Review: Dinocide

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Do you have fond memories of the Adventure Island series or other old-school caveman classics like Joe & Mac, Prehistorik Man, and Chuck Rock? Then Dinocide is just the place to look for a chance to relive the glory days of running and jumping through a prehistoric world while kicking some serious dino-butt.

Dinocide, a modern-day 2D platformer that looks, plays, and sounds like it was created a few decades ago, starts off like any Super Mario Bros. or other game from the 8-bit and 16-bit eras, with the caveman protagonist’s sweetie pie becoming the classic damsel in distress as an ancient, mountain-sized dinosaur god crashes their campfire snuggle session to kidnap the loinclothed beauty for reasons unknown.

As the nameless Neanderthal, you must venture across deserts and swamps, through forests and ice caves, and even beneath the sea to rescue his honey, moving left and right, tapping one button to jump, and tapping another button to lob rocks, arrows, stone axes, or boomerangs at a wide range of enemies both ordinary (spiders, bats, snakes, etc.) and extraordinary (zombie pig-men, laser spitting land manatee-things, humanoid cacti, phallic sand worms, and mustachioed skeletons that are garbed in Mexican ponchos and toss hot chilly peppers).

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In a clear nod to Adventure Island, the game revolves around a health and hunger system that combines the two vital resources into a single life bar. Taking damage puts an immediate dent in the life bar, while the hungry, hungry caveman’s stomach steadily empties and drains health bit by bit over time. Various foodstuffs are placed throughout each level and must be collected to refill the hunger bar, but if at any point it should run completely empty–either through taking direct damage or the hunger clock striking zero–the caveman dies. This constant health drain forces a sense of urgency that keeps you pushing forward at all times while also adding a fight-or-flight dynamic as you often have to learn when to disregard the natural gamer instinct and muscle memory to kill every enemy in sight and push ahead to gobble up the nearest food item–and ultimately reach the end of the level before the health/hunger bar ticks all the way down. Attacking is also tied to a separate stamina meter, preventing you from being able to spam projectiles, and further prodding you to move forward as quickly as possible.

The level design is pretty basic, consisting of the usual array of insta-kill pits, spiked floors and ceilings, poisonous swamp water, lava pools with spitting fireballs, quicksand, falling icicles, and shifting platforms. Many levels offer multiple routes and hidden nooks, as well as walled-off areas that can only be broken through while riding dinosaurs. Yep, that’s right. The game has dino-mounts! Five of them in fact, each offering an independent health/hunger meter and a unique power such as breathing fireballs, swimming underwater and shooting bubbles, or generating a sort of icy shockwave shield. (In one level, I also found a hidden mech suit mount!) The mounts can be acquired within certain levels by finding and hatching one of their eggs. Mounts as well as weapon types can also be purchased from mid-level cave shops using collected gems to keep for use from an inventory screen at the beginning of each level. But be careful, because any power-up you choose to begin a level with will be permanently lost from the inventory if you die and have to start over.

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In terms of difficulty, Dinocide is an accessible, even keeled romp, neither a cakewalk nor a masochistic platforming gauntlet. There are no lives, continues, or checkpoints, so death at any point during a level does require starting over from the very beginning. Thankfully, all of the levels are concise and well paced, so there’s never any sense of building frustration, even if you need to die and retry a handful of times or more on a given stage. I do wish the bosses put up a stiffer fight though. I blitzed through each of the three bosses on the first try without breaking a sweat, mainly because during boss fights the whole hunger mechanic is dropped so you only have to worry about avoiding direct damage, which is all too easy due to how telegraphed the boss attack patterns are.

Dinocide could definitely use more content, too. By my best estimate the game only consists of around 30 stages (the world map wouldn’t let me cycle back through previously completed stages to do an exact count) and those 30 stages run their course within an hour or two. Since there are no collectible or scoring elements, the sole source of replay comes from a rather barebones speedrun mode. Currently the game doesn’t even have achievements as an extra source of replay incentive. Fortunately, the developers so far do seem to be committed to strong post-release support, as the game isn’t even a month old yet and has already received two updates with additional levels on top of general bug fixes. And I do believe the devs are looking into adding achievements, so hopefully that’s something to look forward to.

Overall, Dinocide is a fun, well-crafted homage that is sure to please its primary retro enthusiast audience. However, if you don’t have any particular reverence for the games Dinocide is etching its stone tablet love letter to, the game’s simplistic gameplay, old-school presentation, and lightweight level count may not do the trick. AtomicTorch Studio has made a free demo version available from the game’s website. I say give that a whirl first to see if the game hits your nostalgic sweet spot.

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Pros:
+ Fun throwback to NES/SNES-era caveman platformers
+ Combined health/hunger system is an interesting twist

Cons:
– Not many levels plus limited replay value
– Bosses could be a little…bossier

Game Info:
Platform: PC/Mac/Linux
Publisher: AtomicTorch Studio
Developer: AtomicTorch Studio
Release Date: 1/21/2016
Genre: 2D Platformer
Players: 1

Source: Review code provided by developer

Buy From: Steam (Try the demo at dinocide.com)

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!