Sunday, December 3, 2017

Review: Caveman Warriors


The side-scrolling action platformer is probably one of the oldest and most iconic genres ever on home consoles. That said, in the more recent years the number of titles in that vein have fallen precipitously. With many titles moving to 3D, adopting a more Metroidvania kind of style, or going down the Super Meat Boy rabbit hole with brutal precision the more stock variety inspired by the likes of Wonder Boy, Bonk, or even the sillier Joe and Mac have mostly disappeared. Speaking of prehistoric and somewhat silly adventures that brings us to Caveman Warriors, a game that mixes action elements with a degree of puzzle solving (and even multiplayer if you’ve got some friends available) to challenge you over a surprising variety of levels.


While you’ll choose your initial caveman (or woman, there are 2 of each gender) you will quickly discover that you won’t generally play for long as anyone specific. That’s because each of them have 2 special abilities that you’ll need to employ in different combinations at different times to make your way through the levels. Sometimes this will have to do with an obstacle of some kind that you’ll need to overcome (with a well-placed spear for instance) but many times you’ll want to change things up just to take out specific enemies who are too troublesome to try to attack straight-up. Rather than risk getting hit (which will be discussed more at length later) you’ll start to get a feel for scenarios where a specific warrior is the best to be used and will find yourself changing often.

The levels themselves as you progress will at least continue to change things up as well to prevent you from getting too settled in. While the stock enemies you deal with aren’t all that varied the mid-level and final bosses you encounter will often pose an initial challenge as you try to determine what combination of warriors is best suited to the encounter. Sometimes getting to these bosses can be a challenge in itself as there can be a pretty hefty space between checkpoints though. To boot you’ll generally have to move through some space before you even get back to a boss again so be ready to work to win, the game doesn’t make it easy for you.


It’s the degree of challenge that may trip people up the most in the game, though in many ways this is tied to design decisions concerning game mechanics and not in the levels or enemies themselves so much. Two key things stand out. The first is an old stand-by and probably one of my least-missed features in older games of this kind, and that’s being knocked back when you’re hit. Probably a solid third of the times I died (or more) were tied to this alone. In particular anywhere you’re on smaller platforms or near water this feature is an absolute killer, quite literally. The second is a bit more complicated and I assume it has to do with the desire to have people engaged in the puzzle-solving aspect of the game, forcing them to change up their warriors regularly, and that’s the lack of a down attack when you jump. Until I was able to break my traditional habits and stop to do things differently I died quite a bit because I assumed I’d be able to jump in and just slam my opponent. Unfortunately that isn’t the case. I can appreciate the fact that the goal may be to have people switch things up and approach it more conceptually but it really ruins the flow of the game and feels like a highly artificial constraint for its own sake. Especially when you have to repeat sections of levels and you’ve got the chain of who to use where down the tediousness of the exercise comes through when instead you could at least enjoy rolling through and bashing some heads.

If you’re a fan of this classic sort of gameplay, but with a few great modern twists, I would have no reservations in recommending it. It truly feels like a classic genre game brought forward to today. However, if there are some old habits from the genre you could do without or you’re not familiar with the agony often associated with the notorious knockback your patience may wear thin as it is a huge part of the game experience unfortunately. If you can get past that Caveman Warriors is a colorful and generally well-executed side-scrolling romp though.


Score: 7

Pros:
  • A nice blend of warriors with varied special attacks
  • Some great and challenging boss fights
  • Well-hidden collectables offer some extended play and exploration
Cons:
  • Knockback on hit is a feature that should die a painful death, preferably knocked off of a small platform at full health to die
  • The puzzle-like mechanics are used to the point where they interrupt flow and fun
  • With the above problems with easy death some checkpoints feel pretty far apart, sometimes leading to a lot of tedious repetition to get back to where you died


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