Oh dear, how the memory can play tricks on you, and the recent memory at that. I thought I’d have a go of Prehistorik on the Amiga (originally available in Atari ST flavour) because, in my recollections at least, it was a fun platform game with a slightly-novel premise and good graphics.
You can kind of see where this is going, but rather than cut to the chase I think a little background is worthwhile. I get a weird Proustian rush from Prehistorik anyway because it came out around the time I first got an Amiga and it was reviewed in one of the first (perhaps even the first) copies of the (frankly terrible) Amiga magazine Amiga Action I bought before I had the sense to defect to the “better but not Amiga Power” Amiga Format. I seem to recall it got a reasonably good review in said rag (not all that difficult from what I remember) and, years and years later, I actually got to play it and “quite enjoyed it”. You run around a scrolling level bonking monsters on the head, collecting power ups and building up a “food” bar before completing the level and taking on some seriously massive boss monsters before progressing.
Prehistorik was actually just one of a small rash of “caveman” games that came out in the 1990s. Chuck Rock (featuring a villain who was the near namesake of, erm, Gary Glitter) is probably the best known one but there was also Ugh! (a clone of Space Taxi), the indie title Trog, BC Kid and the bizarre “mash-up” Joe and Mac: Caveman Ninja.
Looking at a still screen of Prehistorik it’s easy to see where the warm fuzzy memories come from. It looks colourful and attractive with nice, chunky, cartoon graphics. The end of level bosses in particular look absolutely smashing. Amiga and Atari ST games of the time generally looked a bit “flat” compared to the arcade-quality Manga-like pixel art the Japanese artists were creating for the console games but now, with everything from the era frankly looking inevitably dated, the European stuff has a certain charm. It’s a good-looking game, I’ll give it that. The sound is good too with a jolly, upbeat tune playing throughout and nice sampled sound effects (it’s particularly nice to hear both at the same time, something that was rare with the Amiga for reasons I’ve never quite fathomed but which I suspect involved Amiga musicians always insisting on using all four sound channels when composing leaving the game with a “my music or his sound effects!” stand-off for the player to resolve).
The problem is when you start playing. For a start, it “scrolls” in name only. It’s actually closer to a flick-screen title with the screen quickly jumping from right to left or vice versa as the player reaches the edge of the screen. This may be in large part because it was originally written for the popular but limiting Atari ST programming package STOS. ST ports were notorious for not taking advantage of the Amiga hardware anyway so you can just imagine how much clunkier one written using a BASIC package feels. Another problem is the collision detection which is really shonky with Rik constantly being “hit” by obstacles you could swear he’d avoided. But on top of these problems is the overall feel of the game, it’s probably a legacy of STOS but it feels very… 8-bit. There’s a lack of smoothness to gameplay with the absence of proper scrolling and some really irritating problems such as the aforementioned poor collision detection, the lack of precision in jumping and moving (Rik feels like he’s moving about eight pixels a time) and some shonky design (for example the monkeys throwing coconuts who always throw again once the first one hits rather than at set time delays meaning when Rik gets close he’s greeted by a flurry of missiles).
Unfortunately, and I hate to say this, but Prehistorik just plain plays poorly; it feels amateurish and unpolished, something that was unfortunately a lot more common around 1991. Considering that at the time there were so many platform games for the 16 bits with half-decent scrolling and tight control the clunkiness of Prehistorik feels unforgivable. Still, at least they got the opportunity to put things right with Prehistorik 2 a couple of years later, at least let’s hope they will because that’s the next game I’m going to play for a couple of hours and then grumble about here.