Do I like games that push the envelopes of design and creativity? Most definitely. There are few pleasures like sitting down with a title that does the unexpected, that blows my mind with a unique twist, or shocks me with some radical re-interpretation of existing standards. Can every game achieve these lofty aspirations? It might be nice to wish for, but my gut tells me that it's not likely. So, when a game finds itself lacking brilliant new concepts, it's a fact that solid mechanics and good production values can get it pretty far. Tork: Prehistoric Punk is one of these games.
Boiling it down, Tork strikes me as a bit of a mix between former platforming superstar Crash Bandicoot's early games and the first Sly Cooper. Those titles were designed with a strong focus on simplicity and forward motion that appealed to many players, myself included. Tork shares that same feeling with related tones in pace and level design.
The story is nothing remarkable. Basically, it's about cave boy Tork on a quest to rescue his kidnapped father. Don't look much deeper, because there isn't anything there. This is hardly surprising, and not really something I'm docking the game for, since thin stories are par for the course when talking about platform action games. If you can live without heavy drama, the game does have it where it counts—the gameplay.
Our horned hero comes equipped with the requisite jump and double-jump, as all good platform heroes should. He can also attack with his bolo weapon, up close or at a distance. Rounding out his repertoire, Tork can transform into a yeti, an armadillo, and a flying squirrel, the animal shape taken depending on which area he's in. Mostly used to access side areas with goodies, each of these alternate forms also possesses a screen-clearing super-attack and slightly different moves.
So far this disc might not sound very special, but it's the way those things come together that makes Tork: Prehistoric Punk such a pleasant little game.
Foe example, everything about the game sports an absurdly high level of production. The graphics are extremely well-done, being smooth and finely polished. It's a gorgeous effort, with no rough edges to be seen. Between this game and Scaler, there seems to be a renaissance of absolutely beautiful budget-priced platformers going on.
Controlling the little cave-kid is as smooth as silk, and his animations flow as well or even better than a lot of blockbuster stars' do. (I'm looking at you, Prince of Persia: Warrior Within. Oh, how the mighty have fallen…) The camera is also quite nice, usually providing a very good view of Tork and his surroundings, though it may be zoomed out a bit too far at times.
The level designs deserve special praise. The progress in each area is fairly linear, but numerous side paths and hidden nooks to explore give them a very open, unrestricted feeling while also avoiding the potential for getting lost. My favorite was a tall, crumbling castle being struck by lightning. It was a joy to play through, leaping around terraces of falling stone while scaling grey brick heights. Further in, Tork finds himself on the back of a huge train, hopping from car to car while I watched an industrial city roll by in the distance. Those are just two examples, but every level is just as fleshed-out as the last. Besides being a treat to look at, the game also rewards the time and effort taken to fully cover these areas, so there is some replay potential for people who care about high scores and such.
Evidence of the developers' love for the game (raising it above the level of a phoned-in bargain title) is shown by the novelty missions thrown in to spice things up. In one area, Tork must chase down a giant medieval war wagon, taking it apart bit by bit. Another challenge puts him atop a pterodactyl's back for some decent airborne shooting action. Little segments like this pop up often to keep the game from getting stale, and even the standard "run forward and bop enemies" stages are better than average, coming stocked with plenty of prescripted elements and small surprises here and there. The bosses are well-done too, each one requiring a fair effort and some decent hand-to-eye skills while never feeling cheap or aggravating.
There's not much else to say about Tork: Prehistoric Punk except that it's smooth, I enjoyed playing it very much, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone craving some upper middle-class platforming. It won't set the world on fire, but if it had hit the Xbox way back when it was announced a few years ago, it would have had a much better chance of making a name for itself. There's no shame at all in putting out a solid effort like this. The only "bad" thing that could be said about it is that it's not revolutionary. Even so, this bargain-priced horned kid ended up being worth every penny.