Tag Archives: Primal

Unfortunately, Primal is a realm of both good and bad


Evidently, I got my copy of Primal at the now officially defunct Blockbuster chain of video rent stores. It has two fugly stickers on the front cover, one beneath the plastic and the other on top. The first shouts directly at me that this is a “previously rented game,” and the other is a medium-size red circle highlighting how much I purchased this gem for back in June 2003 as a financially struggling college sophomore–a cool $14.99. I can’t believe it has taken me ten years to finish this game for the very first time. A part of me kind of wishes I hadn’t because, I’m sad to say, it was certainly better remembered than experienced.

Primal is the story of a cafe waitress named Jennifer Tate and her rock-n-roll boyfriend Lewis and a teeny, but totally keen gargoyle called Scree. See, Lewis ends up getting kidnapped after one of his band’s concerts by some demonic being from another realm, and Jen is badly wounded during this, leaving her comatose in a hospital bed. While unconscious, Jen is visited by Scree, who takes her on a soul journey of sorts to the Nexus, where they discover Chaos is engulfing everything. To save her boyfriend, Jen must discover who she really is and help fight off Abaddon, the embodiment of Chaos.

It’s standard third-person action adventure fanfare, and with Jen and Scree exploring four very different realms for answers, the Nexus acting as a hub for story beats between all the happenings. In all my years of starting Primal over and over, I only ever saw the opening snowy realm of Solum. Truthfully, I kind of assumed this is where the entire game took place and was bummed to not see that be the case, because Solum has personality, much more than any other realm, though Aetha comes close. You can control both Jen and Scree, switching between them freely with the push of a button–take that, Grand Theft Auto V–and you’ll explore rooms, find locked doors and ways around them, fight off enemies, collect items, and meet a bunch of colorful characters, like Arella, who is championing for Jen to win.

And that’s Primal‘s best part–the story. The people you meet, the ones that support your cause, the ones that hinder it. You really do feel like you’re playing an active role in some special episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Veronica Mars. Jen is spunky and compassionate yet always ready to crack a joke, and Scree refuses to let up his seriousness; together, the two make quite a pair. By the end of the game, their relationship has grown beyond just helping each other out. From a glance, a lot of the world-building could seem superfluous, but I think enough is said to make all the realms come across as real places, even if they are mostly devoid of life and signs of life, save for Solum, which I mention again as I think its frigid landscape littered with stone buildings and campfires came off quite well. The story told there of a fallen prince in a society where the king, at the height of his power, sacrifices himself worked better than some later plots, which were uninspired.

Okay, now the bad parts, and it’s more or less everything else in Primal: combat, swimming, getting lost, no mini-map, camera, the music, the lack of music. I’ll try to cover each topic briefly.

Combat is oddly mapped to the PS2 controller’s shoulder buttons, which makes for weird, clunky fighting, and I found countering–hitting the block button just as an enemy strikes–to be impossible to nail consistently. Some enemies can only be killed with a finishing move, which you do by pressing L2 and R2 at the same time, a technique that worked only one-third of the time. Jen can regain health by absorbing it from Scree, and Scree can store up more energy to give Jen from fallen enemies (and some other places), so it’s a constant cycle of fight, absorb, refill, move on.

The second realm of Aquis has Jen and Scree spending the majority of their time underwater; that’s fine for Scree as he controls just the same, since stone sinks. But Jen’s swimming controls are unintuitive, and the camera is constantly getting frazzled at trying to keep up with her POV, flipping high and low. I can’t imagine many people got to this section and continued playing. The original Tomb Raider had better swimming controls than this, and I think that’s saying a lot. Oh, and did I mention that you still get into combat situations while underwater? Yeah, I found the whole realm maddening, as well as a wee depressing. There’s very little music, so you are just swimming around listening to nothing but the swoosh of Jen’s feet, wondering why you’re still here playing this underwater step back.

