Lester The Unlikely is a 1994 platformer developed by Visual Concepts and published by DTMC in North America and Asmik in Japan. This game has a massive stigma and a reputation for being a game that is notoriously bad thanks to reviews on Cinemassacre by the Angry Video Game Nerd and other reviewers in the past few years. However, in this review I will be offering a fresh approach to the game having never played it or completed it until recently. I also enter this review with no bias or no prior experience because I feel that this review will highlight both the problems that the game has, which it does and also the redeeming factors of the game, which it also has as well.
So the story of the game is that the player controls a geeky teenager by the name of Lester, who is reading the newest issue of his favourite comic, Super Duper Hero Squad. He is reading it whilst walking around on a dock, where he falls asleep on a crate full of cargo that is being loaded on a cargo ship. This cargo ship then gets hijacked by pirates who then suck the ship with all the cargo. However, Lester finds a life jacket and swims to a nearby island. It is up to the player to guild Lester safely throughout the island and safely home.
Now, there are a few flaws with this story that need to be addressed from the beginning. The game mentions no information about whether the other members of crew that were on board the boat survived or not. The second flaw is that surely the member of the crew who were loading the cargo onto this boat surely would have noticed the fact that there was a sleeping teenager on the crate being load onto the boat. The third flaw is that if Lester was reading his new comic book, why would he be walking around on a dockside in the first place? The fourth flaw is that within the story, you actually save a indigenous girl halfway through the game and before you save her there is no mention of that anywhere in the story. I just feel that the story is somewhat too thin on the ground and it leaves the player asking questions that aren’t relevant simply because the game hasn’t explained it properly.
Overall, the story is lacking in quite a few departments and I feel that maybe if the story was explained better and in more detail, then the game’s story would have been more solid. Instead the story seems to be an idea that was thought up at the last minute and almost feels a bit too rushed. Even some cutscenes would have helped with the explanation of the story, as instead what the player is greeted with is a basic explanation with no more cutscenes until the end of the game.
There is however, one major positive about the story which is really not seen in many games throughout gaming history and that is that the player is playing a geeky character. Lester is the sort of the character that isn’t really shown in games and that is the sort of character you wouldn’t expect to be the hero. Also, Lester throughout the game gains courage to continue fighting his way through the island, which is almost like an expected hero becoming strong and powerful enough to succeed.
Lester The Unlikely’s controls are what have caused the critical reviews to be very negative. From a casual perspective, the controls feel somewhat clunky and unresponsive, which makes some of the platforming quite difficult. Also, the player needs to be on the exact tile that the platform above Lester is on or Lester doesn’t is either too far forward or not close enough. This can make some platforming frustrating as it always seems that Lester is never in the correct place to make jumps.
Also, the player can’t jump down from too high or Lester will take fall damage, which for platformers at the times was quite uncommon with the likes of Mega Man X and Sonic The Hedgehog 3 being the leading platformers at the time. When the player has to drop from a platform, the player can’t simply walk of the platform as the distance to too far for Lester to fall before taking damage. Instead the player would have to face the platform and press down to make Lester drop and grab the platform before eventually dropping down. This makes the gameplay extremely slow and makes the game feel like a chore. The other problem with the gameplay is that Lester runs away from enemies because he gets scared, which the player has no control over. The major issue with this is that Lester can run into other enemies, lose health and even cost the player lives. This is also an issue within the speedrun, but the speedrun has specific cues which skips these scared animations.
However, it is the speedrun of the game, which makes the game platforming feel so much better. The route for the game ignores the fact that casually, you have to drop down from the platform, but instead you jump from these platforms. What this means is that the game feels much faster and the momentum of Lester feels really good. Also the issue with Lester not being on the correct tile for jumps is negated because in the speedrun, a running jump is done, which means that Lester doesn’t have to be perfectly aligned with the platform to reach it. Personally, I think that the speedrun makes the game really enjoyable because the quirky mechanics make the game really fun to play and also to watch.
The graphics of the game are actually quite pleasing on the eye with the enemy sprites looking very clean and well designed. There is quite the variety of enemies in the game for the different aesthetics of the levels and no enemies feel out of place. The backgrounds have a wide variety with plenty of aesthetics depicted with everything from caves to pirate ships and these backgrounds don’t clash too much with the enemy sprites too much. The only levels where there is some colour clashing between background and foreground is the cave levels, where the colour of the bats and the dark background make some of the bats very difficult to see.
Also, even though Lester’s animations when he is scared can be quite annoying during a speedrun, the animations themselves are very well animated. The player really feels the innocent nature of Lester and also the fact that the character during the first half of the game doesn’t feel like a hero. However, as the game goes on and Lester becomes more confident, his posture improves and he doesn’t become scared anymore. What this means for the player is that the player feels that there are on a journey with Lester and that the player is turning Lester from a scared teenager into a confident hero.
The music of Lester the Unlikely is pretty mediocre at best and really doesn’t add anything to the game. However, if there wasn’t any music in the game then the game would be mostly silent, as there really isn’t any sound effects in the game. The major problem with the music is that it doesn’t really stand out and feels more like temp music than an actual soundtrack. What temp music is music that is put in to either a film or a video game temporarily whilst the studio works on hiring a composer to compose an actual soundtrack. It just feels like the music for the game was an afterthought and not really worried about until much later in the development cycle.
However, what sound design there was in the game is actually quite good sound design. Whenever Lester kicks something, you get the thud sound and it sounds quite satisfying to kick a crab or a turtle. Although the only problem is that the kick sound is the same sound n0 matter what enemy the player kicks. What this means that the sound design gets old very quickly because there is just a lack of different sounds to represent either kicking different enemies or jumping onto different surfaces.
To conclude, Lester the Unlikely is a game of missed potential because the game’s graphics are pleasant to look at, but it is a shame that the game’s mechanics and music are below par. However, speedrunning the game makes the game much more fun because the issues with the mechanics are solved. I think if the developer had spent some more time on the game, then the obtuse mechanics and the other issues could be found and sorted out. This could have meant that the game would be a better game. I however still find the game enjoyable even though from this critical perspective I have mentioned some issues.
Copyright ©2016 Liam Piper. All Images Used Under Fair Use