. Early in development a Super Nintendo version had also been planned, but no information or images of this version currently exist. In 1994 the game was quite a sight and, thankfully, still manages to hold up reasonably well today. In those days, most PC games, particularly those with 3D graphics, were rendered at 320x200 or other similarly low resolutions. Little Big Adventure managed to more than double the resolution while keeping a brisk framerate even on a mid-range 486 with just 4mb of memory. Despite its innovative technical feats, the engine is not without flaws. To the annoyance of many gamers, the game screen did not scroll, only changing camera placement when the player reached an invisible barrier; however, game developers did allow players to re-center the camera at any point by tapping the Enter key. Furthermore, the isometric viewpoint naturally obscures certain parts of the map, but again this annoyance was taken into account by making those portions of the map transparent as Twinsen approaches.
The CD-ROM version featured a full suite of voice acting and was available in multiple languages. In addition, the game delivered a wonderful CD audio soundtrack composed by Philippe Vachey, which was crucial in defining the atmosphere. Shortened MIDI versions of the CD tracks were occasionally used when the full song was not appropriate. Unfortunately, the use of redbook audio meant that the CD-ROM would not be accessible for retrieving data while music was being played. As a result, when travelling between major zones in the game, an installation screen will appear which copies all relevant voice data to your hard disk drive temporarily for quick access. It does improve performance while playing, but this lengthy install process can certainly become aggravating as you begin to travel between islands more frequently.
As the game shares quite a bit with what you'd expect from a console game it's no surprise that it received a port. Technically speaking the game should have been a breeze for the PlayStation hardware as pre-rendered backgrounds coupled with polygon objects would become commonplace throughout the system's life, but the end results were variable. The PlayStation version was released in both Japan and Europe, but the two releases couldn't be more different. The Japanese iteration, released in 1996, is a technical mess of a game. With just a single character on screen the game struggles to deliver even 20 fps, while a comparatively busy scene can result in single digit framerates. These technical mishaps wind up rendering this release nearly unplayable. In March 1997, however, a PAL version of the game was released for European PlayStation owners. Unlike the Japanese release, this version ran beautifully on the PlayStation hardware. Sporting a resolution of 640x256, the image was 25% sharper than the 320x240 Japanese version, but more importantly the framerate was smoothed out to deliver a fairly consistent 50 fps under most conditions. FMV sequences were also displayed at a higher color depth in this version. Considering the advantage the PlayStation commanded over a 486 PC of that era and the quality of the European release, it's anyone's guess as to why the Japanese release turned out so poor. There are mild gameplay changes present between the two as well. The European release features the same character and enemy placement as the PC version while the Japanese release actually lowers the overall number of characters on screen, no doubt to compensate for poor performance. Both versions feature improved audio, however, with the FM synthesis MIDI eliminated in favor of superior tracks. The European version relies entirely on Redbook audio with a great number of additional tracks present on the disc, whereas the Japanese version uses a mix of Redbook and synth like the PC version, but with better results. Control wise, mapping each behavior mode to one of the four shoulder buttons allows for efficient management of your behavioral state. In addition, some of the refinements that would later appear in the sequel made their way into the European version. Running around in athletic mode, for instance, no longer results in Twinsen taking damage every time the player runs into a wall. This version even adds a useful HUD to the mix, which provides information you would otherwise find only in the menus. Unfortunately, as this version is exclusive to PAL regions, there is no easy way to enjoy it on an NTSC display without resorting to emulation and, at that point, the PC version becomes preferable.
Those looking to give this game a shot on modern hardware should take a look at "LBAWIN." This small program was designed by one of the original coders who worked on the game and allows the game to run smoothly under modern versions of Windows. In addition to the compatibility features, the port also allows a number of tweaks to the original gameplay. You can enable a consistent action button, remove wall hits, enable screen-relative controls, and even install the entirety of the voice data to your hard disk. When combined with a keyboard-to-joystick mapping utility, the game becomes quite playable on a modern PC with a gamepad in hand. It's the premier way to experience the game at this point.
Following the completion of the original game, Adeline Software pursued a different project known as Time Commando, which was released in 1996 on the PC, with Saturn and PlayStation ports appearing slightly thereafter. Time Commando was a side-scrolling brawler, which used video-based backgrounds and geometric characters. It was an interesting experiment, which unfortunately holds up very poorly today. Alongside Time Commando, however, the original team was busy working on a sequel to Little Big Adventure. Known as Twinsen's Odyssey in the US and now published by Activision, Little Big Adventure 2 set out to deliver a much larger adventure that would take place across multiple planets, while introducing refinements to the graphics engine and gameplay mechanics. The result was an experience even more memorable than the original game.