There’s a map, but no mini-map. There really should’ve been a mini-map, because it’s extremely easy to get lost due to erratic camera movements and most of everything looking identical. Especially when swimming or using Scree as he climbs up walls and across ceilings. You can press start at any point to view the map, but only if Scree is near you. Occasionally, the map wouldn’t even load. Just a dark, black screen. So, it’s glitchy and hard to follow as you can only see the section you’re on currently, but if your destination marker is in another building further down you won’t see the marker until you are close enough to pop that part of the map. Make sense? Absolutely not. Since Primal is very much about exploring, this aspect could’ve been stronger. I ended up using a walkthrough from time to time to get me back on track, especially in Aquis.

Music in Primal is all done by electronic rock band 16Volt. Not my thing, personally, but they fit the story and look and have a videogamey sound, I guess. Their music appears mostly during fight scenes and boss battles, but also in cutscenes and the opening of the game. That said, when you’re not fighting, all is silent, which can kind of unnerving, but mostly boring, as even just some light instrumental would’ve helped fill the void.

As they travel about, Jen and Scree can find Tarot Cards, which unlock concept art from the main menu. That’s nice and all, but nothing to go crazy over. I think I found maybe half of the Tarot Cards by the end. However, as you progress, the game itself unlocks behind-the-scene and making of movies, interviews, and special trailers, which are fantastic, mostly for being stuck in the past. They might come across as cheesy or overdramatic in how Primal was trying to be sold, but they’re interesting nonetheless. Especially the interviews with Hudson Leick and Andreas Katsulas.

I don’t know. Like I said, there’s a part of me that wishes I hadn’t gone through and seen the rest of what Primal had to offer, as I found a lot of it frustrating and disappointing from the gameplay side, but I guess I ultimately needed to know. Now I can speak more confidently about the game, about its good parts, while also warning those that are making their way to the Nexus for the very first time about things like an entire realm devoted to just swimming and janky camera control and the atrociously repetitive combat and and and…

2013 Game Review Haiku, #53 – Primal

2013 games completed primal

To demonic realms
Jen Tate must explore, with Scree
Worst swimming ever

These little haikus proved to be quite popular in 2012, so I’m gonna keep them going for another year. Or until I get bored with them. Whatever comes first. If you want to read more words about these games that I’m beating, just search around on Grinding Down. I’m sure I’ve talked about them here or there at some point. Anyways, enjoy my videogamey take on Japanese poetry.

The Half-hour Hitbox: November 2013

half-hour hitbox dd chimera3

And that was November, a month of new console generation releases, colder weather, eating everything not called turkey, and doorbusters, which is my new favorite word to hate. Seriously. Tara suggested that Black Friday sales should be called “I’m stupid!” so that when asked what people are there for, they can just say, “I’m stupid!” I kind of have to agree with her on this. We’re only a few years away from Black Week, seven days of stupidly saucy sales priced just low enough to get you into the stores and away from your loved ones. Me, I’m spending this day-after-Thanksgiving in my pajamas, writing about videogames and drinking coffee. Sure, I might go out later, but it’s probably only to Family Dollar for the sweetest deals this side of Pennsylvania. I don’t expect to be trampled.

But wait, that’s not what this post is supposed to be about. No, no. I’m here again to cover the handful of games I’ve played this month, but have not gotten a chance to really examine here on Grinding Down. There seems to be a lot more this month than previous Half-hour Hitboxes (Hitboxs?), and I don’t know why. I guess as the year winds down I am finding myself with more time to dabble. I have also continued to put in some solid hours with Primal, and I expect to beat it before 2013 comes to a close, praise the realm of Aetha.

Once more, to the list…

A World of Keflings


I was surprised at how much I liked A Kingdom of Keflings, which is a very relaxed town-building sim, with a focus on a soul-soothing soundtrack and straightforward missions, like build a house or a factory or put this Kefling in that thing you just built. So far, A World of Keflings seems to be all that over again, except now you can travel between various themed kingdoms for different missions–and that’s fine by me. I also like how you can begin building something, and your little Kefling worshipers will finish putting it together so long as you construct all the required pieces. You can also play with silly emotes.

Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen


Last month, the big epic free RPG for PlayStation Plus subscribers was Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, and this month, we got another doozy brimming with hours of content. Alas, I probably won’t see much of it. For some reason, Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen doesn’t fit properly on my TV, and even stretching it out is an ordeal, with the end result being sub-par. This makes for tiny text, tiny monsters, tiny inventory screens, and so on. I played about an hour’s worth of content, did a few missions, and recruited some Pawns to aid me in my quest to…slay the dragon that ate my heart? Sure, I think that’s it. I do, however, appreciate that you can play as a woman, as well as one with a bigger build.

Might & Magic: Duel of Champions

m and m duels untitled_312

Honestly, I had no idea Might & Magic: Duel of Champions existed until it did, and I went straight to it from Penny Arcade‘s Twitter account the morning it was released on Steam, curious enough to give the newborn a shot. I mean, I no longer have a circle of friends to play Magic: The Gathering with, nor the money it takes to stay current and in the loop, so a free-to-play card game based heavily on the same CCG mechanics is right up my alley. Because I still desperately want to play, and this, from what I dabbled in, seems really good. I did all the training missions and the first real “hands off” mission, and I like the mechanics a lot, especially the ones that differ from the more traditional MTG stuff. However, sometimes the opponent’s turn goes too fast, and I have a hard time keeping up with all the action.

Kingdoms & Lords


Ahh. Yet another city-building game, but this time set in Medieval times. No, not the themed restaurant chain that I went to once as a wee lad, but rather the era. Oh, it’s also on my Windows 8 phone instead of something you’d get distracted by while perusing Facebook. Anyways, it has all the typical city-building and social elements that I experienced shortly in Little Big City and CityVille. Which is to say, there’s energy and only so much you can do in a single session. However, it holds a slight advantage over those previously mentioned titles because it has castles and soldiers and barbarians and so on. Plus, there’s Achievements to pop.

Star Wars: Tiny Death Star


This is both very addicting and simple. and over the last few weeks has become my go-to game for when I have five or ten minutes to kill. Basically, you’re helping the Empire build a Death Star, opening up apartments and shops and other nefarious levels for people to spend money at to raise some serious credits. You take these citizens to their required level via an elevator, and watch everything grow. I’m not sure if there is actually an end point, but right now I have 12 levels and 23 people housed and working, with more to come. The cutesy pixel graphics and sampled tunes really make Star Wars: Tiny Death Star a fun, light-hearted game, one that maybe shows that Disney won’t ruin the franchise. Regardless, I’ll continue to keep playing until the Death Star is fully operational.

Iron Brigade

iron brigade hitbox

Tower defense, but with the focus more on action, on running and gunning, and you certainly play a bigger part than some dude who just places turrets down to do your dirty work. You sit in a Trench, which is like a mobile war machine that can shoot guns and build defenses. and a race of aliens called Tubes are trying to take you down. Naturally, as Iron Brigade comes from Double Fine, there’s an attention to style and goofiness here that is immensely enjoyable, like all the cosmetic gear you can equip your soldier with–hats, mostly. I’ve only done a couple of the early missions, but like it. Strangely, I find absorbing scrap to be therapeutic and rewarding, much like I had in Red Faction: Armageddon.

ibb and obb

ibb and obb - world 3-2

Earlier this year, everyone went ga-ga–and probably rightly so–over how the two boys in Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons could be controlled by both analog sticks. However, if it is anything like ibb and obb, I’m out. Honestly, I barely made it through the first few levels, and they were more than frustrating. More so, I got frustrated at my brain, as I kept getting the characters mixed up, forgetting what stick controlled who, and so on. Which made for faulty platforming. This game seems better experienced with one player controlling one guy, and an other the other. I doubt I’ll play any more, unfortunately.

Mad Father

mad father Untitled

Um, I’m sorry. I really don’t know. I found a copy of Mad Father in my videogames folder on my laptop, so I guess I knowingly downloaded this at some point. Anyways, it’s a Japanese horror game that looks like an RPG from the SNES era, and I played a little bit before getting freaked out. There’s a lot of story up front with sepia-filtered flashbacks to boot, and no combat from what I experienced. You want to avoid these monsters. Also, a spoiler: the father is mad. And not in an angry kind of way.

