It has been said before, and it will probably be said again. 2017 has been the year of nostalgia. Over the last few months, we’ve had Sonic Mania, a game reveling in the 16-bit era, Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, a game reveling in the 32-bit era and the Kingdom Hearts HD mega-pack, a game reveling in….okay, well we have no idea how many bits the PS2 days were, but nonetheless, nostalgia is strong.
In case you can’t tell yet, Caveman Warriors is a game that at least rents the hotel room next door to the wild nostalgia party. While it doesn’t have the pixelated graphics or the chirpy chip-tune soundtrack, its gameplay is so dated that it walks with a cane and shouts about what things were like in ‘the good old days’
The game follows the adventures of four cavemen, or rather cave people, as there are actually two cavemen and two cavewomen. An alien (what!?) steals two cave children, presumably their children?….maybe? Either way, they run off to go and save them with no further explanation provided. Obviously aping the games that inspire it, the story is expected but barely present. If the game came with a manual, it would probably contain an expanded version of the story, along with all the names of the enemies that you have to fight on your adventure.
Fortunately, although the game borrows a lot mechanically from older games, the graphics didn’t feel the need to fall into the trap of being pixelated. Not that pixel graphics are necessarily a bad thing. If anything, games like Sonic Mania have shown us that pixel graphics can still look stunning in 2017. However, when a game that doesn’t know what it’s doing with pixel graphics tries to use them to invoke nostalgia, you can end up with a square, blocky mess.
The graphics here fit the style of the game very well. Everything is very vibrant and cartoony. Each of the characters has a unique design that you can easily tell apart from first glace, and this includes most of the enemies too. There is something very familiar about the character design in places, especially the red cavewoman who looks very similar to something else that lingers on the edge of memory.
The music is also pretty stellar and avoided trying to lean too heavily on chip-tune based nostalgia when it wasn’t necessary. The music comes from Sonotrigger Studios, a game-music making company headed by Damien Sanchez, who composed the music for this game. His work has been featured in other games, such as Anima: Gate of Memories and Reservoir Dogs: Bloody Days, and almost always comes across like music that would be just as well suited in a triple A title. His work is no less well suited here and is very lively and jumpy. It suits the action-oriented gameplay very well and helps set a decent, upbeat tone.
The game is your basic 2D platformer affair that bears a lot of similarities to games like Joe & Mac. You run from left to right, beating up random enemies and finishing the level off with a boss. This is gameplay so formulaic it can probably be expressed as an algebraic equation.
You control one of four cavemen, and in single-player you have the option to switch between any of the four different cavemen at will. Each of them has their own special attacks and abilities. The green caveman can throw his axe in a wide arc and has a rushing attack that can break down blocks. The red cavewoman can throw her spear in a straight line and has a dash attack that sends enemies flying. The blue caveman can throw his sticks at people and release monkeys who freeze enemies in place, and finally the yellow cavewoman can smash people into the sky and has a shielding ability.
As well as their special attacks and abilities, each caveman has a basic attack, a jump and a super jump. The odd thing about this last ability is that you can do it either by pressing up and jumping or by pressing B/Circle. That might not sound that odd, but honestly, the odd thing is that the game doesn’t tell you that you can do it both ways, only informing you about the clunkier ‘Up & Jump’ combo.
As well as using your various forms of attack to dispatch your enemies, you can also use the old platformer stable of jumping on their heads. Most of the enemies that you come across, at least at first, are other cave people, but you do eventually come across some more interesting enemies, like pterodactyls.
One of the major problems with the gameplay is the feeling that you’re never completely correctly equipped to deal with the situations that you find yourself in. A good example of this is the giant cavemen that you come across in the first level. They aggro on you as soon as you’re on the same floor level as them and rush straight at you. Your high jump isn’t quite good enough to clear them, so you’re probably going to end up taking damage from them. Another decent example is probably the third level where you’re riding a triceratops and have to shoot at enemies coming from behind while constantly accelerating with R2. For some reason it is incredibly difficult to keep the triceratops moving forward while shooting the enemies behind you, especially in the boss fight, it just keeps dipping behind for seemingly no reason. On top of all that, the way you aim the gun is incredibly unintuitive.
Attacking also doesn’t feel so good. Usually in a game attacking feels fluid or happens in a combo. Here every attack makes the character stop dead in their tracks, and each attack has a different rate that can leave you getting hit when there are multiple enemies coming at you at once.
Another interesting point is the fact that in single-player you’re likely to only change characters when the game forces you to. While switching between the red and green cave people is useful in combat, helping you to hit enemies in odd places, the other 2 would see basically no use if there weren’t environmental factors that required their help.
There are only 8 main levels in the game, each of which also comes with a secret level as well. If you find yourself with 3 other people to play with or find that you can manage not to struggle against the less than optimal mechanics, then you can probably beat the entire game in about an hour, maybe two.
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 22nd September 2017