Following an introduction narrated by Twinsen explaining the events of the first game, LBA2 begins when the usually calm weather of Twinsun is disrupted by a sudden and violent storm. On Planet Twinsun, weather wizards are responsible for stabilizing the climate so a storm of this magnitude is simply unheard of. Unfortunately, Twinsen's trusty DinoFly is caught in the storm and crashes nearby, leaving Twinsen with his first objective; employing the services of a healing wizard. In order to reach the healing wizard on Desert Island, however, you first have to end the storm with the help of the local weather wizard. As soon as the clouds are eventually cleared, however, strange aliens who call themselves Esmers appear under the guise of a diplomatic mission. They offer to share their advanced technology in exchange for help from the wizards of Twinsun. Their home planet Zeelich has become plagued by toxic gasses rendering the surface unlivable and driving them to build structures into the sky. They claim to require the help of Twinsun's wizards in order to help restore their planet. Shortly after their appearance, however, both the wizards and their children begin to disappear. Suspecting foul play, Twinsen trains at the School of Magic in order to become a wizard himself and accept the Esmers' offer to visit their home planet. As Twinsen soon discovers, the Esmers are planning to use the kidnapped inhabitants of Twinsun as a sacrifice in order to revive the great Dark Monk who is supposedly capable of restoring Zeelich to its former glory. Upon arriving on Zeelich, Twinsen is arrested and thrown in prison. With the help of a fellow inmate, Twinsen manages to trick one of the guards and escape to the shuttle bay in order to return to Twinsun. After crash landing on Citadel Island, Twinsen emerges from his craft only to discover that his planet has been conquered by the Esmers and all citizens have been placed under martial law. With the help of his friends, Twinsen must save his own planet once again and put a stop to the Esmers' plan.
As with the first game, progress through the story is linear, but the player can freely explore the world. The puzzles this time tend toward the more task-focused with NPCs asking Twinsen to retrieve items or perform actions in order to progress. Early on Twinsen gains access to a hand radio allowing communication with NPCs anywhere in the field, which provides updated objectives without the need to return to its originator. The game is, for all intents and purposes, broken up into different acts with the jump between planets acting as a bridge. The first act on Twinsun is a mostly upbeat affair with plenty of dialogue sequences, fetch quests, and mini-games awaiting the player. Just as you become comfortable with the wealth of dialogue and cheery atmosphere, the game whisks Twinsen off to the alien planet Zeelich which is almost completely devoid of NPCs capable of communicating with Twinsen. You see, the native inhabitants of Zeelich don't actually speak Twinsen's language, and without the translator you receive later, their text appears as a series of random characters. In that sense the game really delivers the feeling of travelling to a faraway planet. By the third act, when you return to a now conquered Twinsun, things change even more as you must now rely more heavily on stealth and speed to travel about areas you freely roamed just hours before. The shift in atmosphere each time you travel to a different world really helps build a genuine sense of progression and place.
The core gameplay mechanics remain much the same as the original game, with a handful of improvements here and there. The tank controls and behavior system from the original make a return but the addition of a dedicated use button solves the issue of needing to constantly change behavior modes. Movement is smoother with Twinsen now able to run into walls as much as he likes without taking damage. A sidestep maneuver was also added, enabling the player to avoid some enemy attacks in combat, though it's a bit too sluggish to be of any real use. An improved holomap system is available, offering detailed views of each island you may be visiting along with objective markers pointing out your next destination. It's much easier to determine where you should be heading next and a lot more fun getting there thanks to the addition of drivable vehicles. That's right, this time around you can actually make use of alternate forms of transportation including a desert buggy and a jetpack.
You're certainly going to want to use them, too, as the world itself has been expanded greatly in all directions. Despite this increase in size, however, there's also a similar bump in density. There's simply more to see around every corner. Perhaps what contributes most to this new sense of wonder are the greatly improved visuals. While indoor scenes retain the same isometric viewpoint of the original game, a new 3D graphics engine was created for the display of outdoor maps. This allows for more complex terrain, supporting more than 10,000 gouraud shaded and textured polygons per scene. As with the first game the camera doesn't actually move along with Twinsen. The choice to redraw the scene only when the camera is adjusted allows for much more complex 3D environment than would otherwise be possible with 1997 technology. It achieves the same dramatic camera angles that would be expected from fully pre-rendered backgrounds while allowing the player to change the camera angle at any point. The change in rendering technology fundamentally changes the way maps can be designed and greatly increases freedom of exploration.
Unfortunately, this freedom also leads to some control issues. Jumps can become more difficult to line up with the new camera system and enemies can become obscured by the terrain. Natural obstacles such as water and lava remain, posing more of a challenge this time, particularly when one is asked to jump between narrow, moving platforms. The jetpack you obtain halfway through the game helps eliminate some frustration, but it's still not always clear which areas can be safely travelled. The magic ball returns and is just as frustrating to aim as in the first game. When coupled with more numerous enemies and less predictable camera placement, it can be difficult to dispatch of your foes effectively. Twinsen eventually gains access to a saber and a laser pistol, both of which improve combat a bit, but do little to ease frustrating moments.
The score was once again composed by Philippe Vachey and is perhaps even more memorable than his work on the original. MIDI was ditched entirely in favor of digital audio tracks alongside the Redbook audio, allowing the quality of the music to remain consistent from area to area. The entire game is voiced once again by much of the same cast and remains as amusingly strange as ever.
The game was released with both Windows 95 and MS-DOS executables on the disc. The 16-bit Windows version of the game isn't compatible with modern 64-bit versions of Windows without resorting to a virtual machine. Without a source port available, most gamers will need to rely on programs such as DOSBox in order to properly run the game. Fortunately, DOSBox performs admirably and is able to run the game without any problems. No console port was released, unfortunately, and the game itself remains fairly rare on disc, leaving digital distribution options (such as GOG.com) as the easiest method of procurement.
When you reach Island CX near the end of the game it is actually possible to uncover a secret room where you will discover one Stanley Opar, the main character from Time Commando. He puts up quite a fight, however, so be ready.