HomeReviews2.5/5 ReviewQUByte Classics - The Humans by PIKO Review

QUByte Classics – The Humans by PIKO Review


Brazilian games studio QUByte Interactive have been publishing a steady flow of indie games on the Xbox, including titles like Milli & Greg and Fluffy Cubed. But they’re not only interested in the new: an arm of their publishing house is focused on game preservation, taking some loved games from the past and giving them some CPR, putting wind in their lungs for modern consoles. At the end of 2021 we had The Immortal, and now we have The Humans.

QUByte Classics – The Humans by PIKO is not one game but two. It packages together the 16-Bit version of the game, originally released on Amiga, Atari Lynx, SNES and Sega Megadrive, with the Gameboy release. Having played both games we can see why: although the premise is the same the levels aren’t, the controls take different approaches, and they were clearly developed with varying constraints. This is a compendium of those two subtly different games. 

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They both had their eyes on the same game, however. If there’s one thing I remember about The Humans, it’s that it was released one year after Lemmings. This was very much a first-follower, looking to capitalise on Lemmings by, well, doing much the same stuff. Even as a young whippersnapper, I think I sneered at The Humans for being so cynical. Having played The Humans in its two iterations, though, we were a little harsh. 

You have a number of Humans at your disposal, and – unlike Lemmings – you actively control them. Each Human can be moved about the level, where they pick up items like spears and torches that change the abilities that the human has. With a spear, a Human can pole-vault to another platform, or toss it to kill a creature. With a torch, they can burn away obstacles. By arming Humans with the right items, a player can navigate the team to the end of the level and move onto the next.

The levels act as puzzles to be completed. The head-scratching often comes from working out how to get the right items to the right Humans. You’ll only have so many spears, so tossing them back and forth between your squad of neanderthals becomes tricksy (and you’ll have to be wary of accidentally impaling them). Other times, the puzzle is in the sequencing: what order should you do things? We lost track of the number of times we left a Human stuck in a pit, acting as a ladder for others to climb, before realising that we should have done something else with them first.

It’s a simple formula, and time has not been kind to it. Part of that’s down to the level layouts. In 1992, it was likely fine to include huge areas that take an age to walk around with a plodding caveman. It gives The Humans a scale and sense of exploration that Lemmings, for example, never attempted. But it’s makework nowadays, and we found ourselves looking around for other things to do. Knowing what to do in The Humans is rarely that taxing: having the patience to pull it off is another thing entirely.

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It’s a deadly marriage when combined with The Humans’ time limits. Each level must be completed in a set time-frame, and they are extremely tight. On latter levels, you are going to be succeeding by the skin of your teeth. But it’s an odd sense of panic, as you are moving slowly through improbably long levels. And you can be sure that failing with a few seconds to go, having ambled slowly round a level, is not a satisfying feeling. 

The Humans does not feel good to play. A lack of tutorials means you start on the back foot, and it rarely moves forward. The controls are the culprit: they are fastidiously authentic to the original, but they make almost zero sense. To move through menus, you have to tap the X button rather than use a joystick or analogue stick. To jump, you have to use a power-bar that’s a cousin to one you would find in a golf game. And just as you begin to master the bemusing controls, the two games have different takes on them. In the 16-bit version, you switch control of Humans with LB and RB. In the Gameboy version, you press Y to trigger a cursor, and then fly over to the Human you want. Moving from one game to the other means you have to completely rewire yourself.

We found ourselves cursing QUByte for doing nothing about the warts of the originals. The 16-Bit version of The Humans has no means of restarting a level, for example. You have to reboot the game or die, both of which take you back to the main menu. There’s a save game system, sure, but the simple act of restarting when you fail is made unusually awkward. And some things are blisteringly opaque. Knowing what to do when presented with a pterodactyl, for example, is hardly intuitive. You’ll end up chucking spears, humans and your patience at them before you finally figure out what’s needed.

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Remove the twenty-year old detritus from The Humans, either the 16-Bit or Gameboy version, and you have worthy games to remaster. The puzzles stand the test of time, and the core idea of controlling a team of grunts who only get useful when they’re holding the right item is as solid as a chunk of granite. But that detritus hasn’t been removed. It’s been carefully preserved, and The Humans – regardless of which version you play – can feel like you’re rolling a rock up a hill. It’s slow, it’s painful, and – suddenly, without any real fault of your own – the rock will slip out of your grip and you will be back where you started. 

With a full rework, rather than a vanilla re-release, The Humans would have got our grunted approval. But the advances of twenty years of gaming have meant that the flaws of QUByte Classics – The Humans by PIKO are glaring. This is a leaden, awkward double-bill, and while we applaud the act of preservation, there are very few reasons to wind back time and give The Humans another run. 

You can buy QUByte Classics – The Humans by PIKO from the Xbox Store

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