Review: Another World (SNES)

Simply out of this world

Poor old Lester Knight Chaykin (Les to his mates), an unwitting physicist, innocently went to put in some overtime in the lab during a thunderstorm one night. Who’d have thought that playing with a particle accelerator could magically teleport him to a strange alien planet when his lab gets struck by lightning?

In the blink of an eye our red-haired hero finds himself underwater with mysterious tentacles grabbing at his feet. There’s no time to waste, he's got to swim to safety. Within the first few minutes of the cinematic opening, he’s avoiding falling rocks, kicking blood-sucking leeches and running away from a giant dog-like beast who wants to rip him to shreds. Thankfully, young Les is a nimble chap, and with some Tarzan-style vine swinging action he escapes to safety.

The beast makes once last-ditch attempt to maul him and thankfully he's saved by an alien guard. Not that it’s on his side, however, the fiend knocks him out stone cold! When Les wakes up, dazed and confused, he’s in a cage with a strange alien cellmate for company. Before long they kindle a friendship and the pair soon get busy rocking their prison, making it collapse on the unwitting guard. Freedom!

There are not many games of this era that have such an impressive cinematic opening sequence. The use of vector polygons creates an attractive visual style and allows the action to unfold with silky smooth rotoscoped animation. It’s amazing to think that Another World was originally the work of a talented French guy by the name of Eric Chahi for the Commodore Amiga. Interplay's SNES port improves on it by adding extra content and background musical scores throughout.

The action takes place within the framework of a 2D platformer. Like Prince of Persia, the main character features lifelike animation and slightly fiddly controls. Les doesn’t have the most immediate reaction times to your commands, which you will need to consider when dealing with dangers like falling rocks or ducking to avoid enemy laser fire.

Very early on, Les finds a cool alien gun that can instantly vaporise any guards who get in his way. He can also set up a temporary forcefield that will protect him and his alien chum from enemy fire. Unfortunately for Les, the guards aren’t shy in using these to protect themselves as well, which can often lead to some tense stand-offs. You can also charge up the gun, R-Type style, producing a powerful blast to break these down as well as certain walls throughout the game.

Aside from the many corridors to explore, there are sections were Les must swim through underwater passages or drive a strange alien vehicle. Your extraterrestrial mate will help you at times by chucking you from one rooftop to another or gesturing to give you a hint of where to go next. The gameplay itself is fairly linear without too much backtracking, so there’s never too much danger of getting hopelessly lost.

Throughout, you will encounter puzzles such as setting up various obstacles before breaking down a dam that, if you get wrong, will kill you in the flood. Most of these you can only really solve through trial and error. There are lots of checkpoints along the way, which help when Les meets an untimely end. This will happen often; thankfully, you have unlimited lives. There is also a handy password system to allow you to get back into the action where you left off.

The game itself is very immersive, and there are few bells and whistles to distract the player. Diagrams, gestures and audio cues provide any guidance that you might need. Interestingly, there are no visual indicators such as an energy bar or score. Obviously the intention here was to create a truly cinematic experience, which pays off nicely as you can focus on the visuals without any distractions.

The look of Another World is quite unique, using vector outlines for the background scenery. The developers also interspersed cutscenes throughout, adding to the sense of depth. The game features some interesting cinematic effects, such as soldiers marching past in the foreground while the action takes place in the back. These allow the player to feel even more immersed in this quirky alien world. The animation for Les and the alien characters was captured with a process called rotoscoping, whereby real people are used as models for the animations in the game; this gives a quirky life-like feel to the movements.

These impressive visuals are complemented nicely by a top notch soundtrack. The music changes pace to suit the onscreen action, which conveys a great sense of tension at just the right times. While the Super Nintendo’s humble soundchip could not hope to compete with that of the Commodore Amiga, this version does at least feature music all the way throughout the game, not just for the opening and ending scenes.

With lots of trial and error, the average gamer might complete Another World in a matter of hours, but it’s a fun trip while it lasts. Replaying it in quick succession might feel a little repetitive, so we recommend a long break after you complete this game.

Conclusion

Another World is certainly well worth a look, and was a very unique game for its time. The quirky artwork and emotive soundtrack are as immersive today as they ever were. Players looking for a fast-paced action game might get frustrated with the trial and error nature, but those who like puzzles and a stern challenge are in for a rewarding experience. It’s unlikely that we'll see a release on the Virtual Console, so your best bet is to track down the SNES cart.