Another World: 20th Anniversary Edition Review

Say what you will about games constantly being re-released on new platforms, but when you’re one of those who were just too young (or perhaps non-existent!) to appreciate a classic the first time around, these opportunities are precious. Eric Chahi’s Another World was one of those games that was constantly being written about and walkthrough-ed in the gaming mags I read as a little’un, but back then I was simply too consumed with the Marios, the Sonic the Hedgehogs, and the Street Fighter IIs to seek out such an experimental-looking adventure game. It’s better late than never! Thanks to DotEmu and Bulkypix, I’ve finally gotten my swing at this classic in the form of Another World: 20th Anniversary Edition (Out Now, $4.99).

Another World is one of those rare games that tells a great story without a hint of dialogue. Its initial release may have been in 1991, but its kooky sci-fi plot smacks of the 80s: a young physicist pulls up to a particle accelerator lab in his Ferrari for some late-night experiments, and when a lightning bolt zaps the lab at a critical atom-smashing moment, the reaction transports him to an alien planet. It’s a school of hard knocks where the player has to immediately begin taking action to keep the physicist alive. Within seconds of the game starting, he might get towed underwater by a tentacle monster or poisoned to death by cute little leeches that kill with a mere scratch.

Not quite a “side-scroller” in the scrolling sense, Another World leads the player through a series of one-screen action puzzles that play out with basic platforming mechanics, testing the player’s logic skills at every turn. At first the player has nothing but the scientist’s tiny jump and wimpy kickball swing to work with –he isn’t a trained soldier after all. The player’s reward for making him survive the most harrowing run-for-your-life segment in videogame history is an alien laser pistol, which suits him much better. The pistol’s charge shot and shield-generating capability give the player some interesting puzzle-solving tools in addition to greater survival odds, and most of the game is mercifully spent packing heat. With the firepower comes extra responsibility: the physicist has to rely on help from a friendly alien who knows where all the shortcuts are, and when the duo aren’t separated the player has to keep this valuable friend alive as well as his or her alter ego.

Another World is utterly unforgiving with its numerous one-hit deaths, and victory is achieved only with copious amounts of trial-and-error experimentation. Lack of hand-holding and tutorials make for an especially harrowing first few minutes as the player’s just getting a handle on the controls. The Another World experience would quickly veer into tedium were it not for an extremely generous checkpoint system. The game’s greatest achievement, then, is maintaining a sense of forward momentum no matter how many times the physicist gets vaporized, yanked into the gullets of hungry monsters, or falls to his death on spiked floors. Another World is about figuring things out on-the-fly, not memorizing increasingly long patterns of actions, and this is what extends its appeal to action and logic puzzle fans alike.

Alas, ports are often harder to get right than games originally made for the target platform when it comes to user interface design. The default touch controls aren’t always intuitive: you have to swipe up to make the physicist jump, and yet his is a Prince of Persia-like forward leap, not the upward bounce that happily coincides with the swipe direction in games like Tero. The hidden left- and right-hand action buttons are discovered only by chance unless the player slogs through the written UI tutorial via a Help menu — definitely recommended for minimized frustration if you want to keep the screen clear of a visible interface. Swipe controls inherently demand greater execution time than button input, so segments that were built with a certain level of precision in mind are more difficult to pull off with the touch interface. Thankfully the port’s default touch interface can be swapped for a virtual button interface, which I ended up sticking with over the long haul. It isn’t without its own drawbacks; the D-pad and action button default to the top of the screen, and yet when they’re brought to the bottom with a quick tap, the player’s thumbs will occasionally obscure enemies.

Ultimately, it simply comes with the territory in a port as faithful to the original as Another World’s iOS rendition appears to be. The touch controls could have been made clearer by way of a live tutorial, and a screen-hogging virtual interface demands some shifting of game elements to keep them out of the way of the player’s thumbs. Neither are likely to happen here inasmuch as they’d amount to significant deviations from the original presentation.

That said, one thing I’d desperately like to see in updates is an option to switch off auto-running in applicable segments of the game.  In certain contexts, the game attempts to help the player by making the physicist run without the need for double-tapping or swipe-to-run, effectively removing the player’s walking option. The problem being, plenty of leaping might still be needed during these segments, and being able to adjust the physicist’s pace is still a useful option when that’s the case. I found this particularly irksome during a scene where the player has to outrun a torrent of water in a cavern, but this is a mercifully rare annoyance overall.

Whether the swipe controls or virtual D-pad are active, the player can tap onscreen with two fingers to switch Another World’s visual presentation between the original’s heavily pixelated graphics and a smoother rendition with extra background detail. Sadly, Another World plays almost entirely devoid of music except during certain cutscenes, and the iOS rendition doesn’t seem friendly to external tracks as far as I’ve tried. While the port’s interface learning curve isn’t crippling, it does cut into the game’s appeal given its low content-to-price ratio — an expert playthrough might last as short as 30 minutes, with an average player spending between an hour-and-a-half to two hours in the first go-around.

iFanzine Verdict: The appeal of Another World’s clever game design has definitely survived the decades – and the porting process – but a steep interface learning curve and low content-to-price ratio will still turn some players off. If you’re a big fan of action games or logic puzzles and missed it the first time(s) around, however, you owe it to yourself to experience Another World at least once.