Enter at your own peril! Past the bolted door where impossible things may happen, that the world’s never seen before!
–Dexter’s Laboratory: End Credits
“The following is a contributor post by the Hyperactive Coffee Mage.”
I’ll be frank: I’ve never heard of Another World. I was introduced to the game by our fearless leader, the Well-Red Mage, when he shared the trailer of the 20th Anniversary Edition port for the Nintendo Switch version with me. After watching it and being intrigued by this ancient game’s cinematic approach to its story presentation, I decided to try it for myself. This is based on a review key provided to TWRM and is the subject of today’s #magecrit
I have to say that I wasn’t a fan at first, because I kept dying a lot. Compared to games like Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Mario Bros., the platforming sections required more precision than what I was used to. It also requires the player to understand that the main character – a particle physicist by the name of Lester Knight Chaykin – is a regular human being; he is incapable of surviving falls from great heights and even the smallest of creatures can be fatal to him.
However, pushing the platforming aside, the cinematic presentation of this game’s story was incredibly compelling. Lester starts out by driving his Ferrari to his lab in a desert somewhere. In the lab is a particle accelerator, a large machine which shoots atoms out into a vacuum and accelerates them in an electromagnetic ring until it reaches a target speed. Once at speed, the atom crashes into a detector and the scientist can observe the collision and the resulting particles that emerge from that collision. Think of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider and its search for the Higgs-Boson particle (AKA “the God particle”) as an example, if you’re inclined to do some research on particle accelerators. Alas, I’ll resist the urge to go full science nerd here and focus back on the game.
During an experiment he’s running, in which he is trying to recreate and study the birth of the universe, a violent lightning storm starts up and a bolt strikes Lester’s lab. This bolt somehow enters the particle accelerator ring, collides with the particle, creating a ton of energy, travels back to the control console where Lester is conducting his experiment and suddenly zaps the scientist to, literally, another world.
Arriving in the middle of an alien lake inhabited by a tentacled monster, Lester swims up to the surface to find himself in an arid and foreboding environment. After avoiding leeches that can kill with but a scratch and evading terrifying beasts, Lester is captured by some nomadic extraterrestrials and locked up in a prison camp with another alien whom he befriends.
Together, the two bust out and proceed to escape their captors, with Lester procuring a laser pistol from a fallen guard for his use. Leaving the prison, Lester and his companion travel through a bunch of locations, including caves, cities and even a bathhouse before… well, what happens after that is up to the player’s interpretation.
The game itself is short and can be completed in a few hours. Yet, in those short hours I felt mesmerized by the game’s presentation, despite the platforming sections. After some personal research into the game, I found that Another World is considered to be a part of the cinematic platformer action adventure subgenre, a combination of realistic cinematics and traditional platforming mechanics limited to human athletic ability and basic physics, vs. platformers like Sonic and Mario.
The realism in cinematic platform games was possible in the early days due to a technique called rotoscoping. An animator using rotoscoping techniques uses live footage and traces over it frame by frame so as to create fluid motion in their animation. All of this was done using computers back in the 90’s, but in earlier times, one would have to use a projector with a transparent easel to trace the projected image on. Prince of Persia, released for the Apple II back in 1989, was one of the first games to employ rotoscoping to create realistic, proportional sprites, which was revolutionary for its time. And like Prince of Persia, the sprites in Another World were also animated via rotoscoping. As time passed, game developers moved from rotoscoping and towards motion capture to create realistic animations, used in games such as Tomb Raider and the Prince of Persia: Sands of Time series.
A commonality between these aforementioned games, along with Another World, is the focus on trial and error gameplay. Rather than have a set amount of lives like in traditional platforming games, Another World and other cinematic platforming games give the player an infinite number of lives. Upon death, the player restarts at the last checkpoint for which they would try the section again. Like I stated earlier, a lot of trial and error was required for me to fully beat the game, as my jumps needed to be spot on. In addition, several puzzle elements required precise timing to solve, lest I was stuck and forced to commit suicide to retry the section. It was something that frustrated me slightly, but it was manageable enough for me to finish the game and enjoy it.
Speaking of finishing the game, did you know that Another World had a sequel? The game, titled Heart of an Alien, was developed without the involvement of the game’s original designer, Eric Chahi and was released for the Sega CD, along with the original game as part of a compilation series.
It starts where Another World leaves off and switches control over to the Alien, whose name is Buddy. Chahi originally intended for the ending of Another World to be ambiguous and if there was to be a sequel, he would rather have had the player go through the original game in Buddy’s perspective, with Lester in the background. Interplay Entertainment (the developer of the console versions of Another World, or Out of this World) misunderstood his intentions and developed their own interpretation of a sequel, which ended up as a flop, according to Chahi. Upon Heart of the Alien’s release, he issued a statement of his own saying that the game did not represent the world he developed in Another World, nor would the title be considered an official sequel, leaving Another World’s ending, again, up to interpretation.
