That old saying about imitation being the sincerest form of flattery is one that can be applied to video games from day one. Early classics like Pac-Man saw their fair share of imitators, many companies tried to capitalize on the “animal with an attitude” aspect that Sonic the Hedgehog introduced, and bigger companies have tried in recent years to duplicate the success of titles like Call of Duty.
All three of these aforementioned examples usually resulted in far from successful products, but the practice still continues to this day. Still, it’s not often that you see something like Dinocide. Developer AtomicTorch has made it clear in promotional material that the game draws inspiration from the classic Adventure Island series, and anyone familiar with those games will notice similarities between the two, both visually and mechanically.
In reality, similarities might be a bit too generous. Not only does Dinocide play exactly like a less well-thought out Adventure Island, but the bulk of its gameplay and visual motifs are also heavily recycled. And while many retro gamers regard Hudson’s series as enjoyable outings, Dinocide suffers from level design that feels boring and sometimes cheap, with lackluster presentation to boot. The result is a stinker of a platformer that doesn’t feel like there’s any real audience for it, retro or modern.
Players control a nameless caveman who sets out to rescue his girlfriend from the evil Dinosaur God, traversing forests, deserts, volcanoes, and underwater levels in conventional sidescrolling fashion. The story is limited to a 20-second cutscene at the beginning and a single graphic and text box at the end, so it’s up to the gameplay to give players their money’s worth.
The main concept in Dinocide that makes it stand out from other platformers is its health system. You’re provided with a conventional-looking life bar that drains when you take damage, but it also gradually drains on its own even when you’re unharmed. It can thankfully be refilled by finding various fruit powerups strewn throughout each level, since it’s meant to represent the protagonist’s hunger and subsequent stamina.
This gives the game a bit of urgency, which can be annoying in later levels when you deal with enemies that are harder to take down. Since you can’t take time to be careful when approaching them but also can’t take much damage, there’s ultimately an unnecessary sense of frustration with certain parts.
Thankfully, you’re given some perks to make the journey easier and more varied. While your default projectile weapon is an endless amount of small rocks, you can find more powerful alternatives like axes and boomerangs throughout most levels. You can also find eggs that hatch various dinosaurs you can ride who provide their own special moves, like fireballs or charging forward. Various precious stones can be found in each environment, which you save for a few in-game shops along the way that let you buy and save a finite quantity of weapons and dinosaurs for whichever level you see fit.
The first 2/3 or so of Dinocide is still a total breeze even without most of the powerups, to the point where you can either go around most of enemies and ignore them completely, or make use of the brief invincibility you get when damaged to run right past them. Unfortunately, rather than a gradual climb, the game decides to abruptly get trickier in the last third or so, throwing swarms of enemies in a row and placing big, impassable ones that take a lot of time to beat. You suddenly go from never needing the powerups to needing them constantly. Level design as a whole is mostly bland, with little in the way of surprises or variety throughout the adventure. There are also two boss fights that are passable, but little else.
Playing Dinocide was a dull experience to begin with, but when I beat the second boss and expected to find myself at most halfway through the game, I was flabbergasted to see that I had beaten the whole thing in almost exactly an hour. This is especially worth noting due to the fact that the game is going for $9.99 on Steam. To clarify, Telltale Games traditionally puts out each of their episodic game installments for $4.99, and even those that I’ve complained felt too short were still two hours on average.
To call Dinocide a ripoff for this alone is an understatement, as I also decided to look up information and footage on the Adventure Island series to see where the two shared similarities and differentiated. As it turns out, aside from the in-game purchasing mechanic, just about everything else is lifted directly from Hudson’s series. The weapons look and act the same, though with a more pronounced and annoying arc that makes aiming needlessly harder, and the dinosaur mechanic is the same, too. As is the health and hunger system.
Worst of all, not only does Dinocide recycle level themes, but it essentially steals their graphical art style, down to how aspects in each motif look and work and even what types of enemies you encounter in them. I was honestly blown away by how little the developers seemed to disregard originality, only bothering to alter character models a bit with their own bland designs and half-assed animations and provide a soundtrack I’ve already forgotten completely.
The bad level design and overall presentation of Dinocide is already enough to make me say it’s worth ignoring, but the inexcusable length, the gall to sell it for $10, and an offensive lack of originality were enough to make me feel genuinely angry towards it, and I haven’t felt that way about a game in years. Obviously, you should mainly ignore it because it’s not fun, but supporting something that doesn’t give you a fraction of your money’s worth and feels borderline plagiaristic is also another big reason. It even has the never to end with text asking players to spread the word if they like it so there can be a sequel. The gaming world will be a better place if that doesn’t happen.
This review is based on the PC version of the game, which was provided to us.
Dinocide is both a shameless and halfhearted recreation of other titles as well as a ripoff for all gamers with its criminally short length and crummy gameplay. Avoid this one at all costs.