Another World – 20th Anniversary Edition
In the tiring debate of ‘videogames as art,’ a few key titles invariably rear their stylistic heads; Ico, Shadow of the Colossus and Limbo, to name but three. Yet if you were to draw a line from these titles to their own inspiration, all roads would lead to Another World. Ported to just about every system imaginable in the early 1990s, the oddity and influence of Eric Chahi’s cult title cannot be overstated. In short, Another World was about a decade ahead of its time, with no obvious forebears and has probably been an influence, in one way or another, on every important indie game you’ve played since.
Another World’s first victory, and the one that will likely stay with you, is in its world building. Few games, heck, few films or books have managed to convey the eeriness of a strange and hostile alien planet like this. From the desolate planes that scientist Lester Chaykin initially finds himself in, to the underground caverns and the crumbling Roman-esque amphitheatres later in the game, every pixel of Another World feels imbued with a strange, poignant and unsettling feeling that completely befits the sombre story.
Design wise, it’s another masterstroke for Chahi’s defining title. Ico creator Fumito Ueda has talked about ‘design by subtraction,’ breaking down a game to its bare essentials. In that sense, Chahi was adopting the exact same approach ten years earlier. Another World comes with precious little exposition, even for the time. Most story elements are woven through the environment, or are hinted at in the few, blink-and-you’ll-miss-them, cut-scenes. There’s also no HUD to speak of – no health bar, no weapon readings and no on-screen prompts or cues. Even today, this approach is rare but back in the 16-bit era it was practically unheard of.
Innovations don’t stop there either. Early in the game, Chaykin finds an alien gun capable of firing lasers, building defence shields and letting rip a colossal death ray. Yet whilst you’ll certainly have to despatch a few unfortunate guards with the anachronistic device, you’ll use it equally as much in solving environmental puzzles. This may not be a tact unique to Another World – Metroid certainly got there first – but it's yet another aspect that made the game standout from just about everything that surrounded it.
So, with all that, it’s of little surprise that Chahi has dusted off his baby for a twenty-year redux. At its core this is the same game, but with a lovely and effective makeover. Those pixelated textures have been brought right up to date, whilst some of the musical interludes (again, actual music would be far too predictable here) have been reworked. However, even if the facelift isn’t to your tastes, a quick button press will roll back the years to the old facade, warts and all.
At this point, Another World feels almost perfect, but twenty years of game innovations have scuffed its veneer. There are some joypad-flinging difficulty spikes and obtuse puzzles with a repetitive ‘try and die’ approach throughout. It’s also painfully precise in what the game requires you to do with little room for experimentation. The difficulty may extend the gameplay for several hours but a speed-run could take as little as fifteen minutes. And whilst the ending is bold and ambiguous, it may not be to everyone’s tastes.
Then again, Another World wasn’t made for ‘everyone’. That it was made at all is enough and were it to come out today on Xbox Live or PlayStation Network, it would rightly be held up as an indie classic and yes, as an example of (sigh) ‘gaming as an art form’. If you played it before, this update is still worthy of your attention even just as a reminder of how forward-thinking and influential it was then and how well it holds up now. If you’re new to it, try to embrace its idiosyncrasies, (hell, the whole game is one big idiosyncrasy) and bear in mind that Another World can be difficult to like, but easy to fall in love with.