Historically, Another World has inspired a great deal of well-known game designers, specifically Japanese designers. Most notably, Hideo Kojima of Metal Gear Solid fame has claimed that this game was among the five games that have influenced him. Fumito Ueda of Ico fame also claimed that Another World influenced his game. Goichi Suda (known as Suda51), designer of such games like Killer7 and No More Heroes, has also claimed that this was his favourite game. Chahi himself, after leaving Delphine Software to form his own studio, cited that his 1998 game Heart of Darkness was a spiritual successor to his first game.
Once Chahi purchased the intellectual property rights to Another World from Delphine Software in 2004, he proceeded to assist in the development of ports to various PC and console platforms. This culminated in the release of the 20th Anniversary Edition, released originally for IOS on September 22, 2011, with Android, Steam and major console releases occurring afterward. The first set of 20th Anniversary ports (released for the iOS and Android) were handled by a company called DotEmu, while another company by the name of Digital Lounge handled the modern console ports. Digital Lounge stated that the goal was to deliver the original experience of the game by taking advantage of the cutting-edge technology and high level of polish available on modern consoles. Both companies came together to develop and release the Nintendo Switch version, which was made available to the public on June 25, 2018.
When originally released, critics lauded praise upon the game. Despite the short length, they were captivated by the cinematic presentation and cited that it was one of the most visionary and imaginative games ever created. Its bold, forward-thinking approach was not unlike the indie development scene that is currently playing out in the present time. It was as if Chahi designed Another World like an indie title before indies were cool.
Finally, Another World was cited to be a game that practically every gamer needed to play at least once in their lifetime, but does that hold true with this very mage writing this critique, a mage who has never heard of the cult-classic title until just recently?
The 8-bit Review
Despite the game’s age, the graphics are well done. The 20th Anniversary Edition gives the player the ability to switch between the classic look and a remastered, modern look at any time during gameplay, which I appreciated. The animations by all characters, from the tiny, death-dealing slugs at the beginning, to the beasts and aliens and even Lester himself, are breathtakingly fluid thanks to the rotoscoping techniques employed in its development. For the remake, the animations and backgrounds were further refined to take advantage of the upgraded hardware capabilities of modern systems. The Switch version in particular is extremely smooth, whether you play it docked or in handheld mode and there is no significant lag or slowdowns experienced in the visuals while playing it.
I switched between the modern and retro graphics often to see the differences between each and I found that the retro graphics actually brought on a more isolating atmosphere in certain areas, such as the caves, than the modern graphics did. The graphical remastering however gave the game’s visuals more depth, both by adding subtle details into the background and by smoothening the character models to make them look less pixelated. To me, it felt like the alien world Lester found himself in was alive and real. If I had picked this up personally, not realizing the historical importance of this game, I would have thought that this was an indie title developed recently based on the way it looked.
Originally there were just two tracks created for Another World: one that would play at the title and one that would play at the end. A few more tracks were added to the game in subsequent remasters and remakes to evoke a more cinematic feel. The approach of when music is played is similar to the one used in Tomb Raider, where visual cues determine when music plays. Sadly, none of them were extremely memorable to me.
What I found more interesting than the music was the atmospheric nature of the audio. It’s quiet, sometimes too quiet when you’re walking down corridors or through caverns. At some point, you hear a squelching sound or suddenly, an alien surprises you and blasts you with its laser before you could even prime your own. What I’m getting at is that the sound effects fit the game well and really help it become such an isolating and lonely experience. The game allows players to cycle through three audio options: Original, Original + Console CD, and Remastered.
OK, let’s get this out of the way: I didn’t like the platforming. The precision required to land some of the jumps was frustrating to me. One particular area that I struggled with was in the caverns, where there were a set of hanging tentacle monsters and pit monsters, with some of those pit monsters sitting side by side to one another with a bit of a gap in between. I spent the majority of my playthrough trying to cross those screens safely. Did it affect how much I enjoyed the game? Not so much actually, considering the rest of the game was quite straightforward. I should like to clarify that the platforming is not bad necessarily, but it can be a source of frustration at times.