Habla Kadabla


Just a short and easy point-and-click adventure game about a witch trying to recover her stolen enchanted cash register. I had some time to kill before heading out for the Thanksgiving festivities yesterday, and so I gave this a spin. The puzzles are quite easy, mostly inventory-based, though you do also have to make a potion, complete a jigsaw puzzle, and shoot some ducks. I like the art and humor of it all, but for someone that just got robbed, Habla Kadabla–that’s her name–really needs to stop smiling.

The Half-hour Hitbox is a new monthly feature for Grinding Down, covering a handful of videogames that I’ve only gotten to play for less than an hour so far. My hopes in doing this is to remind myself that I played a wee bit of these games at one time or another, and I should hop back into them, if I liked that first bite.

Learning the nature of Primal’s demon realms all over again

primal-ps2_2_891745-550x309 copy

I made a grave error when beginning Primal, staying headstrong on this lofty goal of mine to beat five specific videogames in 2013. If I can see its credits roll, it’ll be the third title I can check off my digital list, which I’ll consider a fine achievement. However, that’s only if I don’t goof up again, like I did when choosing the lesser of my two PS2 memory cards to save the game’s data on. Could’ve really used some advice from Scree on that one.

If you’ll recall, I was able to snag a used PS2 memory card some years back, but there’s some corrupt data on it that I just can’t delete, no matter how many times I try; however, I’ve been able to save other game info on there just fine, like my vital progress in Harry Potter: Quidditch World Cup and Secret Agent Clank. So it definitely isn’t completely broken. Just randomly, I guess. Alas, after playing for two hours of Primal and getting to just before the game’s first boss battle, my save data became corrupted and wouldn’t load. Eek. My heart turned to stone each and every time the “load error” message came up. So I had to switch over to my mainstay memory card and delete some info, such as Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3 character save BS and whatever little progress I made in Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were Rabbit, and start all over again. At least this time around I knew puzzle solutions and could skip all the cutscenes immediately.

So yeah, I’ve played about four or so hours now of Primal–that’s the first two hours twice, and then a wee bit more once I got my saving stuff in order. It’s good. I mean, it’s always been good, but I think the game still holds up really well in 2013, mostly for its Buffy the Vampire Slayer-esque story, cheeky characters, and larger-than-realm scope. Seriously, the realm of Solum feels absolutely massive even if, technically, it’s not, and I have already found myself getting lost going from the forum to the hunting camp to the colosseum, though you could probably also blame that on the lack of an on-screen mini-map. Granted, I generally associate dark, snowy worlds with time standing still thanks to The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, and Solum comes across as a bitter, uninhabitable home full of strange people and customs.

Some of Primal‘s gameplay mechanics are not as awesome as I remember them, and now that I actually play it, controller cradled in hands, I’d prefer to have no combat at all, but that’s just a pipe dream. Like in Silent Hill 2, combat is an essential part of the game, even if it is clunky and obtrusive and strangely designed around the left and right triggers. Restoring and harvesting health from fallen foes is tedious, and the climbing, now spoiled by the likes of one-button speedfreak Assassin’s Creed, feels pretty cumbersome. But all of that can be dismissed simply to hear Scree and Jen talk, as their banter feels genuine, and you can really watch Jen grow closer to the little gargoyle in a natural way, which might sound odd, given that she’s technically dying in a hospital and has been taken to a realm between realms to do something heroic and find her stolen band boyfriend.

I’m approaching the part in Primal where I always stop and…walk away, much like I had in the previous two entries checked off my list–Chrono Cross and Silent Hill 2. I just need to power on and not be afraid to use a walkthrough when I get stuck because, surprisingly, this game doesn’t highlight interactive objects in a bright yellow glow or put a giant arrow over them like many gamers are coddled today. You have to be observant and aware and willing to think outside the castle wall box. However, sometimes the answer is not easy to deduce without any clues, and I’d rather have someone else tell me what it is then to give up on Primal yet again. I have to see this spunky goth girl, also a coffee bar waitress, discover her destiny. I have to.

