QUByte Classics: The Humans by PIKO (Xbox Series X)- Review

Thanks to Qubyte for the review code

Title: Qubyte Classics: The Humans by PIKO
System: Xbox One
Price: $9.99
Release Date: 02/03/2022


Prelude from the Reviewer

So uh, this is a bit weird. As you may recall, I had a severe data loss crisis a while ago, and I’m still pending to hear back on if my data can be salvaged or not… Several reviews I was in the middle of writing were caught up in that, and one of those was of the first game in this retro lineup. Thus, we’re jumping the order and sorta writing this backwards, so if you see any references to the other game for UI and such, but you don’t see the review, hang tight: either it’ll be recovered and finished, or I’ll have to begrudgingly do this over again and take even longer than I normally would like. It seems more and more likely that it’ll be the latter at this rate, with one company already giving my old SSD an “impossible recovery” rating, but I’m not giving up.

Story

In this puzzler, you take control of a group of prehistoric Humans, setting out on a quest to expand their tribe and live through prehistory! Not much else besides that, and both endings in this game don’t do much here either.

Presentation

Just like the first Qubyte compilation, you have a basic UI for picking your game version, as well as a basic menu for saving/loading states and changing controls. Yet again, there’s nothing in terms of bonus info or content, and I still stand by the notion that adding manual scans, box art, or something extra would have been a neat bonus. The screen options are all the same as before, except for the Game Boy version, which offers a nice variety of color options, so you can choose to stick with the traditional GB colors or go for something fun like an all-blue display.

The two versions on offer here are the SNES version, (appearing to have only launched in EU originally before Piko reprinted it for the west) and the Game Boy version. (Which launched worldwide) The Genesis one was supposedly meant to be here as well per the game info, but I cannot find it for the life of me and the achievement guide seems to indicate there’s only one 16-bit version anyhow, so Sega fans are out of luck on this one.

The SNES version is easily the best, with a friendly art style, playful soundtrack, and easier navigation, though it’s still blatantly based off a computer game and is very cursor heavy, so the whole experience ends up being a bit strange. Oddly enough, there’s not a single sound effect in sight, which seems to be a holdover from the Amiga. Still, the animations are charming, and overall the game looks serviceable.

The Game Boy one on the other hand? Oooooooh boy. First off, the title menu is just absolutely hideous looking, and all the sprites have been shrunken down massively. On the plus side, this means unique and different levels from the console version, but on the negative end, you have a game that’s much, much slower, with choppy screen tearing, (very strange for a GB game, and I can’t tell if that’s the emulation or not) painfully slow cursor movement, and just an uglier game by a long shot. The music also completely gets on my nerves and seems to have problems staying at the same pitch after a while, and yet again, the game lacks sound effects. (here though, that’s a blessing!)

Gameplay

Whichever version of the game you play, the main objective of each stage is simple: Get a Human to complete the end goal through the power of teamwork. This means you have to switch and guide multiple humans from your tribes, Lemmings Style, as you help them out of harms way, and eventually gain items to assist them in their journey, whether that includes a spear that can be used to attack or jump across gaps, a wheel that provides a fun method of transportation, or a torch that burns a wooden barrier, there’s some decent variety at play here that’ll keep you thinking. Guide a human to the exit part of the stage, and you’ll have cleared the level.

However, being that you are the leader of a tribe of humans, you have to keep an eye on them and reserve them very carefully, at least in theory. Each human who dies (Whether by hazard, natural wildlife, or opposing tribe) is replaced by another member of your tribe, repeating until you run out of them, since they’re your lives. While you may gain some over the course of the adventure, throwing them at hazards constantly is a surefire way to run out of backup and thus, go extinct. There’s just one caveat that makes this all mostly redundant: since both versions of the game use passwords to pick up where you left off, that also means the password system doesn’t record the amount of humans you get. Thus, it’s incredibly easy to just reload your quest with a default batch of them and continue the journey, making a true no-continue run the way to go for if you wanna keep the challenge authentic.