With that off my chest, let’s delve into the gameplay. Controls are fairly simple to understand. The left stick or D-pad buttons control Lester: He can walk left or right, crouch or use teleporter devices in between gaps to traverse up and down levels on a screen. Holding the A button while Lester is walking allows him to break into a run. Either the B and X buttons controls Lester’s jump and it works in two different ways. If the A button is not held, Lester will make a short but precise hop, but if Lester jumps while running, he will make a running leap covering a long distance. Players will have to use both the short hop and running leap throughout the game’s campaign to avoid traps, spikes and the aforementioned pit monsters in the cave section. As I explained before, I didn’t enjoy it but I did understand that the jumping mechanisms had some significance, considering that Lester is not overly athletic and that the realistic depiction of his normal human athleticism is heavily emphasized in the game.
Before Lester picks up the laser gun after breaking out of the cage in the prison area, he can stomp or kick things by pressing A while crouching. This is needed to defeat the slug-like creatures that can kill him with but a scratch in the first section of the game. Things change once Lester picks up the laser gun, which operates in three modes.
Pressing A draws the gun and tapping the button fires a standard beam that can kill on impact. Pressing and holding the button for a second creates a small glowing ball; releasing that creates a force field that protects Lester from incoming laser fire from enemies. Pressing and holding for even longer creates a large glowing ball and releasing that unleashes a super shot that can break through walls or other force fields. These three shots need to be used strategically for Lester to survive. One thing however that I didn’t realize is that the gun has a limited supply of ammunition. I learned this the hard way at the start of the game when I squandered my ammo using super shots only to fire blanks at the next enemy I saw. There are a few recharge rooms found throughout the campaign that Lester can use to recharge the gun and it’s highly recommended that players use these rooms at the first available opportunity. I enjoyed the gun mechanics and the strategy around the three uses of the laser gun, I thought it was well-implemented.
Introduced in the 20th Anniversary Edition is a difficulty setting. Players can retain the original difficulty or make it slightly harder or easier to go through the game by adjusting the difficulty in the options. This only applies to the combat – it doesn’t affect puzzles.
Another World is a classic example of the old writing adage: “show, don’t tell.” There is very little dialog and lore to explain what the game is about, compared to titles such as Final Fantasy XV or even Ubisoft’s recently released Starlink: Battle for Atlas. Those two aforementioned games like many others required the player to read, listen and watch additional content just to wrap their heads around the game’s backstory before attempting to understand the game’s main story. Another World doesn’t need to do that. Instead, it presents the narrative by showing the player what its about and it does that fantastically, using cinematic techniques like pans, close-ups and such to tell the story about a man trying to survive in an unfamiliar and unforgiving world with the help of a newfound friend. Little to no backstory required.
Accessibility-wise, Another World is a very easy game to get into. Once a player begins a new game, a small tutorial screen shows how to execute all of Lester’s moves in game. Even without the tutorial, it’s fairly simple to get a handle of the controls, considering the fact that the player has infinite lives to work with.
Another World is not an overly challenging game, thanks to the simple controls. The puzzles are fairly easy to solve, given the fact that players have an infinite number of tries to get it right. The combat is also mildly forgiving itself, if one can remember visiting the recharge rooms located throughout the game. Further to that point, a player can change the difficulty of the combat sections in the settings menu on the title screen. What can make it somewhat of a challenge is, again, the platforming aspects. I reiterate: they’re not bad, but clearing a few sections in the game can be a slight exercise of patience. Overall, the challenge hits a nice balance – not too hard, but not too easy either.
I may take a page out of the Well-Red Mage’s book and declare that of all the platformers I’ve played, there’s virtually no other game quite like Another World. It even had the special distinction of being introduced as one of fourteen titles added to 2012’s video game art exposition at the Museum of Modern Art, thereby bringing up the old argument about video games being art while upping its uniqueness cred at the same time. Its story of survival may seem similar to games released in the present time, but its setting, its pacing, its foreboding and isolating atmosphere and its surreal nature in of itself is wholly unique and stands up to the test of time.
Personal Grade: 8/10
I’ve played through this game in less than a day and haven’t touched it again since I started this write-up. To this very moment, I’m still thinking about the story, how minimalist it is and how its presentation was so fantastically implemented. I’ve rarely encountered a game that’s captured my imagination in the same way that Another World has. Whether you can snag the original cartridge/disk for classic consoles and computers, or pick up the 20th Anniversary Edition for modern consoles and PC’s, I’ve got a good feeling you’ll feel similarly to what I feel when you play it. In my case, I feel inspired by it. Despite its little hiccups in the platforming, I thoroughly enjoyed playing Another World and I have to thank the Well-Red Mage for introducing me to this title. In my opinion, it’s a game that anyone who is a connoisseur of gaming should play at least once in their life.
Aggregated Score: 7.8
Engineer by day, adult-responsibility juggler and caffeinated gamer dad by night, the Hyperactive Coffee Mage is a coffee-fueled writing machine and expert gaming historian. Check out his cool beans at gameswithcoffee.com.
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Categories: Game Review