Friday, February 23, 2007

CaveDays Review

CaveDays, developed and published by Insolita Studios.
The Good: Variety of goals reduces monotony, same map can have multiple challenges, simple controls, not too short
The Not So Good: No level editor, won’t charm a large audience
What say you? A few new ideas are added in a title that will appeal to true fans of platform games: 6/8

Not much is known about prehistoric man. We have a nearly complete skeleton of a 3.2 million year old Australopithecus afarensis that was discovered in 1973. We have skulls of Homo erectus. Much of the information surrounding these versions of early man are inferences based off fossil evidence. One thing we do know for sure is that dinosaurs and man did not coexist, as dinosaurs went extinct 65 million years before man even appeared (mammals of the time were no larger than a modern cat). So here comes CaveDays, a platform game where humans and dinosaurs co-exist. Sigh. Well, hopefully the gameplay will be decent enough to compensate for the grave historical errors. How will CaveDays improve upon the strong pedigree of the platform genre?

The graphics of CaveDays are entirely in 2-D, so the game brings back strong memories of a certain platform game featuring a certain Italian stereotype. CaveDays isn’t the most detailed game in the world: while the character models are fine, the backgrounds could use some work. As it stands, the backgrounds are far too static to convey a realistic (or semi-realistic) prehistoric environment. The levels and effects are simplistic, which could be forgiven if the game came with a level editor (which it does not). The game does do a good job in showing which pits result in death and which ones access another map area with a yellow skull-and-crossbones. The in-game movies actually look worse than the game itself: this is a very odd achievement. In most games, the movies are the best part of the game graphically speaking, or at the very least the equal of the in-game graphics. But CaveDays features low-resolution, poorly animated movies (promoted as being “retro,” but I don’t buy it), which thankfully can be skipped. The audio of CaveDays fares better, as the game includes an appropriate soundtrack and enough grunts and groans to fit your needs. Since the cavemen converse in the game as cavemen, it does not make lacking region-specific dialogue a problem, since all of the grunting is accompanied by subtitles. Of course, the graphics and the sound are just a small part of a platform game, so the below average graphics aren’t that big of a problem.

CaveDays features a lot of the standard platform mechanics: jumping, avoiding enemies, and finding things. However, the game adds a couple of things to the basic formula. In each stage of the game, you have a specific goal you must meet. In linear stages, all you have to do it reach the end of the stage, like a classic platform game. However, the exploration stages is where CaveDays differentiates itself from the pack. Here, you are given multiple objectives (one at a time) for a single level. You may need to search for a specific object, challenge someone to a race, or collect dinosaurs for food, among other things. This makes CaveDays far more interesting than a standard platform game where you just go from point A to point B. Successfully completing one of the goals in an exploration level (or navigating a linear level) will earn gems, which unlock more stages. Because each of the game’s exploration levels are used more than once, the game lasts longer than you would think. It may become repetitive to go over the same level five or six times, but since your goals are different, it seems like a different level each time you play. The level design is also well-done: I was never confused as to what to do and I rarely got lost. Also, there are enough exploration stages to maintain interest in the game, but not too many to make the experience drag along. I would like to see a level editor in the game, however, as the levels are simple enough to allow for one.

CaveDays also changes up the control scheme slightly, giving more options to the player as they navigate each level. Besides moving left and right and jumping, you can attack enemies with your club and collect objects. Some of the levels involve collecting dinosaurs or fruit, and these are stored in your backpack, which can carry up to three items. You will also need to move stones around occasionally to access the next area of the level, although thankfully this tedious activity is not a focus of the game. CaveDays also lets you adjust your aim and power when you throw things, making it possible to hurl rocks at dangerous enemies that are a stone’s throw away. And there are a good number of enemies in the game, mostly dinosaurs, and they exhibit the average platform AI of generally fixed movement. The game is challenging enough, but not overly challenging, so people of multiple skill levels should be able to have fun playing CaveDays.

Although I am not the biggest fan of platform games, I can see that much effort was made in CaveDays to make it unique and mix up the gameplay. The developers could have just dressed Mario in leopard skin, but there are a number of enhancements made to the genre here, and for that CaveDays should be commended. The addition of the exploration levels gives more interesting objectives than just the simple “reach the end” goal. Also, you are given more options in dispatching your enemies with clubs and rocks, although it took me a couple of levels to learn not to jump on the dinosaurs to try to kill them. The level design is satisfactory, and while the graphics and sound are not cutting-edge, people who really enjoy platform game will find a lot to like in the varied gameplay of CaveDays. The game won’t convert any new people over to the genre, but CaveDays features some enjoyable gameplay and changes the action far more often than most platform games.