Prehistoric Isle in 1930 – available as a download from the Playstation Store – does what it says on the tin. It takes place in 1930 and sees you piloting a bi-plane to investigate islands where a series of plane crashes have occurred. As it turns out, the reason for the crashes is fairly obvious: the islands are inhabited by dinosaurs who are not pleased at this incursion of twentieth century technology. To solve the problem, you just have blast those dinos back to extinction!
On one level, this might be a pretty generic 80s shoot ‘em up, but the idea of dinosaurs and planes instantly gives the game a sense of fun. If you turn your mental clock back about 30 years, the graphics are excellent. Sprites are detailed and there are loads of different dinosaurs (some real, some fictional) out to get you, whilst the backdrops look bright and colourful. Prehistoric Isle has a quirky look and feel that suits the slightly bonkers “plot” perfectly.
Levels are well designed and the fact that it’s an on-rails shooter means you just need to focus on avoiding and shooting the creatures. It’s simple, but addictive stuff. Attack patterns are imaginative and learning and remembering them is the key to progress. Enemies behave in very different ways and this affects how you approach them. Pterodactyls swoop around unpredictably, whilst some dinosaurs jump up to try and grab you. As well as learning attack patterns, you have to remember how different dinos move so that you can anticipate when and where they will attack and the best moment to shoot. 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 hostiles can often seem overwhelming. The high difficulty level could put some gamers off, but if you persevere, you will find progress gradually occurs and learning the attack patterns really starts to pay off. This, in turn, makes you more determined to carry on.
Whilst it might be heresy to purists, this PS Store version offers unlimited continue plays: when you die, you can just carry on from that point with a new complement of lives. This is actually a both a plus and a minus. On the one hand, it does mean gamers of all abilities will finally get to see the whole game. On the other, it makes it rather too easy and means you lose any sense of reward for progress. To get the most out of this game, you need to be seriously disciplined and only make sparing use of the unlimited continues, otherwise you’ll get through the whole game in around 20 minutes and there’s no real challenge (or point) to it.
Controls are simple but incredibly responsive. Your plane is highly manoeuvrable, which is critical since as the game progresses and the number of on-screen enemies multiplies, you need to use every inch of screen available to you. With practice, you will soon find that you can weave through the tiniest of gaps and get out of seemingly impossible situations.
Sadly, all is not perfect. At times, the screen can be too busy, filled with dozens of dinosaur sprites, backgrounds and bullets which can make it hard to see what’s going on and result in some frustrating deaths. This is not helped by the fact that (presumably) for technical reasons, the play area in this PS Mini version is squashed down so that it only occupies a smallish square in the middle of your screen rather than using the whole screen, which does have an impact on the game’s playability.
It’s also a shame that the original two-player mode has been disabled. Two player mode 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. As such, it’s disappointing that this digital reincarnation is only available as a one player game.
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 just £1.99, which is pretty cheap for such a slice of nostalgic blasting fun.