There are games out there, in the history of video games, which have marked big steps forward in terms of technical advancements. Classics such as Pong, Pac-Man or Donkey Kong have marked their era, each by accomplishing something special that helped move the video game format forward as a true mainstream entertainment media. Back in 1991, video games that offered a truly cinematic experience were limited to arcade machines that employed the laserdisc to output a constant stream of full-motion videos on a large disc, such as Dragon's Lair, or classic 2D games that attempted recreating realistic movements through the use of rotoscopy, the ancestor of motion-capture, as was the case with Prince of Persia. Games that offered real-time graphics to offer a truly movie-like experience, however, could not yet be considered as feasible. However, Another World, or Out of this World as it is known outside of Europe, attempted to fill that gap, through clever uses of the technology of the era. First seeing a release on the two popular micro computers of the era, the Commodore Amiga and the Atari ST, the game quickly saw ports to the SNES, Mega Drive and many other formats of the time, bringing the wowing experience to as many people as possible who will remember it to this day as being a unique and ground-breaking experience. Fast-forward to 2014 and the HD re-edition of the game released a few years back on PC for its 20th anniversary finally lands on consoles. Here Cubed3 takes a look at the Wii U version.
The game opens on Professor Lester, who experiments on antimatter creation using an underground synchrotron during a thunderstorm when his lab is struck by lightning and the experiment, going badly wrong, sends him into what seems to be another dimension - a totally different planet, inhabited by all kinds of monster-like creatures and a humanoid race of aggressive aliens.
What sets the experience offered by Another World well apart from anything else is how the player is thrown into control and action right off the bat without a single idea of what he or she has to do or how to accomplish it. This is indeed truly a trial-and-error and riddle solving experience, from beginning to end. Additionally, what little story there is gets told through cut-scenes devoid of any dialogue, other than the occasional line of indecipherable alien language, and yet everything still manages to make perfect sense, which in itself is quite an accomplishment. Back then, the lack of dialogue could easily be attributed to technical limitations, but nowadays most game designers would shudder at the idea of conveying a story with no text or voiceover whatsoever. Another World, for this alone, deserves its title of landmark masterpiece in the history of gaming.
The player is sent into the action as soon as arriving on the planet, and has to battle for their life through unexpected situations from beginning to end, requiring multiple attempts to figure out the way out of a tight situation, which is easier said than done. For example, Lester gets thrown in jail very early in the story and has to escape his cell, with explanation. Even as he does so, he has to run down unknown corridors, pursued by guards that shoot on sight! Little does the player know that the three-pixel-tall black line lying on the ground near the wreck of his cell is the laser gun that was carried by the guard he just killed! However, even when picked up from the ground, sure enough it's easy to press a button to shoot, but this alone isn't enough to survive the next few seconds of being chased by guards. It must be discovered that holding down the shooting button for a while can summon a force field to block enemy fire or that the gun runs out of energy if used too liberally, or even that it holds yet another unexplained function!
The player literally IS Lester, in all his lost and confused feeling of desperation, in the midst of action. That, while it may seem frustrating and clunky for some, will appear as simply genius to others as it works better than a lot of modern games at immersing the player into the action of the game.
Scene after scene unfolds, and should death occur, Lester is sent back to a previous checkpoint, which auto-saves progression through the game, with the main menu allowing previous points in the story to be visited without the need for passwords, as had previously been the case in the SNES version, for instance. Speaking of which, the amount of checkpoints has been at least doubled, meaning that death won't be as punishing this time as it used to be in the original versions. While this will make the experience less frustrating, it will also make it much shorter. Indeed, not having to go back too far after dying means that the game doesn't have to be mastered quite as much as it used to require and means that less time will also be required to finish it, thus diminishing its longevity. It doesn't make the whole experience less enjoyable, though, instead merely offering less worth for money spent, which is unfortunate.
What else does Another World 20th Anniversary Edition bring? Well, the HD visuals, other than upping considerably the native resolution of the game on Wii U, do add a decent amount of detail as well that was previously not included. They do not add anything to gameplay or the story, but do make the whole scenery nicer to look at. It is still possible to revert the 1991 original's graphics at a press of the Y button for those who wonder how the game used to look, but most people won't want to have to suffer the limitations of old when the new look is definitely much more enjoyable. The sound part has also been spruced up a bit through re-mastered sound effects. However, those are not accompanied by any music, which makes the whole experience a bit too bland compared to the SNES - or even better yet Mega-CD - soundtracks, which did add to the experience. Fortunately The Lounge Factory did include the latter, along with the original sound effects, which should be the preferred setup for most players out there.
The problem with the controls of such games that aimed at reproducing realistic movements back in the days when this first released still exist in this updated edition, namely the character having to wait to finish a sequence of several frames of animations before being allowed to jump. This makes it sometimes an exercise in frustration to accurately time jumps. Thankfully, otherwise it controls mostly fine on the whole.
The original game hasn't aged particularly well, so the new lick of paint is a most welcomed addition that makes the whole thing much prettier to look at. Its simplistic look may not be to everyone's taste, but this game has to be taken more as a landmark piece of abstract, Picasso-like video game art, rather than an attempt at realism, when compared to contemporary efforts. Another World was a necessary step forward in the advancement of video game graphics in order for gamers to appreciate the level of detail enjoyed nowadays in video-games.
Several sound options are present, one offering re-mastered sound effects and little to no music at all, another offering the original sound effects and the same very minimalistic music, while a third combines the original sound effects with the preferred soundtrack from the Sega Mega CD version, which is definitely the way to go for the best immersion into this virtual universe. It's a shame that the re-mastered sound effects cannot be combined with the CD soundtrack.
Value will all come down to how highly people who played the original hold it in esteem and how tolerant younger players (or people who never tried before) can be towards the minimalistic presentation of the game, as well as the total lack of guidance. The game is indeed incredibly short, and this version more so than any other before since it does add a lot of checkpoints where there were none in the SNES version, for example. This makes the whole game much easier to finish, even on the "hard" difficulty setting. Six hours of playtime will be required, at most, to finish the game on a first run, and then less than an hour - even on the hardest difficulty setting - on any subsequent run, which is fairly short even for the price.
Another World: 20th Anniversary Edition takes a beloved classic of the past that hasn't necessarily aged very well and brings to players who are hungry for monuments of gaming history just the version they needed to finally take a dive if they hadn't already. Those who played it back when first released may find here a good reason to dive in again on their Wii U and reminisce youth, albeit at a kind of a steep price. Waiting on a discount may be a good idea for those who have their hesitations as the game is indeed fairly short and ultimately doesn't bring much more than HD enhanced graphics, an easier difficulty on the whole, and a lacklustre revamped collection of sound effects. Nevertheless, the simplistic design, HD rendition, great CD soundtrack of the Mega CD version, and the overall intriguing experience of trial-and-error still stand out well enough to make this a worthwhile purchase for those looking for a unique experience on the eShop at the moment.