Long ago in the land that time forgot, the Prehistoric Platformer was king. Games such as Chuck, Bonk, and Joe and Mac were the kings of their respective consoles. But much has changed since that fateful era, and excluding last year’s Far Cry: Primal there’s barely been a whiff of an angry Neanderthal for decades. Spanish developers Jandusoft are intent on changing that sad decline with Caveman Warriors, but can this action platformer, with its fuzzy toed feet firmly buried in the golden age of the arcade cabinet, do enough to rescue the caveman genre from extinction?
The plot of Caveman Warriors is utterly unimportant, but here it is anyway: Jack, Lilliana, Moe and Brienne’s cave babies are stolen by aliens and they embark on a Mesolithic mission to get them back. It’s that simple. They’ll do this by travelling from left to right, jumping on platforms and clubbing enemies to death over 8 thematically distinctive worlds. These include the expected prehistoric cave-based locations, but vary wildly in latter stages to include spaceships and WWII battlefields.
Caveman Warriors owes a debt of gratitude to the classic Metal Slug series and this can be seen most clearly in the distinctive character design and excellent animation of the protagonists. Each has their own unique aesthetic that defines their attacks, movement and abilities. Lilliana has a snake wrapped around her spear which she can throw at foes from afar, Joe is the quintessential caveman who likes to shoulder barge his way through rocks, Brienne – in a change from stereotypical gender norms – is both the brawn and the beauty, while Mac likes nothing more than to pull his monkey out and toss it at his enemies.
The game supports up to four player local, and highly chaotic, multiplayer, in which the players each take control of one character. Whilst in single player the characters can instantly be swapped between with a tap of the shoulder buttons. However, with both the largest life bar and a limited use impenetrable shield, there’s very little incentive to choose anyone other than Brienne. At certain points during a level you may need to switch to another character, so as to use Lillian’s spear to scale a wall or Mac’s monkey to bypass a door, but these uses are few and far between, resulting in the characters being horribly imbalanced. There is little issue with this in single player, but managing to be the first to select Brienne in multiplayer is a game all in itself.
The lead characters are beautifully realised and it’s a joy to put the controller down just to watch their resting animations. The same cannot be said for their uninspired and rather generic foes. The variety is certainly there – your enemies ranging from giant cannibals, to futuristic robots and even a Nazi or three – but they do not have the necessary depth of animation to bring them to humorous life, as is achieved with seeming effortlessness in Metal Slug. Not only that but their attack patterns are mundane, covering the tactics of walk towards you, shoot you from afar, and run and explode in your face. The same can be said of the construction of the levels themselves.Moving platforms? Check. Collapsing platforms? Check. Beams of light that must be dodged or blocked? Check checkedy check check.
Things are turned up for the boss bottles. The bosses themselves are big, bold and a lot of fun to battle. You’ll take on giant man eating plants, angry pterodactyls and even an Elvis impersonating Terminator. There are tactics required to defeat each boss, from the simple ‘hit the flashing orb’ to the more complex ‘defeat the enemies in the correct colour-coded order’. Even better, the characters themselves come more into play here, with each of our cave heroes being better suited to defeating different bosses. That’s fine for single player, but in multiplayer it leaves many of the players just trying to survive whilst one of their team does all the hard work. Indeed, for a game that stands out from the crowd thanks to having local multiplayer, Caveman Warriors is curiously much better suited to solo play.
There’s technical issues to contend with throughout. Collision detection can be murky and indistinct, with enemies damage areas often being very difficult to judge. This is a less of an issue in single player, but again in multiplayer the game seems to get a bit confused, and on occasions one player is damaged whilst the other is unharmed when struck by an enemy. The rules governing projective weapons is odd too, as some weapons passing through certain types of scenery whilst others do not. Once the higher difficulties kick in these woolly rules really get in the way of advanced play.
Checkpoint placement can often be very suspect, with unnecessarily frustrating difficulty spikes thanks to a sparsity of restart points over tricky areas. In addition, there’s frame rate drops to contend with, particularly when facing the higher difficulty of the ‘extra’ levels which are densely populated with enemies.
Despite all of that, I found this to be an eminently enjoyable old school platforming game. In an age of open worlds, RPG elements and downloadable content, it’s delightfully simple. Like putting on an old pair of your favourite slippers that you’d forgotten how much you enjoy wearing. There’s even some replayability on offer, thanks to the need to find and gather hidden giant batteries throughout the levels which will ultimately unlock further, more difficult, versions of the stages.
Unlike the invention of the wheel or the utilisation of fire, Caveman Warriors is hardly likely to revolutionise our world, but then it wasn’t intended too. Instead you get a solid and fun side scrolling platformer that harks back to the console classics of yesteryear. It’s gorgeous to look at, and whilst frustration can be caused with several technical issues, I nonetheless enjoyed my time with Caveman Warriors.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4