There Was a Caveman

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Nauris Amatnieks for PC, originally released in 2015.
There Was a Caveman is a prehistoric action platformer that mixes caveman and dinosaur, per the world's notion of pop culture fantasy. You take on the role of a caveman who finds himself to be the sole surviving member of his species. In order to make the world safe for cavemankind, he must fight his way through six themed environments, survive tough platforming challenges, and destroy all manner of critters so that he can find a suitable cavewoman and boff her brains out.

The beefy cave dweller moves through a chunky lo-fi world made up of block-based environments, equipped with only a short-range club for bashing in the faces of his enemies. He has a 2x variable jump as well as a double jump that gets him up to 3x, but he has very little midair direction control, sometimes making it difficult to line up platform landings. Players must rely on the double jump for full midair direction changes, while also being careful not to overcorrect in the opposite direction.

The caveman can perform a dash on the ground or in the air, and the double jump may be executed before or after a dash, giving the player a number of midair options, and the game offers many areas where precision platforming is required in order to move forward. However, the caveman’s limited midair direction control, short double jump, and hefty knockback from enemies do not make him ideally suited for these challenges.

In addition to dinosaurs, the caveman must deal with a variety of primordial beasts, including giant insects, horned fish, and spike-covered monsters. Each killed enemy drops a skull, which is added to a counter in the upper left of the screen when collected. Larger enemies have larger skulls, which further increment the counter, and there are occasional stacks of skulls that the caveman can break with his club to reveal more.

Skulls act as the game’s currency, allowing the player to make purchases in a shop that appears once in each themed area. In the shop, the player may purchase secondary throwable weapons (more on these in a bit) or yellow hearts that temporarily increase the 3-heart meter by one unit. These items may also be found in the environment, with hearts usually appearing in hidden areas, but they are lost upon death. Standard red hearts may be found as well, which restore one unit of health when picked up.

Purchasable items are somewhat expensive, however, with a single toss of a throwable weapon costing three skulls, and a yellow heart costing 20. These purchases are placed further out of reach as getting killed halves the player’s current stock of skulls, and there are loads of places where the player may be killed instantly, as the floors are often lined with spikes, lava, acid, and good old fashioned bottomless pits.

As mentioned, the caveman’s lack of mobility in the air can make it difficult to line up landings and avoid hazards, but the player’s efforts are occasionally thwarted by the level designs themselves… On a number of occasions, the player is asked to make blind leaps with no indication of what lies below, quite often leading a to quick and unceremonious death.

In addition, players are knocked back when taking damage, occasionally knocking them into hazards or other enemies, which is particularly problematic because the player’s invincibility period is quite short. So, even if the player manages to avoid all of the insta-death obstacles, he may still find his health meter drained quickly.

One place where all of these problems are highlighted simultaneously is in the second area, which requires the player to navigate a spike-lined forest populated with flying dinosaurs. Here, there are narrow platforms, each with a bulbous plant that can be used as a trampoline. Players must use these trampolines to hop from one platform to the next, fighting or avoiding the dinosaurs in between.

Since the player’s midair direction control is limited, simply making it from one platform to the next is difficult enough, and this is made doubly difficult by dinosaurs that knock you back when you hit them, usually sending you back into the spikes below.

A later area sees the player riding moving platforms across a sea of acid, with acid balls popping up occasionally, intermixed with flying enemies and bone-tossing cavemen. Getting hit even once usually results in death – unless the player can make a save with a last-minute double jump to get back on the platform – as the surrounding acid kills the player instantly.

A later part of the level reduces the player’s visibility, making it even more difficult to tell when dangers lie ahead. These areas also require players to occasionally jump away from the moving platform and line up a landing on it once more, avoiding spikes along the way.

Getting killed returns players to the most recent screen transition, requiring a substantial amount of repeated gameplay upon failure.

To help players stave off death from enemy attacks, four secondary weapons are available. These weapons are found tucked around the environment, and grabbing them adds three throwable weapons to the player’s inventory. These are stackable, so players may grab more to increase their stock, but grabbing a different type of weapon removes the existing ones from inventory.

These weapons include rocks that may be tossed in a low arc, thigh bones that are tossed in a high arc like axes in the Castlevania series (but they are ineffective in areas with low ceilings), boomerangs which have a shorter range but offer two opportunities to hit an enemy, and spears that fly in a medium arc. In a nice touch, spears operate in the same manner as those found in Völgarr the Viking, in that they stick to walls and allow the player to climb them. However, this technique is only required for a short series of challenges in the second area.

There is a fair amount of variety to the themed areas once the player leaves the caves and forest that make up the beginning of the game. Upon defeating the pterodactyl boss at the end of the forest, the caveman mounts the beast and takes to the skies. This leads to a brief yet arduous shmup sequence where players steer the lumbering beast slowly around the screen, attempting to move its huge hitbox around waves of insects. The dino can spit rocks to occasionally destroy an insect, but it fires much too slowly to take down more than a few enemies. There isn't really any reason to do so, however, as there is no score, no powerups, and no reward for killing enemies (not even skulls).

Making it to the end of this sequence introduces an underwater area. Fortunately, the caveman is totally OK with holding his breath for the entire level as players swim around and use the JUMP button to bop him upward a bit, as is typical of the genre. This area is much more open than most, with a few branching paths that allow for some additional exploration.

The underwater section ends with a fight against a giant squid, but the caveman is pulled underwater at the end of the battle, leading to a new area called “Afterlife”, in which the caveman wonders if he has died. This area is colored in greys and blacks, with a full moon in the background and dinosaur bones spread around the environment. Here, the caveman fights against strange flying skull creatures, undead cavemen, and disgusting dinosaurs with flesh rotting off their bones.

The area also introduces Mega Man-style disappearing/reappearing platforms, but these are difficult to deal with due to limited visibility, which results in an inability to watch for patterns before moving forward. These platforms appear in later areas as well, but again the player is not left with the ability to stand still and watch a pattern form (as is done in the Mega Man series), as he is often dashing over insta-death obstacles.

Following this is a fairly straightforward snow level which adds slippery floors to the already difficult platforming, as well as an escape sequence where the caveman attempts to outrun an avalanche. There are some falling ice platforms here as well, but when they begin to drop, the caveman is considered to be falling and therefore cannot use his regular 2x jump; only his secondary double jump is possible, making it difficult to escape their descent.

The snow area also has some strange grass that acts as a conveyor belt, pushing the player to the left or right. Unfortunately, these grasses are virtually indistinguishable from one another – and sometimes placed adjacent to one another – making it difficult for the player to quickly determine in which direction he will be pushed… although it’s generally a safe bet to assume that grass will shove him toward any nearby bottomless pits.

Finally, the player reaches the last area which takes place inside the body of a giant dinosaur. This area introduces some grotesque enemies that appear to be giant bipedal masses of flesh. Whacking these monstrosities a few times causes them to split in two blobby heads that hop around the environment.

The level is filled with organic elements with fleshy floors, globby ceilings, pits of bile, and giant skulls swinging from the ceiling.

Boss fights are fairly typical of the genre, as players need to watch for patterns and retaliate whenever there is an opening. However, players are likely to be killed during their first encounter with any of the game’s bosses – as their attack patterns are unknown – removing the ability to retain secondary weapons or any additional units of health gained by collecting yellow hearts. As such, players essentially fight each boss empty-handed with only three units of health.

Most bosses are taken down with liberal application of the caveman’s club – between dodging projectiles – but some others grant the player throwable weapons during the battle. In these fights, the player faces foes above him, and certain enemies drop thigh bones that may be picked up and tossed at the boss. The player may still jump and attack the boss with his club, but he puts himself at a greater risk of taking damage.

There Was a Caveman was developed by Nauris Amatnieks, a developer based in Latvia. Nauris also developed a game entitled Bacon Rebellion featuring a shepherd who must defend his land from huge numbers of invading pigs, taking the form of a twin-stick slaughter-fest with gallons of blood and pounds of piggy parts.