The App Store is crowded with look-alike titles which are essentially just the “same” game over and over again, with a fresh coat of digital paint. So that’s why it’s always refreshing when a request comes in asking us to take a look at an app like Instant Game’s one-touch control platformer Paleolithics, which is truly something fresh and different.

Paleolithics’ premise is that you must help the Paleolithic people gather the materials they need to build tools and weapons while squaring off against fierce beasts and hungry plant life. The twist is that instead of just one platformer, you are actually playing 3 different platformers simultaneously. The screen is divided into three equal horizontal sections. On the top is your brooding older male hunter with his big club, suitable for close-quarters combat. In the middle is a female gatherer who is light on her feet and able to avoid dangerous prey simply by jumping over them. Finally on the bottom of the screen is a young male hunter equipped with a long-range weapon like bones or arrows.

After a brief tutorial “mission”, the game is divided into a number of stages, each taking place in different locations including the Perilous Swamp and Lurking Grotto. When you start a stage, each of the characters will automatically start walking forward in-step within their respective sections of the screen. A progress bar at the bottom of the screen shows their progress toward the end of the stage. Periodically along the way they will come across materials like stone, wood, eggs and more. To pick these up, you just let your character walk right over them (more about these materials in a bit). Unfortunately, being prehistoric times and all, you will also run into some pretty fierce beasts which you must attack (males) or avoid (female) using the threatened character’s “weapon”. To fend off your attackers, you simply tap on the third of the screen where the baddie is about to attack. So for instance, if the boy is about to be attacked by a Pterodactyl, you’d tap in his section to throw a bone, or if a giant vampire bat is headed straight for the woman’s feet, you’d tap her section of the screen at just the right time to jump over the bat. Sounds easy enough right, well just wait until you are fending off beasts in two or all three sections of the screen simultaneously. You start out a stage with three “lives” meaning that your three characters can be hit a total of three times before the hunting party turns tail and returns home. If this happens, all but the best material collected during this attempt is lost, but at least you don’t go home empty handed.

Oh yeah, then there is the little matter of the Boss Battles waiting for you at the end of some of the stages! There’s six of this big baddies: Gorilla, Carnivorous Plant, Tarantula, Grotto’s Boss, Mamooth and T-Rex. Each one has specific attacks, so it’s a little difficult to beat them the first time without the right equipment and tactics. If you want to successfully beat these bosses and complete the game, you will need to do some upgrading. In every stage you can find specific types of materials (stone, wood, fruit, etc). These can be used to trade for weapons upgrades and special potions which can really help you out during a particularly tough Boss Battle. You will not be able to collect the materials necessary to purchase certain upgrades simply by completing a stage once, in fact most upgrades will require minerals found across several different stages, so replaying stages (including the Boss Battle) is a necessity.

Each time you successfully play through a stage for an additional time, its difficulty level increases. This means that it won’t be a prehistoric walk in the park to earn those upgrades, that is unless you want to spend real money for them as in-app purchases (but where’s the fun in that?). Now for one more really cool twist to the materials that I haven’t mentioned yet…time of day. Materials come in four different colors: blue (the common material), yellow (harder to find – only at day), red (harder to find – only at night) and purple (very rare). Paleolithics is aware of the time on your device, so it knows that if you are playing the game between the hours of 8:00 PM and 4:00 AM (local time) that this would be considered nighttime (and the graphics will adjust accordingly). So unless you fudge the clock on your device, you’ll need to play the game during both the daytime and nighttime to gather all the necessary materials. While this is sure to upset some players, I thought this was a really neat concept. The nighttime hours start fairly early, so I didn’t find it inconvenient, nor did I feel like it was a ploy try to drive material in-app purchase sales.

Though none of the humans in the game have a mouth, nose or even eyes, somehow Instant Games, have given each their own unique character with witty dialog and some nice artwork. The backdrops for the stages are beautifully illustrated. Paleolithics’ catchy prehistoric drumbeat infused soundtrack complements the gameplay nicely and completes the aesthetic. The game has its own Achievement “trophy” system which unfortunately is not tied into OpenFeint or GameCenter. There is even an unlockable a rhythm-game style mini-game that can help you gather materials. Instant Games didn’t cheap out on the ending either, once you beat the game there are a few more surprises in store.

In Conclusion

Paleolithics is a creative, crafty and at times downright dastardly platformer. While it might lure you in with its simple one-touch controls and prehistoric charm, underneath a predator awaits to challenge both your reflexes and ability to multitask. Instant Games have taken elements from multiple genres and done a great job of creating something truly unique 99¢ experience. Even though the gameplay can get a bit repetitive as you replay stages to gather materials, I’d still easily recommend Paleolithics or at the very least checking out the newly released lite version.