This makes two dinosaur-themed NES games in a row that I have written about. Believe me this was not planned. I suppose one could argue it as being an almost-Freudian exercise…
I love action platformers! The great ones are often among my favorite games of all time. But what about the ones that… aren’t..? Well, Dinowarz is an example of a bad game; but it is less than that even; it’s a bland, bad game. The concept here is pretty simple, you play as Generic Spaceman Model 0420045-01 that drives a robot dinosaur! How is that not the most amazing thing ever? Well, somehow the generically-named Advance Communication Company managed to screw even this simple-yet-awesome concept right up.
Starting with a little backstory, Advance Communication Company is a cryptic little bugger. I have found few details about the company’s operation, only that they functioned as a smaller wing of Bandai. The only 3 games I can confirm they developed directly are Tama & Friends 3 for the Famicom Disk System in Japan, Toho Co.’s perennial NES scrap Circus Caper, and this Triassic travesty, the one I had to sit through again so I can write this article.
Now, I am being a little hyperbolic. The game is bad, but it isn’t entirely unplayable. The problem is the game is just repetitive and boring. There is little fanfare to Dynowarz, so it just feels like an empty experience. You start off as a nameless space knight navigating a short space station with a few enemies. The biggest threat here is the jumping. OH THE JUMPING! The jump physics are pretty touchy and the collision detection is very broken. Landing on a moving platform is a crap shoot (special emphasis on the word “crap”) and the default 3-directional shooting is difficult to aim. Enemies, traps and platforms are often too fast to properly dodge and the character sprite is far too big, making you a giant awkwardly-moving target. It would be like trying to get the hull of an aircraft carrier to dodge a sniper’s bullet fired from 200 yards. It’s just not going to happen. To make matters worse, the spikes and bullets you have to navigate are later replaced with pits. When you land in one, that’s it; You have to start the entire stage over again; but at least there are infinite lives. But the quickly-moving platforms are just not calibrated to the gameplay. Landing any jump requires perfect timing and even then, as you are getting knocked around midair by bullets fired from enemies that are out of range, it is hard to be precise at all. I should not have to emphasize to any gamer the importance of functional jumping physics in a platforming game.
Once you clear these mercifully-short indoor stages, our inoperative hero jumps into the cockpit of a T-Rex mech! Are you ready for some hardcore dino-action?! We you aren’t getting any freaking hardcore dino-action! You’re playing Dinowarz! Instead, you get what I can only describe as a slow-moving otaku cosplaying as Mecha-Godzilla covered in Cheeto dust. Here the platforming goes from floaty and imprecise to being as though you were trying to play Castlevania with rocks taped to your thumbs. It’s manageable, but why would you do that? The jumps are JUST long enough to clear most pits and even then the hitboxes are so broken you can actually fall right through the other side of the trap. Your primary attack is a short-ranged punch. That’s it. You WILL get frequent weapon power-up drops like a useless fist that fires once and has to boomerang back to you, a fireball, and a piercing laser. These attacks work much better than your weak punch, especially since about half of the enemies fire rapid successions of bullets that can be nearly-impossible to dodge in your clunky, 3D-printed dino-costume.
Then enter the repetition. You will fight the same enemy robo-dinos over and over again. Most of them go down in one-hit, others require you to work for it, and this is often another place where the hitboxes fail. Some enemies are programmed to move to you. So, if your enemy palette-swap (because that’s many of them are), gets close enough to you, they will move inside of you and will proceed to move with you, constantly firing at your HP bar with bullets from inside your own hitbox. There are I-frames and you have to use them to shake, turn, attack, rinse, repeat until it dies. It’s almost a requirement to ensure these guys are killed before they get too close. On top of all of this, you will play through the same level segments over and over again. Bosses are merely harder versions of enemies you’ve already fought that become regular enemies in later levels, and the tactics never change, most monsters being beatable by simply ducking and firing as a dinosaur and by jumping and shooting as the human avatar in their respective stages.
The soundtrack to Dynowarz is not too awful, but like most of the rest of this game, none of the songs are good or even memorable. The busy loops and fast riffs that accompany most of the songs sound as though they were attempting to imitate Castelvania’s legendary tracks, but instead they just sound like a bad YouTube cover recorded from someone’s smartphone camera. This is an ugly game, too. Most of the sprites are monochromatic and look like those cheap plastic dinosaurs you get in a bag of 50 at Party Dollar to put in gift bags at birthday parties. The environments are unattractive, uninspired and repetitive with flat, boring backgrounds. Compare the worlds in Dynowarz to those in a game like Mega Man V or Little Samson and you will see the immediate difference. Here it looks like someone made a video game level out of blocks from some off-brand LEGO knockoff from China.
The biggest praise I can give Dynowarz is it isn’t quite awful enough to be truly memorable. This is a game in my collection that I have picked up to play a few times and every time I do it seems I can never really recall what the game is like. It is too forgettable to hate, and that is unforgivable! I want to remember why I despise playing this game so I don’t wonder in the future “What was that one again?” and put it in, dragging myself back into this miserable digital tarpit!
Dynowarz is a scrap too; having no greater purpose than to act as a space-filler to pad your collection. It isn’t worth playing or seeking out unless you’re set on beating it, in which case I pity you. Chances are, if you buy an NES games lot off eBay or a similar site, a copy of this thing will be in it. It hovers alongside Silent Service, Goal!, California Games, Othello and Anticipation as a perennial leftover existing only to remind you that you got to the games store after someone much luckier than you gobbled up all the good stuff.