Prehistorik Man Review
Posted by Desiree Turner
A real dinosaur
Originally released for DOS as Prehistorik 2, Prehistorik Man has seen ports to the Game Boy, SNES, and GBA already, and it seems the GBA version has been ported to DSiWare this time around. In each version, the story is the same — hungry dinosaurs have snuck into a prehistoric village in the dead of night and eaten all the villagers' stored food. You play as Sam, who has been chosen by the Village Chief to save the day by making his way through 22 danger-filled levels so that the villagers won't starve to death during the harsh winter ahead. Sadly, this is one adventure that should have been left to die.
Sam is your average caveman, so don't bother with the tacked-on stylus controls — they're more of a hassle than they're worth. He grunts, jumps with B, wields a deadly spike-studded club with Y, and runs like a dog if you press up while moving left or right. Pressing the R button will have him unleash an ear-splitting yowl that will knock out any susceptible enemies on the screen, though it takes a while for him to build up enough stamina to do it again. With these abilities and more at his command, Sam has been tasked with retrieving bones from the legendary dinosaur graveyard to buy more food for the village, as well as collecting food along the way to stave off the villagers' hunger in the meantime. He's not alone on his journey, however — various villagers are scattered throughout each level to provide hints and craft items or weapons to help him get past obstacles and enemies.
All the action happens on the upper screen. The lower features a tiny map displaying the level itself as well as important items (big pieces of food, jewels, Sam's caveman buddies, etc.), which is great for completionists — or, at least, it would be, if the items you've collected already would disappear from the map as soon as you collect them. You'll have to be careful to remember exactly where you've already been as you explore a level, or else you'll wind up backtracking only to find that you've already collected something the map is still displaying. There is no way to tell how much stuff you've collected either, until the Village Chief tallies up your foodstuffs at the end of each level.
Throughout the game, you'll bash enemies' heads in with your club, axes, or whatever weapon your metalsmith buddy provides you with, jump around like a maniac to discover secret hidden places, and collect the letters B-O-N-U-S to activate special bonus rounds between levels that hook you up with all kinds of goodies. Defeated enemies provide you with either bones or tiny hearts, four of which will fill one of your own empty hearts in your life-meter. Though the screen is somewhat small, holding the L button will allow Sam to look around himself with the D-pad, scanning for danger. Should you die anytime during the stage, you'll keep any food or other items you've collected so far, but if you lose all your lives and are forced to use a continue, naturally the level will be completely reset.
You're offered some respite in the form of Rees-Tartahs, little yellow creatures that act as mid-level checkpoints, and shops located in levels here and there. Bones collected from defeated enemies are the currency of the day, and they'll buy you extra continues, hints about the stage you're on, 'life insurance' in the form of a password that will restart you at your current level anytime, and other goodies. However, upon exiting a shop, whether you've purchased something or not, you're sent back to the beginning of the level, and unlike when you die (where food or special items you've found stay with you), the level is now completely reset. If you were almost finished with whatever you had been tasked with in order to proceed to the next level, kiss all that hard work goodbye.
Hit detection in this game is a joke. Sometimes there will clearly be a gap between you and an enemy and you'll manage to land a hit anyway, and other times you'll be right up on whatever it is you're trying to bash and it'll wind up hitting you instead. The same goes for stationary obstacles — you'll clear a series of spikes with pixels to spare only to watch Sam howl in pain and lose a heart. Jumping on top of enemies is also hit-or-miss; every so often you'll wind up hurt for your efforts. Considering you're encouraged to bounce off of enemies not only to garner extra bones but to also reach high places laden with hidden food - not to mention that you must ride certain enemies to proceed - the fact that half the time you wind up injured for no reason is absolutely infuriating.
Another serious problem is the abominable slowdown and occasional blinking that occurs when there are too many active sprites on the screen. In later levels where many enemies may be present, it's almost like you're trying to run through mud; Sam loses his ability to stop on a dime, and avoiding enemies is left more up to chance than the player's skill level. This must be the reason you're given sixteen continues at the outset of the game, and the ability to buy more from shops as you pass them.
The music is a bright spot in this otherwise flawed game. A mix of tribal instrument sounds and techno beats, each track has its own distinct flavor and runs for quite a while before looping. There's a sound test available in the Options menu, however, so you can listen to any of the tracks anytime without having to force yourself to play through each level. The graphics are gorgeous as well. Each character and enemy sprite is clearly visible against intricately detailed backgrounds and there is very little jerkiness in their movements. Sam himself has quite a few different animations - he'll pant for a moment after running, flap his arms if he falls too far, attempt to attract your attention if you don't press any buttons for a while, and then fall asleep where he stands. The only flaw with the graphics is the fonts; much of the text in the game is tiny and difficult to read, and yet you'll need to pay close attention to your caveman buddies when they show up to give you instructions.
Prehistorik Man is an exercise in frustration. Though it looks and sounds great, it suffers from shoddy hit detection, hard-to-read fonts, and moments of slowdown that make precision platforming nigh impossible. Thankfully, the GBA passwords are fully compatible with this version of the game, so if you've already downloaded it and are desperate to make a mad dash for the final boss, you're good to go (and good luck with that). If you're just looking for a fun platforming experience however, do yourself a favor and try something else.