Does every modern era game have to be about zombies or Nazis? JanduSoft says no. Here, have some delightful caveman antics in a retro caveman platformer that may evoke nostalgia of all those classics that if you’re under 25 you’ve never heard of. So is this a shining gem or a prehistoric turd?
A bit of one, more of the other.
Caveman Warriors feels like the sort of game where they weren’t quite sure what sort of game they wanted to make, and as a result it has a bit of an identity crisis. One thing it definitely is is a game about cavemen. The plot is retro simple- your kids were kidnapped by aliens, save them. It has that caveman aesthetic- colourful animal skins, bizarre weapons like a log of meat and a monkey, and a charming primitive vibe brought out by the comic panel story explanation with a touch of humour on the side.
It won’t win any awards for its soundtrack or graphics, but it feels like they achieved what they were aiming for to the best of their ability on a low budget and I can respect that. In some levels however, projectiles or traps start to blend in with the background and especially with the projectiles it feels like they could have given a bit more visibility to them. Actual sound effects, while caveman appropriate are some of the ugliest things to listen too- though, if you’re playing a caveman game to hear lots of bestial grunting, you won’t be disappointed in the slightest.
Of course, that’s generally not the meat and potatoes of retro platformers, good level design and solid controls can make any game excellent. This unfortunately is where the game starts to resemble less the panoramic splendor of entering Jurassic Park to that iconic orchestral piece- and more like the moment when that lawyer gets brutalized by a T-Rex while trying to take a dump.
On the whole, the game is solidly built- there are no actual issues with the controls from the perspective of working as intended. However, this is a co-op platforming game, and I expect the pacing of such a game to be fast if not outright hectic. The slight delay in special attack use is something you can get used to quickly, though having to use different buttons to jump or high jump when developers figured out jump sensitivity as far back as the NES is more than a little disappointing for a PS4 game.
That taking damage includes a massive knockback often into pits doesn’t match with the pace of the game, and after coming out of a pit you can’t use abilities or immediately move which often leads to you having to either slow down or face a single wrong move chaining down most of your health bar. This is one of the most detrimental parts of the game- it seems like it wants you to be going forward quickly, demolishing enemies in your path and that works well for a co-op game like this. But, these control flaws make more sense in a game you want players to take it slow and be methodical about, something like Ninja Gaiden or Contra.
With levels being as long as they are, the biggest threat is often incremental damage adding up rather than any actual foe you come across being fearsome. However, nothing compares to the game’s stamina meter.
Using abilities is often necessary for facing enemies, or for parts which slightly resemble Trine as you need specific characters to get past certain parts of the game. For example- a singing monkey may be needed to open a door. These really end up only slowing down play if you are alone to switch to that character, as there are no actual puzzles in the game, few secrets revealed by use of your abilities and unlike Trine there is no need to combine abilities at any point to accomplish anything.
Where the stamina meter becomes perhaps the main gameplay gripe is that when you run out of it, it doesn’t only make it so you can’t use abilities- you straight up can’t move. Three spear throws with the red head and you’re wheezing as abilities suck your stamina rapidly, and it recovers painfully slowly. As if that weren’t enough, for vehicle segments your regular ammunition also eats through stamina.
I had to stop and wait far too many times for stamina to recover- and there’s no sense of urgency while you’re doing this, no constantly spawning enemies it’s merely a halting of momentum to wait to recover.
Pacing is what kills this game, between knock backs, stamina and carefully planning your way through areas with lots of hazards the game comes to a standstill at times. Levels aren’t short either- there’s only eight of them so the game itself isn’t long, but each level is easily three or four times the size of what most would expect. Often the most challenging portion of each level is the end stretch and the boss, so if you lose your few lives there you’re doing the whole thing over again.
At least the bosses are unique, and with the two vehicle levels there’s some good variety. Co-op makes bosses far easier, but they still manage to mix telegraphed but often challenging to avoid attacks with small boss weak points that put you directly in the path of their attacks, which makes for a pretty good fight with one glaring flaw. Almost all the bosses can be cheesed. Certain bosses can be pretty much rendered unable to hit you or stunlocked with a full party, though are more challenging alone- but others will have points on the screen where they can’t even hit you. It’s shadow link all over- duck in a corner and stab some knees.
Caveman Warriors isn’t a bad game, I wouldn’t consider it bad or a game. I’d consider it a promising demo. At $20CAD I don’t think I could recommend it to anyone, and at any price I can’t advise playing it by yourself. If you have some friends for couch co-op though, the experience is very different and it becomes a decent demo with no replay value. Yes, there are extra levels, but they’re nearly identical with a few changes in traps and enemy placements and playing through them won’t feel too different from the level you just beat. There’s also arcade mode, which beefs up enemies and makes those holes you keep getting knocked into instant death, if you’re looking for more of a challenge.
Wait, did I say no Nazis? I lied.