Genre: Action Platformer
During the days of the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis, a number of games thrived on the idea of normal people- usually kids to identify with the target audience- being transported into fantasy worlds and situations. In a meta-sense, this doubles down on the purpose of the game itself and proved to be effective in games like Comix Zone, Monster Party, and a variety of other works. DinoCity was a lesser known work that hasn’t garnered the same cult status as the previous two titles, but it is a game I remember vividly from my personal collection.
Heading up the dinosaur craze set forth in the 1990s, DinoCity is based on the made-for-television movie, Adventures in Dinosaur City, another lesser known film that you may have run across on a cereal fueled Saturday morning. As a rarely referenced video game based off of an obscure kids’ film, DinoCity doesn’t seem to have left the same impression as a number of other film adaptations, but that could be for the best given the reputation of games based on movies. How does the game stand up in the general spectrum of the Super Nintendo’s library of adaptations and platforming innovators?
DinoCity opens with two friends, Timmy and Jamie, as they are pulled into the world of Dinosaur City, the prehistoric setting of their favorite television show. Unfortunately, there’s no time to enjoy this sudden scientific blunder, as the device that can send them home is missing a vital part that has been stolen by a group of neanderthals that go by the name ‘The Rockeys’. Now, along with the help of a couple of dino-friends, Rex and Tops, the friends must find their way to the leader of the Rockeys, Mr. Big, and retrieve the stolen part, lest they be stuck in the prehistoric age forever.
As stated before, the plot goes about as meta as it can (you’re playing the video game based off of a movie about some kids who are sucked into a television show) and it sets up for hijinks nicely. Traveling through six locales, the player chooses one pair- Timmy and Rex or Jamie and Tops- to proceed through the game. If you choose to ride the dinosaurs, Rex can punch enemies while Tops can throw daggers or darts of some sort to defeat the Rockeys. By pressing a button, you can control the respective child who can fit into smaller areas and freeze enemies with their remote control device. This also leaves the dinosaur in a perpetual crouch until the human comes back, leaving them to be used as platforms for the player to reach higher areas.Thankfully, while the dangers are numerous, there are plenty of ways to extend your life to continue through the game. There are one-ups and hearts to restore your life. Much like other games, you can collect enough of an object- in this case, dinosaur eggs- to gain another life, as well. There is the occasional bonus stage so you can collect more of them. Should you find yourself overcome by the Rockeys and their ilk, you also get three continues before the final Game Over. The game does function off of a password system, though, so you can only lose so much progress if it comes down to it.
DinoCity is deceptive in its simplicity. Aside from health restoration and extra lives, there is no sign of extra power-ups. Your characters’ abilities and your personal skill are the only way to get through the game, and it makes the game feel even more stressful as the levels progress. One of the common comments on the game is that despite the bright cartoon slanted graphic style, the game becomes much more difficult than one would imagine. I can throw my hat in with that opinion. The game has a steady increase in difficulty, which is less common than one would expect in the age of Super Nintendo platformers. The increase is steep, though, and it does indeed sideswipe the player due to the cheerful gloss over the game’s presentation.There isn’t much more to say regarding how the game plays. The controls are spot on, the levels are tough but fair almost the entire way through, and it is paced well enough so that it doesn’t feel like the game drags on. To be honest, unlike most video game adaptations based on movies and television, I would have thought DinoCity had been released and followed up by Adventures in Dinosaur City. The quality feels like it was held to a higher standard than many other movie-to-game translations. Given Irem’s reputation of ‘hidden gems’- The Guardian Legend, R-Type, and Disaster Report, among others (and your mile may even vary with those titles)- it is no surprise that DinoCity feels like it should have made a bigger splash.
The presentation of the game is exceptional, if not a bit disjointed from its marketing. Sticking with some of the usual SNES packaging, DinoCity’s box art depicts what one might expect to be more realistic and detailed sprites and artwork. The environments and sprites are great to look at, but as mentioned earlier, they are more cartoon-like than may have been presented. Apparently, the graphical designers purposefully made the game’s characters look in more of an anime style to deviate from the tone of the film. After the initial expectation shock, the game’s vibrant palette and clean art style feels much more appropriate for the plot and the Super Nintendo library in general. The visual presentation is by far the strongest aspect of the game.The music is decent, and it follows the visual presentation to an ‘as expected’ tee. You get your stereotypical ice level, volcano level, and upbeat beginning level anthems, among others. By no means is this a bad thing, as the composer does a great job with keeping the soundscape aurally interesting, which is a feat in itself with a lot of games of the genre. The sound design in this game is satisfying without being exciting or memorable, but it serves its purpose.
Honestly, if you’re a fan of the Mario series and you’re up for a challenge, DinoCity should be on your short list to hunt down. It’s a gorgeous game, even by today’s ‘retro sprite’ standards, and it won’t take up so much time that if you don’t like it, you’ll feel unsatisfied. I can’t speak much to the movie, as I saw it in passing once when I was too young to recognize that it was connected and, to be honest, the scene I saw was pretty goofy and didn’t particularly hold my interest. If you want to check that out, it appears to be available in full on YouTube.
If you want to get a copy of DinoCity– that may be tougher by normal means, as it did not have the honor of being released on Virtual Console or any other digital means officially. Physical copies don’t appear to be terribly expensive from my recent research, if that’s to your taste, though. Given the ratings I’ve seen and my personal recommendations for the game, it’s a tragedy that DinoCity seems to have gone all but extinct since its initial release.