Men in distress, and the women who save them


Have y’all been keeping up with Anita Sarkeesian’s Damsel in Distress video series, which “explores how the damsel in distress became one of the most widely used gendered clichés in the history of gaming and why the trope has been core to the popularization and development of the medium itself.” The second episode was just released yesterday, and it covers violence against women in videogames within the previously mentioned trope. Sarkeesian’s analysis is very interesting and well-executed (save for one moment where she breaks professionalism for a snarky jab of Bionic Commando‘s main dude’s arm), but be warned, there are graphic scenes of violence against women used throughout, and spoilers are an unconcerned thing of the past, for games both new (Pandora’s Tower) and old (Breath of Fire IV).

I do hope that Sarkeesian eventually examines that games that do–or try to–steer away from the blatant damsel in distress trope, whether successfully or not. I agree fully with her point that you can like and love something immensely while at the same time also be critical of its problematic parts. Heck, take Fallout: New Vegas, a game that literally freezes or glitches out every time I play it, but I just enjoy the world so much that I keep coming back. That said, I also think there is something beneficial to be gained from praising the games that try to go a different route.

Before we get going, let me come clean. I am a writer and an artist, a creator if you will, and some of my previously published work might possibly have hints of the damsel in distress. I say hints as I don’t believe I have it exactly on the nose, often using the trope as a base and then spinning it so that the damsel ends up saving herself. Most importantly is The Stolen Lovelight, a short graphic novel that I wrote and my wife Tara Abbamondi drew. It is about a young woman named Arisia Randir who is trapped in a terrible relationship. With seemingly no way out, she ends up paying for her own kidnapping. Men and men-like things will try to save her from further trouble, but she’d rather handle things on her own and find a new place to call home. And that’s my pitch, I guess.

Originally, I tried to come up with some kind of cute, whimsical title to counter the whole damsel in distress thing (like Distressed Dudes), but my short analysis is better served with a straightforward approach, and so listed below are a few videogames that I’m aware of where you play as a woman, and you’re off to rescue a man…a man in distress.

Beyond Good & Evil


One of the earlier missions in Beyond Good & Evil has green-lipped, photo-snapping Jade sneaking into a DomZ facility to rescue Double H, a heavily built IRIS operative who has been kidnapped and tortured to the point of incompetence. His physical appearance against Jade is striking, what with him fully decked out in a knight’s suit of armor. I suspect that Michel Ancel was having some fun here, as now you are the knight in metaphorically shining armor in this scenario, plucking him from harm’s way to get him on your team. Later on, Pey’j, the father figure in Jade’s life, also gets kidnapped, giving you a reason to fly to the moon.



Man, I really love Primal, and yet it’s a game I’ve never completed. Grrr. It’s on my wishlist for 2013, but we’re almost halfway through the year, and I’ve made zero progress on putting the game’s disc in my PlayStation 2. Granted, I am working on Chrono Cross at the moment, so there’s at least that. Anyways, in Primal, you play as Jennifer Tate, a 21-year-old woman who has to travel through various demonic realms to retrieve her stolen boyfriend. Lewis is in a band, but a bunch of demons believe that they need him to…uh, create chaos. So he is abducted, and Jen is hospitalized. A tiny gargoyle helps her on her path to saving her boyfriend and, ultimately, the world.

Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest


Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest has the evil pirate Kaptain K. Rool nabbing the titular hero of the first game. You know who I speak of. Turns out, despite being a crocodile, he really loves his fruit, and won’t hand Donkey Kong back over unless Diddy returns his previously stolen hoard of bananas. More importantly, you can play as Dixie Kong, Diddy’s girlfriend, who can use her ponytail as both a weapon and way to glide across large gaps.

I know it’s only three examples, but those are all I can think of at the moment where the man is in distress, and you play as the woman (er, female monkey in Dixie’s case) rescuing him.

