Cavemen can’t swim. That’s one of the more important lessons that’s imparted soon after you start Caveman Warriors. When their cavebabies are kidnapped by a curious extraterrestrial visitor, their unattentive parents Jack, Liliana, Moe, and Brienne chase after the alien in the hope that they can rescue them.
The chance to jump back in time and free your inner caveman in this prehistoric cooperative platformer is a troubled one. Another Kickstarter success story, developer JanduSoft’s crowdfunded creation takes welcome inspiration from games such as New Super Mario Bros., Joe & Mac, Metal Slug, Castle Crashers, and Trine, but falls far short in piecing everything together into something that’s memorable enough for the right reasons.
Caveman Warriors is certainly chaotic. While the game can be played solo it’s best tackled with a few friends in local multiplayer, which, in more ways than one, will let you experience the adventure at its most entertaining. There is the chance for as many as four players to team up and work together, but even with less, you can still freely swap between the leftover characters with the L and R Buttons.
It’s also not short on clever ideas, with each character being able to perform their own Special Attack (ZR Button) and Skill (ZL Button). Jack can recklessly throw his stone axe and heroically charge at his enemies, while Liliana can thrust her spear into enemies to flick them up into the air or hurl it into walls to create a platform to reach higher ledges. And then, Moe can hurl the broken tusks he wields as boomerangs and can distract enemies with dancing monkeys, whereas Brienne can swing a hunk of meat and shield everyone from harm.
That every character has a role to play is one of the small successes in Caveman Warriors, with one player often called upon to help the others overcome an obstacle preventing further progression. However, these Special Attacks and Skills can’t be performed endlessly, with each use depleting a chunk from your stamina gauge. Empty it entirely, and your character will be left leaning on their weapon wheezing until they can recover.
The developer boasts about how the game’s difficulty will let you relive playing on 80s arcades, where only the best players could reach the credits. But, it’s downright annoying. The damage that you take uncontrollably knocks your character back, enemies predict your movements even as you make them, and the checkpointing nearly always leaves you at a disadvantage – especially before boss fights. We live in a generation where players will stand steadfast against the challenge thrown at them in Dark Souls and Bloodborne, but Caveman Warriors is the first game in a long while where everything felt unfair and each death like I had been cheated.
That’s why Caveman Warriors is best played with others, muffled laughter carrying you through the experience as you rally around to topple Undine, Lodrack, Cavernator v2.0, and the game’s many other bosses. There are still moments that can entertain like riding atop a triceratops as you helplessly shoot enemies that are chasing you and when you are transported into the future, but the game largely feels underbaked and leans too heavily on its inspirations rather than looking to make its own mark on the Nintendo eShop. For that reason, it’s a little too prehistoric for its own good and perhaps belongs in a museum.