“AH Y-YES,” YOU REPLY to your teacher as she passes by your computer, hoping she won’t see the sweat inching slowly down your forehead. “I’m doing research for my Biology assignment.” She gives you a hesitant glance, then lets her eyes linger on the pixelated caveman on screen who is smiling and taunting you. You feel yourself grow increasingly anxious. The moment seems interminable. You’re just about ready to give yourself up and accept the inevitable detention that awaits you. But her face relaxes into a smile, and she says, “Wait till you get to level three. That’s when it gets really good.”
As unrealistic as the above scenario may sound, Prehistorik 2 is one of the best evolutionary platformers that graced the nineties, and I can’t imagine why teachers wouldn’t love it. Both Prehistorik 2 and its prequel, titled simply Prehistorik, were developed and published by Titus Interactive, a French game company that ran from 1985 to 2005. As a second attempt in the same genre, Prehistorik 2 boasts improved graphics and gameplay, and is the version I grew up with. In it you star as a neanderthal on a mission. Your tasks involve gathering food, beating up baddies, and just staying alive in general. And I think it is safe to say this neanderthal doesn’t have a clue about the New York Times affect on man.
Controls wise, Prehistorik 2 is as simple as it gets. Players use the arrow keys to move about, the up key to jump, and the spacebar to swing their club at enemies. Movement is occasionally slippery but solid enough for you to jump accurately with a bit of practice. Each level consists of traversing rocky plains and navigating your way around various traps, enemies, and gaps until you reach the end point, which can only be accessed if you have acquired a green lighter. The next important aspect of Prehistorik 2 is player attack and defence. You start out with a basic club, which swings ok, but not fast enough to prepare you for the bears that materialise at the last second from the other side of the screen (or randomly pop out of bushes). Talk about being uninvited. Fortunately, there are weapon upgrades which make the game infinitely more satisfying, such as the oversized wooden hammer found in level 2. The hammer also makes it much easier to do away with the turtles, bees, swinging spiders and birds and that are constantly after your hide. Defeating them will earn you points, but it’s extremely easy to accidentally bump into a foe as they run in to you from the next screen. The traffic light checkpoint system does a pretty good job in this department by making sure you don’t keep on repeating certain sections, or battling the same respawning baddies over and over.
Perhaps the greatest joy you’ll find in Prehistorik 2 comes from the food-inspired collectibles. These include bananas, diamonds, pears, cherries, capsicums, ice-creams, donuts, fries, telephones and goodness knows what else. The neanderthal ingests all these items and converts them into points, which are aggregated at the bottom of the screen into a high score. The bottom of the screen also indicates how many lives you have, your hit points or energy (represented by hearts), and a few block letters which are supposed to spell out the word ‘bonus’ if you can successfully locate them. This is worth aspiring for, since the return for your effort is a large fridge that is stuffed with even more food and a whopping 100K point bonus. This makes exploring the levels a whole lot more fun, and tempts players to enter more dangerous looking areas in the hopes of a reward-which will usually yield an extra life and lots of extra points. As a kid, something that always used to scare me is the ‘off’ switch, which is a button that plunges the level into darkness. While I see the purpose behind this today, and relish the increased level of challenge it brings, I still feel a strong urge to get the ‘on’ switch.
—GRAPHICS & SOUND—
For a game made in the nineties, graphics like these were crisp, goofy, and gave the impression they were caricatures plucked straight out of an animation. So as I sit back in my chair and observe the sharp rocks and richly tangled roots that compose the background art, the assortment of foodstuff and bad guys, and last but not least our main hero, what I see is a perfect throwback to the golden era of platformers. The music, on the other hand, seems more generic and doesn’t leave such a strong impact. To make up for this, the game has a nice array of hilarious sound effects, such as when the neanderthal screams, gobbles down food, or attacks enemies, and they definitely do their job. But I can’t help but think that if Prehistorik 2 had a more catchy backing track, the atmosphere of the game could have been even better.
I will say it outright-spikes in this game are the worst. Thankfully Prehistorik 2 is not solely dominated by cheap, one-hit deaths and shows some leniency to the player by only robbing them of one heart. This is understandable, but the annoying part is how the game automatically catapults you back onto the last ledge you were standing on, forcing you to repeat the same jump. As I mentioned earlier, the controls are solid with enough practice, but I wouldn’t call them tight. It’s fairly straightforward to beat the first level, and the second can be conquered with some effort, but the third has a slight increase in difficulty. This is evidenced by the first mini boss fight at the end of the stage-a giant pink ape that looks like it’s wearing a towel on its head. If you’re ace at boss battles, then this should be a breeze for you (reviewer conveniently leaves out the fact that they died here). Overall, the difficulty level is fairly consistent, and the levels are rather enjoyable. For a more complete illustration of Prehistorik 2’s later levels, please watch the video at the end of this review.
In summation, Prehistorik 2 is a challenging but rewarding retro-platformer that will probably appeal to those who grew up playing similar games, and most likely to anyone with a special interest in all things prehistoric. And is it good research for a Biology assignment? Does the neanderthal understand the New York Times effect on man by the end of the game? Maybe. I’ll leave that up to you to find out.
WHY YOU SHOULD PLAY IT:
- You are fond of the prehistoric era or cavemen. Or both.
- You thrive on 2D platformers
- Detailed, cartoon-like graphics
- Good range of enemies & collectibles
- Interesting level design
- Lots of secret areas
- Pass codes available
- Enemies materialise off screen
- Some sections difficult to navigate
- Occasions where jumps don’t register
A Prehistorik 2 playthrough by YouTube user strucm: