“ Manufacturer: Playstation Store / Type: Digital Download „
There was a time when shoot em ups were simple. You didn't need 37 fingers to control them or construct elaborate combo chains to maximise scoring potential. You just flew along and shot everything until there was nothing left to shoot. Prehistoric Isle in 1930 takes you back to that simpler time.
The concept of taking you back in time ties in neatly with the actual game (see what I did there?) As its name suggest, Prehistoric Isle takes place in 1930 and sees you flying a bi-plane. Investigating an unusual number of plane crashes, you tour a series of islands which, for no apparent reason, are inhabited by all sorts of prehistoric creatures. Naturally, they are not too pleased to see you so if you want to survive, you're going to have to make the dinosaurs extinct all over again.
You could be forgiven for dismissing Prehistoric Isle as pretty generic stuff and it's true that it doesn't do anything different from similar games of the time. What sets it apart is its theme. Flying a biplane and shooting dinosaurs might sound odd, but who cares when it makes for such a fun game.
Levels are really well designed. It's an on-rails shooter, so you don't need to worry about heading off in the wrong direction or missing some crucial section the game will only let you go in one direction (left to right) so you will always end up where you need to be. The only thing you need to do is shoot the dinosaurs and make sure you don't crash into them, whilst avoiding their bullets (quite why dinosaurs are able to fire bullets is not explained) or the monsters themselves. It's simple, but addictive stuff which means that anyone can pick up the PS3 controller and immediately start playing.
Attack patterns are well designed and this is one of those games where learning the attack patterns will really help. Enemies behave in very different ways and this affects how you approach them. Pterodactyls swoop around unpredictably; some dinosaurs jump up from the ground and you have to learn how each type moves so that you can anticipate when and where it will attack and the best moment to shoot it. This gives the game both depth and challenge.
The on-screen action can get incredibly frenetic and (like many old-school shooters) this is a really tough game. Even on the early levels, the number of creatures attacking you can often seem overwhelming. The high difficulty level could put some gamers off, but a couple of things have been built in to help prevent this.
First off, blasting dinosaurs is just so much fun that it doesn't matter how many times you die, you keep coming back for more. It's not unusual to spend a whole afternoon playing this title because each time you play, you get just that little bit further (thanks to the pre-set attack patterns that you can learn).
Secondly, this PS3 release offers the option of unlimited continue plays so that when you lose all your lives, you can carry on the next game from the point reached. This makes the game a lot easier and means that mere mortals like me have a genuine chance of getting to the end. Of course, expert gamers will want to try and play the game on a single credit (good luck with that one!), but at least it opens the game up to your average gamer too. Nor does it make the game too easy: even with unlimited Continue Plays, this is still one tough game!
Providing you turn your mental clock back about 20 years, graphics on Prehistoric Isle are excellent. Compared to today's HD stuff, they inevitably look a bit ropey, but in the context of their time, they are brilliant. Sprites are detailed and there's a huge variety of dinosaurs included in the game, whilst the backdrops look lush, bright and colourful. Everything about Prehistoric Isle is quirky, and the graphics reflect this giving the title a unique look and feel.
Sound is also nothing special by today's standards, but perfectly acceptable by the standards of the 90s. A cracking tune accompanies the main intro screen, whilst a slightly cheesy (but fun) tune plays accompanies the main game. Sound effects (as you would expect) consist of various blasting noises and explosions, but it all adds to a cracking atmosphere.
Crucially, the controls are simple but incredibly responsive. Your plane is highly manoeuvrable and will respond quickly to the slightest touch on the controller. Close control of your plane is vital. As the game progresses and the number of on-screen enemies multiplies, you are going to need to use every inch of screen available to you. You need to have the confidence to know that your plane will move to where you want it to when you want it to. It does, and with practice, you will soon find that you can weave your plane through the tiniest of gaps and get out of seemingly impossible situations.
Sadly, all is not perfect in dino world. At times, the screen can get incredibly busy, filled with dozens of dinosaur sprites and this can just be a little confusing. There is so much going on, so many bullets flying around that you can find yourself crashing into something that your eye just didn't register was even there.
This is not helped by the fact that for technical reasons, the play area is squashed down so that it occupies a smallish square in the middle of your screen and doesn't use the whole height and width. This inevitably means that your room to manoeuvre is more limited and you need seriously fast reactions to avoid some of the hazards. It's a shame that some way couldn't have been found to let the games be played full screen, because it does have a noticeable impact on the game's playability.
It's also a shame that the original two-player mode has been disabled, but that's common to all the PS Mini games on the PSN Store. Two player mode in the original game was even more fun, as you worked together to take out the monsters, rescuing each other from certain death but competing for both the power-ups. It had that perfect balance between competition and co-operation. The fact that this digital reincarnation is only available as a one player game is a bit of a disappointment.
The old fashioned look and high difficulty level might not be to everyone's taste, but if it is, the full game can be downloaded for the bargain price of just £1.99. It's a game that offers hours of playability and, even if you manage to complete it, it's still a game that you will load up from time to time when you fancy a big of straightforward nostalgic blasting fun.
If you're a retro-head like me, this is a great purchase. It might lack the complexity and graphical sheen of modern games, but it includes a vital ingredient that so many of them forget... fun.
(c) Copyright SWSt 2012