It’s somewhat surprising how clearly one can draw a line between SNK before NEOGEO’s launch and after. The likes of Psycho Soldier and Ikari were relegated to cameo appearances, and only a few lucky pre-NEOGEO IPs ever saw follow-ups on the multi-system. Perhaps the strangest of the rare bunch was Prehistoric Isle, a 1989 side-scrolling shooter that wasn’t particularly well-liked or successful. Somehow, some way, someone decided ten years after that it needed a sequel, and thus there was Prehistoric Isle 2 ($3.99).
So yes, this is a late 1999 NEOGEO game. One of the last before SNK was swallowed up by pachinko company Aruze and went into perhaps its darkest era. Prehistoric Isle 2 is one of the last non-fighting, non-Metal Slug games SNK released on the system. By this point the system was very mature, which meant a couple of things. First of all, SNK’s developers (Saurus and Yumekobo in this case) had a pretty good handle on the hardware. Second, the system had fallen woefully behind the competition in terms of pure processing power. SNK must have taken notes for what Nintendo did in a similar situation, because Prehistoric Isle 2 uses a ton of prerendered CG for its visuals, often using it to create a faux-3D look that was mildly impressive at the time but is more than a little obvious today.
Prehistoric Isle fans were likely disappointed, though. This sequel really doesn’t share much with the original game aside from also being a side-scrolling shooter where you fight dinosaurs. The original game bit pretty hard off of R-Type for its core mechanics, but by 1999 that wouldn’t have been very trendy anymore. Instead, the follow-up takes some cues from the popular Cave shooters of the era for its power-ups and basic gameplay. You have two different helicopters to choose from, each with their own basic shot type and limited bomb attacks. You can tap the fire button for concentrated more powerful shots, or hold it down for continuous shots that fan out more but deal less damage.
As for the power-ups, they can be picked up from destroyed crates or from people you manage to rescue. They’ll switch you between a few different kinds of weapons which can in turn be leveled up. You can also add missiles to your arsenal and pick up additional bombs. Prehistoric Isle 2 is a bit lenient in one sense. Instead of a stock of lives, you have a life bar that can take five hits before you die. You can even find rare health pick-ups to restore a portion of the meter if you’re very lucky. If you continue, you’ll be dropped right where you left off. It’s an easy game to coin feed through if you want to, in other words.
Taking hits has its costs, though. Each hit downgrades your weapon by one level, and if you’re carrying any rescued people you’ll lose them. Some enemies drop stars that will give you extra points at the end of the stage, but continuing wipes out your whole stock. If you want to maximize your score, you need to collect and keep as many stars as possible, rescue as many people as possible by escorting them to a helicopter that will take them away, and max out your weapon level to activate a temporary score multiplier.
This can be a little tricky because the regular enemies are sometimes bullet sponges, generally appear in large numbers, and love to rain holy hell down on you with their bullets. The bosses by comparison are surprisingly easy to deal with. Their patterns aren’t too tricky and as long as you’re patient they will eventually go down. There are six stages in all and some of the bosses can take more punishment than others, and the last boss in particular is a rather memorable set of encounters. All in all, this game is enough of a silly spectacle that less skilled players can probably enjoy credit-feeding their way through, while the scoring mechanics are deep enough that those who want to dig deeper will unearth something for their efforts.
The biggest problem with Prehistoric Isle 2 is that it just doesn’t have much going for it beyond its unique theme. There’s no defining mechanic here, so it ends up feeling like a very generic shooting experience. Given how late in the game this title arrived, it’s disappointing how plain it feels to play. That said, it’s not bad either. It rides that middle line very closely, perhaps content to lean on its visual punch to carry it through. I’ll grant that it can sometimes be very pretty for what it is. The dinosaurs and other monsters look rather plastic, but the backgrounds often carry a depth and life that you don’t often see in SNK’s shooters. Certainly worth the ride at least once just to see it all.
After that one trip around the proverbial town, it falls to Hamster’s usual tricks to extend the game’s life. Score Attack and Caravan Mode both shine nicely here thanks to just how many scoring opportunities are present in the game. You always feel like there’s room to notch a higher score, which is a nice source of replay value for a game that otherwise lacks it. You can also choose between the Japanese or overseas version of the game to play, though it doesn’t make much difference in this case. Shooters take very well to these kinds of extra modes, so if you love the high score chase then you’ll have things to do here.
Prehistoric Isle 2 plays fairly well with touch controls, though you also have the usual option to use an external controller. You can bring in a second player through external controllers as well, and that does add some spice to the game. Half of the fun in this silly game is in the content tourism, and it’s always more enjoyable to take a trip with a friend. I wish there was some kind of online or wireless multiplayer option, but I’ve been banging this drum for a while and don’t expect anything to change there. Fortunately, the rest of the options haven’t changed either; you have access to just about all of the settings you could ever ask for to mess about with to your heart’s content.
What else can be said? There are better shoot-em-ups on the NEOGEO and we’ve seen a couple of them in the ACA NEOGEO line. There are also some worse ones, and we’ve seen a couple of those too. But I’ll say this: none of them look quite like Prehistoric Isle 2 does. It’s very much of its time and place, and that dated nature has a charm to it. Nothing on the NEOGEO looks quite like it. The sheer zing of that visual presentation helps what is otherwise an aggressively average shooter, and Hamster’s usual fine work makes it shine the best it can in the present era. Worth a spin if you’re looking to shoot some dinos on your mobile device, at least.