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Up from (Super) Obscurity

By sheer luck brilliant forethought, each Endangered SNESpecies theme month game has had a shared element with the next game in line:
  1. Power Piggs of the Dark Age fought wolves.
  2. In Wolfchild you play as a man who turns into a wolf;
  3. and Congo's Caper stars a monkey who turns into a caveman/caveboy/whatever and fights bad cavemen/dinosaurs.
And the connecting thread for this week's game? Well, you're going to end up fighting bad cavemen/dinosaurs in your trip to...
Trouble with a capital "Dino"!
As you may or may not recall, Endangered SNESpecies month is about me reviewing games that feature Anthropomorphic Cartoon Animals which were not featured in more than one game, AND who aren't from a TV series or movie.
This week is a little bit of a cheat, because DinoCity is evidently based on a made-for-TV movie. Who would have thought they could turn a buck based on such an obscure property? Why, the good folks at...
Undoubtedly the irem-ers saw the piles of cash that We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story netted for Visual Concepts and Hi-Tech Expressions Inc., and scoured the market for another dino-cartoon to pounce on.
Evidently they were unable to get the license to a dinosaur film that received a theatrical release, or was a sequel to a film that got a theatrical release*
*: denying the world a SNES copy of The Land Before Time 2: Electric Boogaloo, The Land Before Time 3: The Eye of Braxus, The Land Before Time 4: End Game, or even The Land Before Time 5: Die, Darkman, Die!
Instead they teamed up with Smart Egg Pictures to realize the story of DinoCity as a video game.
And what a story it is!
I think I'll just let the story speak for itself*, using the second most speaking-est tools ever invented: THE WRITTEN WORD!
*: until I immediately interrupt
(Sadly, we're not told if "the video" they want to see is a copy of a movie called DinoCity, thus denying the greatest "meta" movie-within-movie scene since that theater marque in the background of Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time)
The TV screen here is better how? Better like a clown? Does it amuse you?
Then the TV screen goes all TRON on them.
I couldn't have said it better creepier myself.
So, for the record, it was not OK to enter the lab: 2 points for Jamie.
When you start the game proper, a duck riding in a hot air balloon basket held aloft by purple bats explains that "Rockys Gang" stole a fuse from the power station, and you must return it to go home:
In case you were curious, nothing about this situation is mind-bendingly insane.
Ok, enough with the plot...what is DinoCity the GAME like?
Hold on to your socks: it's a platformer! But despite the fact that a) Timmy's the only one who gets a "falling into the space/time/TV vortex" animation, and 2) he's a boy, you can still choose if you want to play as Timmy or his sister Jamie (who has much better detecting-if-entering-a-lab-is-OK skills).
And in fact, each of the Somethingwhatever siblings has teamed up with a different dino-pal:
Timmy collaborates with Rex, who we can pretty safely assume is a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Rex wears what is either a black karate gi or a smoking jacket
Jamie is friends with a purple thunder lizard named Tops. We're on tenuous ground assuming she's a Triceratops, though: if we're counting horns, she appears to be more of a NONceratops.
And far be it from me to point out that both Rex and Tops are suffering from "Donald Duck Syndrome" -- they're anthropomorphic animals who wear elaborate shirts but not a stitch of pants or shoes.
And in an inversion of game conventions, the girl is a much better choice
Rex the Dinosaur's attack is a very short-range punch:
While Tops gets to fling arrows:
While they can both jump on enemies to hurt them, arrows are much more useful than fists.
The first level may lead you to believe that this is a standard run-and-bop platformer, where your goal is to not fall off cliffs while fighting evil cavemen. If that was all the game had to offer it would make Rex seem like a horrible choice...
But before long, you learn that the pseudo-Yoshi tag-team partnership between you and your dinosaur is more than just a funny sprite, and in fact leads to some interesting "puzzle platformer" gameplay:
Did I hear you say, "pseudo-Yoshi tag-team partner?" And if so, what the hell does that mean?
In DinoCity, you ride around on your dino-buddy's shoulders, wandering and jumping to your heart's delight:
Except...when you don't. That's where the "Pseudo-Yoshi"-like partnership comes from: it's quite different from Super Mario World's Mario/Yoshi one-sided love/hit-an-enemy-and-run-away relationship.
You and your dinosaur have a more Mickey Mousecapade-type interdependancy. If either of you go off a cliff, you both lose:
The needs of the Minnie outweigh the needs of the few.
