Tuesday, 30 October 2012

CLASSIC GAME REVIEW - The Adventure Of Little Ralph (Playstation)

The Adventure of Little Ralph is a 2D platformer on the original Sony Playstation that many of you may have missed when it was originally released. You can be forgiven for doing so however, as it only ever saw release in it's native Japan. Little Ralph, or Chippoke Ralph No Daibouken to give its original title, was released in 1999, a time when the Playstation was getting a bit long in the tooth. Indeed, Sony had unveiled its Playstation 2 console that would see release in Japan the following year, and the Sega Dreamcast was already wowing gamers with its next gen graphics. It also didn't help the game's case that, as a 2D platformer it belonged to a genre that was no longer in favour, seen as outdated by many due to developers mostly focusing on 3D games that took advantage of the 32-bit host software. It is a shame though as Little Ralph is a great game that deserved more attention, but yesteryear's loss is our gain and we can now enjoy this hidden gem via the wonders of emulation, or ebay if you are willing to splash out the high asking prices this game commands. Little Ralph has a lot in common with Castlevania Symphony of the Night, it is a 2D platformer that did not sell well on it's original release, has a cult following, and is expensive to obtain a copy nowadays. It is also one of the few games that deserve the high asking price, and is well worth seeking out.

A cutesy platformer at heart Little Ralph finds you in the tiny shoes of the titular hero, who starts the game as plain old Ralph before being shrunk down to his diminutive child status by a dastardly demon. I'd love to tell you why this happens, but I don't speak Japanese so your guess is as good as mine. Maybe the demon had a bad case of little man syndrome and couldn't stand Ralph lording it up due to his vastly superior height, or maybe he had a penchant for small boys, who knows. Regardless, Ralph is naturally pretty peeved and rather than relishing a second chance at youth Ralph decides not being able to legally buy alcohol or get on all the cool theme park rides is unacceptable and so sets off in pursuit of the spell casting irritant in order to regain his manly status.

What ensues is a joyous romp through gorgeous stages comprising of castles, deserts, ice world, caves, and more, defeating a wealth of foes with his trusty sword (which strangely is just the right size for him, even in child form). The game looks and sounds great, the sprites and backgrounds are colourful, bold, and full of charm and character, both Ralph and his many adversaries are all well animated and oozing charisma. The stages include many neat touches, such as birds fleeing the rooftops as your approach, that really bring the game world to life. Visually, the game possesses a very 'Super Nintendo' quality but with the added polish and razzmatazz that one would expect from a console more than twice as powerful. If you ever wondered what games from the 32-bit era would have looked like had the world not gone 3D crazy and carried on with the 2D sprite based games beloved by all in the 16-bit days, then Little Ralph is your answer.

As well as being aesthetically pleasing, Little Ralph is also immensely enjoyable to play. It is standard platforming fare, travel from left to right, jumping over dangers and platforms, collecting fruit, and dispatching critters with your sword, but it never slips into mediocrity due to the high quality of all the elements in the game. Collecting certain items improve your sword, give you extra protection, and even give you a little helper critter called Feiro, though with his pitiful bomb attack, you can use the term 'helper' loosely. It also has a cool scoring system which allows you to hit enemies into one another, causing chain kills and boosting your multiplier, collecting the fruits that appear everywhere also boosts your score, and finding secret areas usually hold big treats for the curious adventurer. It is these secrets, as well as multiple routes through the stages, that grant Little Ralph a little depth and replayability. The game is challenging, but never so that it leaves you pulling out your hair in frustration, there are certain parts that will prove troublesome, but persistence and all important skill will see your through. 

The game also throws a curve ball your way when you encounter one of the games bosses. Upon meeting the green lizard beast in question the game suddenly switches Little Ralph back into adult form and initiates a side on beat-em-up scene in the style of Street Fighter. Luckily this section is not just a weak attempt to add variety, but actually a pretty good effort. Sure, it was never going to give Street Fighter 2 any sleepless nights, but it plays perfectly well. Moves are activated by the well known Dragon Punch & Fireball joypad commands even producing moves that Ryu himself would eye up suspiciously, and it is pretty satisfying and breaks up the platforming bulk of the game really nicely.

There are traces of other great 16-bit games thrown in the mix, the mine cart stage bringing to mind Donkey Kong Country, the ice world (especially some of its monsters, and music) conjuring up memories of Symphony of the Night, and even jumping over rolling boulders is pure Wonder Boy, but none of this feels too derivative as the game has its own personality.

It may not have made it to our shores first time around but now that you can relatively easily obtain a copy today I urge you to take the time to appreciate this overlooked classic. It has survived the ageing process remarkably well, its attractive sprites holding a timeless quality that will still look wonderful (with the right kind of eyes) in another 13 years from now.

The Good:

  • Wonderful Timeless 2D Graphics
  • Lovely Music
  • Extremely Playable and Challenging
  • Fighting Sections Add Variety

The Bad:

  • Er.. The Story Is In Japanese
  • Copies Fetch High Prices On Ebay