Can y’all think of any others? Inform me in the comments section below.

Here are the videogames I want to beat in 2013

Roadblock on Harris

Resolutions for a new year of gaming always start with good intentions, but quickly fall apart for me. For instance, I believe I said that I wanted to play fewer games in 2012 and devote more work to my art shtuff, but I just don’t know if that actually happened. Certainly, with Steam’s Summer, Fall, and Winter sales and all the indie bundles that have hooked me, I’ve acquired a bajillion games, though I’ve not played many of them. But I still feel like I got through a ton. If my Games Completed in 2012 tag is to be believed, I’ve finished off 40 games in the last 365 days. Some may argue that DLC and episodes of episodic gaming don’t count, but those folks can go suck a lemon; if they end in credits of any kind, they are a separate entity.

For 2013, I see myself completing around that same number again (38 in 2011, if you’re curious), but I want to clear out more backlog before anything new takes over. And not just recently acquired videogames, but some “classics” from the yesteryears that I keep meaning to get to, but never do.

So without further ado, here are the games from my pullulating collection I want to beat in 2013. Because really, they are overdue. Most are RPGs. So that could throw a wrench in the speed factor, but whatever. Love me them are-pee-gees. And yes, I’ve never finished any of these before.

Chrono Cross

chrono cross32yk

Yup. Never finished Chrono Cross in all my years of owning the game. I seem to get as far as the part where you switch over and control Lynx and then…just lose interest. Which is a shame. I’ve watched Tara play past this part, but she took eventually puts the game down and doesn’t return to it. But there’s so much to love about Chrono Cross. All you diehard Trigger fans that swear it is a terrible sequel can say that just fine, but I think it’s harder to deny it’s a good game. The battle system is fun and offers up strategy and variety at the same time, and the ability to mix/match your party keeps you trying new characters out. Granted, of all the games here, this is the one that worries me the most, as I just don’t understand why I keep getting to the same part and then stopping. Hmm…

UPDATE! I beat Chrono Cross and devoted a whole week’s worth of posts to the mighty RPG.

Silent Hill 2

Silent-hill-2 screenshot

As a rule, whenever I talk about Silent Hill 2, I have to link to this classic journal comic of mine. Anyways, based on our last save, we left things in Silent Hill very badly. And by that I mean we are extremely low on ammo and health and stuck in a place filled with enemies. An apartment building, me thinks. Not sure if it is worth trying to go on–or even possible–or if it’d be better to start over and just practice conserving from the very start. If I beat this, it’d be the first Silent Hill game for me. Out of them all. From what it sounds like, it’s the best one, too.

UPDATE! I beat Silent Hill 2 and got the “Leave” ending.

Final Fantasy IX


I love this game. I love the varied characters and designs, the silliness, the charm, the card-collecting mini-game, the way you earn abilities permanently through battles and earning XP, the brilliant story, especially the opening scenario with kidnapping a princess who wants to be kidnapped. I think that influenced The Stolen Lovelight for sure. And yet…I always get to a place and then walk away. Don’t really know where that is in this one, but it’s somewhere between the second and third discs.

Radiant Historia


I was quite smitten when Radiant Historia came out. In fact, I desired it so that I pre-ordered the game and got a free five-song soundtrack included with my purchase. It’s an adventure built around the idea of parallel universes and altering minor details to create dramatic changes later on. The battle system places an important of where each character and enemy is to dish out damage. I played for a good while, but eventually put aside, distracted by something else. Unfortunately, with a game like this, even though it has a handy “timeline” built into the menu, it is quite easy to quickly lose your place and thus any enthusiam to continue on. From what I’ve read, Greg Noe completed it, showing him how to love JRPGs yet again. Now that I’m done with Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask, I’m going to dive back into Paper Mario: Sticker Star and then start over in Radiant Historia just after that. Well, that’s the early plan, at least.



