Out back of the Hardcore Gamer office you’ll find our Graveyard, where countless long-dead classics lie. We come here to pay our respects, to reminisce, and to wonder aloud what a passing mad doctor might be able do with all these corpses and some high-definition lightning.
In 2012, there aren’t a lot of PlayStation games that have aged well relative to the million or so that actually got released. Sometimes, this is due to the game just not being all that great, where it didn’t age well two weeks after release let alone over a decade. Then you’ve got the vast majority of cases with this system (and the 32-bit generation in general) where you have a solidd game design that has simply been improved upon and refined due to emerging technology causing earlier games to age poorly by comparison. One genre that holds up well over time is 2D platformers, as evidenced by countless modern-day downloadable entries in the genre.
The Adventure of Little Ralph is one of the best platformers on the PS1. The adventure begins with Ralph trying to save a town being attacked by monsters, only to be turned into a kid by them and have a woman who tries to protect him taken hostage as well. Now he has to save the damsel, time jumps perfectly, and beat massive bosses to save the babe. While it might sound like every other platformer, in execution, it stands out from the pack. Throughout the game, you’ll be able to upgrade the sword from just a slash to using a blue power-up to increase its range, as well as use a red one to allow it to shoot fireballs alongside the slashes. There’s even a power-up that gives you a white…thing, possibly a living rice ball or some sort of deformed bunny, as a sidekick who lobs things at enemies. You can also hold Square to charge your shot and send one enemy into others – possibly leading to a chain of fruits showing up to boost your score. The weapon usage reminds me a bit of Strider in how the sword attacks look, but it can also go in multiple directions, which reminds me a bit of Super Castlevania IV’s versatile whip.
The end result gives players a sense of power while also not making you feel overpowered – the power-ups merely give you an edge against regular foes and make boss battles slightly less frustrating. It’s worth noting that the game not only has an auto-save feature after you opt to not continue, but also features infinite continues if you feel like plowing through in one shot. I wouldn’t recommend that though – the game is at its most enjoyable in shorter bursts and the save mechanic allows you to take some breaks if you need to. Sometimes, the best course of action after a tough section is to just stop and come back to it later with a clear head.
Little Ralph’s level design stands out nicely too – not only due to their visual diversity, but having branching paths. You’ll traverse crumbling castle areas, aquaducts (which both remind me a lot of areas in Hayao Miyazaki’s Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro), pyramids, sewers, and many other stages as well. There are also some great perils here too – including giant kid-squishy blocks soaked in blood (presumably not sold in stores) and massive torrents of water coming down on you in the sewer that need to avoided ASAP – moreso than usual sewer water. You’ll usually have higher or lower paths to choose from depending on how well you nail jumps or explore. Sometimes, you’ll need to nail a jump perfectly in order to take the high road which usually yields an easier path but takes more skill to reach than the lower path, which takes more skill to pass due to an increase in enemies and frequently tougher platform sections. The controls make these bearable though, and you’ll always be able to count on the X button sending you into the air when you want it to – even during semi-annoying block dropping sections. With only the Square (attack) and X buttons in use, the controls are simple, yet also allow for some more complex actions thanks to the power-ups.
Graphically, Little Ralph looks pretty awesome even today. There’s a ton of detail in both foregrounds and backgrounds, and every character is animated smoothly – including background ones that have no bearing on the game like little birds flying around the first stage. I was pleasantly surprised by the violence in the game, not because there’s a ton of it, but because what perils are here are portrayed fairly realistically. If you jump into spikes, you just just turn into a pile of orbs flying out of the screen ala Mega Man – YOU’LL BE IMPALED. They used the perfect amount of detail for it to – enough to get across the action without being disgusting about it. The audio is probably the weakest aspect of the game, and it isn’t bad, it’s just that the music isn’t really memorable. It’s typical fast-paced platforming fare, but doesn’t add much excitement to things. The sound effects are similarly forgettable except for the yelp let out when you either leap to your death via long fall or onto spikes – that’s great stuff.
Overall, the Adventure of Little Ralph is an outstanding game, but one that will cost an arm and a leg if you want the PS1 original. That goes for about $150 online, leaving most with only the option of an ISO to play it. However, there’s another far more legal option to play it for next to nothing – create a Japanese PSN account (for free) and download the game for 600 yen (a tad under seven bucks). Given that it’s on PSN in Japan, I’m slightly surprised it hasn’t been made available as a Japanese PS1 game download on the NA store, but I’m sure that’s all due to some licensing issue, which sucks because only the story scenes are in Japanese – the menus are in English, and it’s an incredibly import-friendly game in that respect. If you’ve got a Japanese PSN account, put this game high on your priority list. If you don’t, then scour thrift stores and flea markets – maybe you’ll happen upon an inexpensive copy being sold by someone who doesn’t quite realize what they’ve got.