Platformers are a pillar of video games - I mean, where would gaming be today without Super Mario Bros? Yet, by the time the PlayStation came to town, everyone (especially Sony of America) thought them outdated. As a result, we missed out on more than a few gems - including The Adventures of Little Ralph.
Digging up information on The Adventures of Little Ralph has proven to be a big challenge. It's made by New Corporation, a group I've never heard of who happens to be equally elusive (and I'm pretty sure defunct on top of that). I believe it was made in 1999, at least according to the title screen.
But hey - who cares about the boring factoids. What Adventures of Little Ralph is, is a platformer that really brings on the old school flavor. Any fan of, say, the 16-bit Disney titles or Donkey Kong Country will have a lot to enjoy here. While there is no backtracking, the amount of exploration involved (and swordplay) reminded me more than once of a Castlevania.
Don't be fooled - the game only looks easy.
The game starts with the heroic Ralph facing down a hoard of invading demons. While he fights most off easily, a group of much badder dudes show up and turn Ralph into a kid: thus, Little Ralph. It's at this point that a woman (I'm not sure how she relates to Ralph exactly) protects Ralph, but she is also overpowered. Rather than finish Ralph off, they capture the woman and take off. So, naturally, Little Ralph is off on his big adventure.
Just two buttons - jump and attack. Holding attack will have you wind your sword back, and releasing it will have you swing your sword like a baseball bat. This is important, as it will allow you to send both smaller enemies and dangerous projectiles flying away from you - hitting any enemies in your path. Much like Mario kicking Koopa shells back at enemies, each successive enemy defeated by a deflected shot/enemy is rewarded with a score multiplier.
Also with relation to points will be fruit that you'll find. As you progress, fruit will oftentimes appear for a short time before disappearing. Much like enemies, each successive piece of fruit you pick up will earn you double the amount of points the previous gave you - however, this multiplier goes away when there are no longer any active pieces of fruit in play, meaning to maximize your points, you'll need to collect quickly while also strategically omitting at least one to keep the multiplier active. You'll need to keep your score in mind, as reaching certain milestones will reward you with extra lives ... and oh boy, will you need them. You can also earn lives by collecting certain amounts of hearts - these will appear with every 8th piece of fruit.
"Walls of text require massive pictures to not lose readers" - Journalism 101.
I explain all of this because, while Little Ralph may seem like a fairly typical platformer on the surface, it really is a much deeper experience underneath - and because of this, far more rewarding than most platformers than I've played. Whether it's bringing down an intimidating foe lightning fast with your mastery of the combat system, or pulling off the perfect way to collect fruit and the maximum amount of points they can bring, it just feels so good to do this stuff right.
Of course, it wouldn't feel so good if the game weren't incredibly difficult. You'll be thankful this game has limitless continues, as you'll likely use every single on of them. The difficulty gets damn unreasonable by the time you get to the final chapter and have to undergo a series of trials - I'd estimate I died about fifty times on this area alone, and that's likely a conservative estimate.
I can only imagine this guy is using save-states. Seriously, hardest thing I've ever done.
If you play it on easy, though, you are spared the last three chapters. You don't get the real ending, but that's what you deserve, pansy. (In all seriousness, master the game on easy before stepping up to the plate, unless you enjoy rage mixed with tears.)
Difficulty aside, this game is a masterpiece. The graphics are gorgeous, with well-animated characters, colorful environments, and tons of little touches like tiny birds flying away as you approach them and rats scurrying across the floors of the sewer. The music is great as well - I still find myself humming the music that precedes almost every boss encounter. Sound effects are classic, and really reminded me of the charm inherent in those 'outdated' 16-bit classics.
Another interesting thing about this game is that, during many of the boss fights in the latter half, the game turns into a one-on-one 2D fighter with nice, big sprites. Suddenly, your jump button is replaced with a secondary attack, up turns into your jump and back becomes a block, and familiar fighting game motions like the Hadoken and Shoryuken result in similar actions from the not-so-little Ralph.
You can see the fighting game bit at the end of this. Too bad the AI isn't very adaptable...
While some might disagree, I loved this. It may not have been the best 2D fighter (far from it, in fact), but it was a nice change of pace. I mean, hey, if you can't think of an interesting platformer-sort-of-way to do a boss fight, this is a great idea. Even better, bosses you defeat in this fashion are then unlocked for play in a 2-player versus mode. I never got to test out this versus mode with another player, and I doubt it would have been too fun, but it's an interesting addition none the less. Certainly nothing that I anticipated when I got the game.
If you are looking for a physical copy of this game, you better be prepared to throw down some bones. Best price I've seen is around $70, but some have the audacity to charge $150-200. Luckily for the rest of us, you can find this game on the Japanese PlayStation Network Store for 600 Yen - a much more reasonable price, and really, you have no excuse not to get it at that price.
RetroGrade: A. If you have fond memories of playing Super Mario Bros., Wonder Boy, Castlevania - or hell, any platformer - you need to pick this game up. Make that Japanese PSN account, get a network card (3000 Yen gets you 5 PS1 Classics... hint hint...), and download this to your PSP or PS3 immediately. You can thank me later.