I’ve already written at length over Primal and how I think it’s pretty underrated and generally fantastic. Just go read it elsewhere and know that I plan to see this one through. Heck, I mean, I’ve only seen one of Jen’s transformation forms in all my time with the game. I think I last stopped because I got glitched, but maybe I just couldn’t find the puzzle solution.

UPDATE! I finally saw all the realms in Primal and did what I could to restore order to these alternate planes; alas, in retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have kept playing, as the entire game is better remembered for its early parts and not the frustrating swimming and combat that pads out the remainder of your time spent. Oh well.

Right. So that’s one Nintendo DS game, two PlayStation 2 games, and two PlayStation 1 games. Five games I want to beat in 2013 alongside whatever new and old comes across my plate. I think I can do it. The trick will be maintaining focus and enduring. That can be hard with games I don’t enjoy, but these five are all ones I appreciate in various ways, so in short–let’s do this.

What videogames–new or old–do you want to beat this year?

30 Days of Gaming, #3 – A game that is underrated

This was a tough one to narrow down, and I’ll let slip the tidbit that I almost went with Chrono Cross for today’s 30 Days of Gaming topic. Like, it was a coin toss, only I didn’t have a coin handy and decided to go with the game that had the most lovable gargoyle ever. In that regards, Primal won through and through.

But what is Primal, you might understandably ask?

Other than a game I consider very underrated and overlooked, it’s the story of love, demons, and alternate planes. Jennifer Tate is dating Lewis, a tribal tattooed lead singer for a lame metal band, and everything is going peachy until a tall, shadowy man shows up at the Nexus nightclub one evening when Lewis and his mates are jammin’ and jivin’. Suddenly, the shadowy man reveals itself to be a freaky-deaky demon, attacks, and leaves both of them unconscious in an alley. Jen is moved to a hospital room where she is in a coma and given a fifty/fifty shot of making it. As she sleeps, a gargoyle named Scree slips into her room and separates her spirit from her body, claiming that he was sent to find her and needs her assistance. Together, they will travel to an alternate plane known as Oblivion to restore balance.

Yeah…it’s a crazy whacky opening, but at least it gets everything in place to get truly videogamey. I can’t help but imagine Joss Whedon approving of it though.

Primal is divided into roughly three aspects: exploration, combat, and puzzles. Naturally, the weakest of these three is combat, and one can’t, unfortunately, simply get by with button-mashing. It can be very frustrating, especially since combat is solely Jen’s responsibility; Scree turns into a statue when danger shows up. Jen can take on different demonic forms–Ferai, Undine, Wraith, and Djinn–and each have their ups and downs, but none really make anything easier. Once all enemies on screen are killed, Scree softens and is able to heal Jen’s wounds. 

Both characters can be controlled, and using Scree to hold a torch and scout ahead always comforted me because I knew nothing could hurt him. Search away, little stone buddy!

Like I mentioned though, the joy to be found in Primal sits not in fighting werewolves, but exploring the otherworldly planes, solving puzzles, and talking. Yes, there’s some great chatter here. Scree is voiced by Andreas Katsulas and Jen by Hudson Leick, and together, the two make one enthralling team. Scree is 99% seriously serious, and Jen plays the role of a sarcastic goth perfectly, bouncing off each other. She’d fit fine in a snooty book club consisting of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Morrigan from Dragon Age: Origins.

I’ve read that some consider Primal to be the British Ico. I don’t really get that comparison. Instead, I like to think of it as Tomb Raider With a Twist. You play as a strong, intelligent, well-capable woman searching for mysterious artifacts and trying to keep evil at bay. Sure, Jen does it for love, and Lara Croft does it because, well, it’s her job, but the two titles seem very similar to me. However, Primal‘s world and its characters are must more imagined, and I’d rather climb walls as a gargoyle than climb walls as an archaeologist. Oooooh snap!

So, yeah. That’s my pick–2003’s underrated Primal. Eight years later, it’s still an excellent, engrossing adventure. If you can find a used copy, grab it.

And now I will just keep refreshing the Internet, praying that one day it will spoil me all about that forthcoming Primal HD remake…