But that's not to say that you're linked at the hip (or worse yet, that one of you trails around slightly behind the other): normally you ride piggy-back as one sprite, but if you press the "R" shoulder button, Timmy or Jamie can leap off their dinosaur's back and run around separately.
Only the kids can roam separately (and even then, their dinosaur anchors the screen so you can't scroll very far). When you press the "R" button again, you switch control back to the dinosaur, and the kid immediately leaps back to his or her shoulders.
The ability to separate has a number of uses throughout the game. Most immediately you'll notice it can be used like a "double jump" to collect power-ups (the dino and kid jump, you press "R" at the top of the jump's arc, then quickly press "jump" again to launch the kid even higher). But when you separate your dino immediately goes into "cowering mode" and falls straight down: if that means he or she goes off a cliff, prepare to meet your mickey.
But you'll also combine this splitting-up ability with the fact that the kids can jump just a BIT higher than the dinosaurs to solve "puzzles" where you need to go a jump or two ahead with the kid so they can trigger something (usually lowering a weight-based platform) that'll allowing both of you to proceed:
Finally, when you're off your dinosaur, both kids can fire a weird "zappy" shot, which turns enemies gray and freezes them in place:
If you get back on your dinosaur before they thaw, they're easier to kill when frozen, but don't give you any rewards/bonus items. To tell the truth I didn't end up using this much, but I'm sure it becomes important eventually.
So, some normal platforming, but some weird puzzle-y stuff?
That's about right. While many of the cavemen/flying thingies are of the "normal platformer variety" and are defeated if you hit them/jump on them once, there's definitely some tough cookies amongst the enemies --
The "evilly grinning cavemen" and "dancing cave-ladies", for instance, take 4-6 jumps-on or shots before they go down,
But there's also a number of unusual obstacles:
Sliding layers amongst the platforms, where you have to ride through a gap to get to the other side
This double-dino-head statue is an interesting hazard: it sits chin-deep in water and periodically shoots a ice-ball from one side and a fire-ball from the other...then after a while, it rotates and repeats. The ice-ball freezes the water on that side into a solid platform, and the fire-ball melts the previously frozen water-platform!
To make matters worse, you can't stand on top of the statue itself -- that would make things too easy. If there's no other platforms around, you have to time your leap to go from the melting side to the newly-freezing side!
And wonder of wonders: a "mine cart level" that DOESN'T suck! It's more of a roller coaster, with several big and not overly-fast carts.
And speaking of carnival rides...
We have the world's first Ferris Wheel! Or should that be "Sedimentary Rock Wheel?"
And I guess when I say, "first", I'm talking about "it happened first in geological terms;" game-chronology-wise, it's a ripoff of Super Mario World.
What else is there to add?
This is actually a pretty neat, quirky game; maybe a 60/40 platformer/puzzle-em-up.
As far as additional features, ironically the "2 Player Mode" is NOT simultaneous, you take alternating turns; you don't even have to play as different kids (BOTH of you can play as Team Rex or Team Tops if you want).
The "Sound Mode", (or "Sound Room", as it calls itself when you select it) has the neat feature of making the characters bounce up and down periodically while the tunes play, as if they're dancing:
...and though you have limited continues and lives, you get passwords at the end of each world (which are made up of 3-6 different short-ish levels):
I have to say, I really appreciate the improvements in Password Technology on the 16 bit systems: here all the vowels (that happen to look similar to other symbols) have been turned into distinctive weird thingies.
Well, all except the "E", I it looks more like the "3" than ever.
Nevertheless, it's not a terribly easy game; and I believe your passwords keep track of how many lives and continues you had when you beat a world, so if you play badly enough you might end up with useless passwords (as in, "yes, you're on World 4, but you have 1 life and 0 continues left. Better go back to your World 3 password and try again").
Suffice to say, you'll be seeing the "Continue" screen more than a little:
(your dinosaur friend hogs the picnic lunch)
It's not quite "Haggar tied to a table trying to blow out the fuse of some dynamite", but what is?
...but if you're in to that kind of thing, it's a step up from most movie-to-game platformer cash-ins. Despite being a platformer game based on a virtually unknown property, irem has created a pretty reasonable game against all odds. And you know what that means?
It's a party in year 0!
— carlmarksguy, 2014-02-28
So...they make a face at the camera, and jump backwards into the giant TV screen? For no apparent reason?
Well, the world shakes and then they fly into the screen. I guess we're to assume that the power of the science device compels them!
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