Joe and Mac still stands as the best representative of cavemen games that the world has ever seen. Granted, the landscape hasn’t exactly been dotted and peppered with studios fighting to get the next great neanderthal hit out before Activision or Bethesda, but it’s still something that pops up every so often. But this is the first time I’ve had to take a look at a caveman title on the Switch, and so I immediately thought of the one that Nintendo brought us that really made the mark. Joe and Mac hasn’t seen a great sequel since….ever, and Golgoth studios has still failed to deliver one despite promising something over eight years ago. Therefore, here we are, ready to see if Caveman Warriors can take the helm.
Caveman Warriors is the tale of what happens when a group of aliens abduct some cave babies and severely piss off a tribe of diversely skilled and highly motivated pre-historic barbarians. Armed with some serious weaponry and the kind of drive that only comes from kidnapping, this group of four cave people will venture out to deal with various enemies, impressive bosses and unforgiving terrain in an effort to get back two little ones. Not to pull back the curtain on history, but caring for children in any real capacity still seems like it’s a relatively new concept. I’m pretty sure that, if an UFO took two kids from a nomadic caveman tribe, the cave people would just start working on making new children and maybe carve a picture into the cave wall in memory. Not trying to seem heartless, just thinking out loud.
The crew of Caveman Warriors are four differently skilled fighters who each bring a little something to the table. You got a dude who throws axes, a chick who throws spears, another guy who throws monkeys and a woman who doesn’t throw anything but swings a MEAN leg of lamb. Caveman Warriors is meant to be played with four players, but conditions have been taken for players who go at it alone, and you can toggle between each of the characters quickly with a shoulder button. The toggling will be necessary, because this isn’t the 1990s: Jandusoft actually took time to make each one different and didn’t just reskin the same male/female models with pallet swaps. Those spears, for instance, can act as jumping platforms for walls that seem to high. The girl whose weapon is a hunk of meat can create a shield to block all projectiles, which is necessary to survive some places. You’ve got a solid group who each have important roles to fulfill and you cannot, CANNOT get through the game without playing with each one in turn at least once. However, you will probably default to your favorite at some point, and figure out which of the Warriors best suits your play style. Liliana, the spear chucker, was definitely my go-to, for speed and versatility, and the fact that throwing spears the length of the screen made some enemies disappear before I even got a good look at them.
Play is pretty straightforward for a sidescrolling platformer, with no chance to go back if you miss something. It’s almost impressive to see a gaming company stick to this idea, given that it was always seen as a limitation for older titles. But not going backwards means the game always has forward momentum, which is totally a metaphor or something. Basically, between jumping, hitting, blocking and using your special ability, anyone who’s been a fan of platformers at any point in their lives will get the hang of it. I wasn’t happy with how the Super Jump played out, though, because you need to use it often but it felt wonky to push up and jump at the same time, as it kind of limited my mobility as far as moving while jumping. Additionally, I did sometimes get my action button (ZR) and my “switch player” button (R) mixed up, resulting in swapping to another character instead of powering up, resulting in me dying unnecessarily.
One thing that needs to be said is that this game goes off the rails in a BIG way. I mean, technically the plot is cohesive, but it still feels like there’s a sudden moment when things take a twist in a way that borderline doesn’t make sense. So, you’re saving the babies from aliens. Fair enough, cavemen and aliens go together like aliens and virtually any other period in history. And, for reasons that I’ll say are “magic,” I have to fight other cavemen, dinosaurs, prehistoric beasts, carnivorous plants and any number of other trophic baddies. Done deal, I gotcha. But when I’m a caveman who’s suddenly fighting “not Nazis,” I have to wonder what the hell happened, and I was there the whole time. It’s not a bad thing, because, again, the game handles itself and explains things well enough, but it feels like Nazis or Nazi-like enemies have been done to death in other gaming genres. Did the cavemen really have to fight them too? I mean, sure, it let me become a caveman in a dogfight plane, but my argument still stands.
I did love how Caveman Warriors looked. The art style is distinct enough that it definitely stood alone, and I felt like each character had their own charm about them. Moe, the weird monkey-throwing dude, has a unique style, and I think the nose really sells it. It’s clear that each of the antagonists have variety and flair, and it’s a pleasure to drink it in. As much as I didn’t get why I was fighting Nazis, the level design of being inside of a burning city popped in a big way. Throughout the eight worlds that encompass your quest, I was never bored for felt things were lacking in presentation.
My only serious piece of criticism is that Caveman Warriors either needs to be played completely alone or with four other players. Having only two players or three means that someone always has to be the Swiss Army Cromagnon, swapping to the appropriate skill as soon as it’s needed and possibly causing a lot of damage and pain for the others if the swap is slow. Divide the responsibility equally or shoulder it all yourself: any imbalance just results in the game flow getting jammed and people being grumpy that no one is hurling distraction monkeys.
I really enjoyed my time with Caveman Warriors, and I’m glad to see a serious entry into the small, sparse world of caveman platforming. Somewhere in 16 bit limbo, Joe and Mac are smiling and nodding in approval at what players across multiple platforms finally have access to. I’m glad that Jandusoft decided to go ahead and make this stretch goal from their Kickstarter happen, because Switch owners are going to have a blast this holiday season with all the axe-hurling, spear chucking and meat clubbing they can handle.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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