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Sadly, both versions do have some pretty big issues, and what should be a simple puzzler that works well enough comes with irritating issues that make neither version too terribly fun to play for long. Since this is compilation, albeit of the same game, let’s look these over a bit more closely.

The Humans (SNES)- The “base” version here, if you will. Controlling the humans here wasn’t too terribly tough, even though some aspects like aiming and casting magic with the witch doctor were pretty frustrating to fumble around and figure out, but it’s pretty understandable since this game doesn’t use the SNES Mouse at all: the whole thing is D-Pad controlled, and the speed of the cursor gets the job done. Unfortunately, even on the easiest setting the time provided to you is way, way too tight, meaning if you so much as mess up once in some levels, you basically already threw in the towel. I’m not even sure if this game can be beaten on hard without continuing, since the cursor speed and the clunky character switching seems way too slow to make up for the demonic time limits they place on you, so don’t feel bad about playing on a lower difficulty and/or with Save States.

Speaking of which, I kinda wish the Qubyte emulator had save rewind support, since it would greatly benefit a puzzler like this, especially with how long the levels can be if you die at the end and have to redo it all… Outside of the aforementioned screen options and save states, there really isn’t much in terms of emulation choices here, making the package feel very barebones even if the game at least runs perfectly like it should.

The Humans (Game Boy)- Oh lord, oh god… You’d think a puzzler on the Game Boy would be the safest bet ever, considering how that platform was married with the genre, but somehow this port is just abysmal, and I can only assume it was thrown in here as a curio bonus since it’s easily the worst way to play this game. With only four buttons, switching between humans is now a painful exercise of a super slow cursor selecting the one you want, or holding a button combo for a “fast” switch that isn’t really that fast at all. The humans move like snails, the scrolling is all choppy, and the music drills into my brain and gives me pain. On one end, all the levels seem remixed and shorter to make up for the different platform, and there’s way less, at a few under 30. On the other, the game is so glacially slow I am horrified Gametek thought this was acceptable. Think Castlevania Adventure speed, but even slower, with a puzzler, and you have a recipe for pure pain.

So you may think as a result, the time limit is absolutely impossible, right? Somehow, no. This version is pretty generous with it, so in a way the worst aspect of the SNES version is gone, in favor of being unbearably slow to play. In fact, if there was a fast forward/rewind feature here, it could actually be pretty decent, especially since you can even use clever shortcuts such as a method to summon the witch doctor at any time to break levels by transforming spare tribesmen into items way before you’re supposed to get them, and some of the stages I could see elements of fun for, if only the game’s pacing wasn’t so god damn slow that I feel pain in clearing each stage I get the patience to sit through. So in the end, you get a good looking and average, but tough and very time-strict version of the game, or a painfully slow and agonizing handheld variant, but with better level designs and weirder ideas. It seems the ideal way to play this game is on a system with a mouse, and that ain’t any of the two versions here.

Conclusion

In conclusion, The Humans is a puzzler with an OK concept dragged down heavily by very flawed execution, and neither version of the game does anything to mitigate this. The SNES version is dull, and the time limit is incredibly tight to the point that you’ll be begging for QOL stuff that just isn’t here, while the Game Boy version is so abhorrently slow even with the extra time given you’ll almost certainly go insane trying to clear a single stage, even if you’ll see some cool stuff if you somehow stick with it.

Combine a lackluster game with a barebones porting job, (and apparently a missing version if the press info is anything to go by, as the Genesis version just ain’t here) and while you do have a lot of puzzling content and levels to go through, and the controls do indeed work properly, the pacing of The Humans just fails to hold up at all in either form, and a Rewind/Fast Forward feature for the emulation would have helped a long way. Thus, I honestly can’t recommend this game much at all, since while the emulation is still accurate, the game itself just isn’t that fun, especially that terribad Game Boy version. Maybe the Genesis version fixes my gripes I had with the other ports, but as it didn’t get included yet, I won’t know!

I give Qubyte Classics: The Humans a 5 out of 10.

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