"When the game works, it means you’re running around as a dinosaur, perhaps firing missiles or maybe just smashing through anyone stupid enough to get in your way. Such moments can approach sheer bliss. You can charge missiles and then release them in a round of explosions that sends enemies flying and racks up your combo score. Then, as your opponents reel from that assault, you can step in and smash them to bits with your tail."
Robots and dinosaurs rank nicely on the scale of coolness, right near the top under ninjas and pirates. It’s easy to see why someone would want to meld them into one whole. The company with the insight to do so in this case was Bandai. The result is DICE: DNA Integrated Cybernetic Enterprises, an anime that inspired some toys and now a game for the Playstation 2.
The idea here is that you’re one of several children in possession of a dinosaur-shaped robot. These machines, called Dinobreakers, can morph into racing pods, or they can just run around swiping things with their tails and chomping at them with metallic jaws. You live in a giant station that looks like a floating metal bubble. Your days are spent doing good deeds throughout the galaxy, while your evenings are spent arguing with the other kids that own robots like yours. It worked for the cartoon and it works for the game… sometimes.
When the game works, it means you’re running around as a dinosaur, perhaps firing missiles or maybe just smashing through anyone stupid enough to get in your way. Such moments can approach sheer bliss. You can charge missiles and then release them in a round of explosions that sends enemies flying and racks up your combo score. Then, as your opponents reel from that assault, you can step in and smash them to bits with your tail. Scraps of metal go flying and everyone has a good time.
Unfortunately, there are moments where the developers strip this delight from you. That’s where the game falters most frequently. There are, in fact, two instances where you’ll find yourself stripped of your dinosaur form.
The first such instance will happen less frequently than the second. Some missions require that you race. You line up at the starting line, you look at the futuristic world ahead, and then you’re off to the races. Your opponents drop electrical charges that you must avoid as you jostle for a position. This is when you notice that your Dinobreaker now controls horribly. If you head into a corner too quickly, no amount of braking will stop you from slamming into a wall. You can power slide around corners with the right combination of braking and acceleration, but this is tricky and doesn’t always work. At this point, you’ll either collide with a wall so hard that it knocks you from your perch on your vehicle, or you’ll go flying into a pit you couldn’t avoid.
Such moments are exasperating. Suppose you’re leading in a tough race. You’ve fought hard to make it this far, but suddenly you take a corner wrong and drop into the abyss. A second or three later, your Dinobreaker reappears on the track. Your driver, however, is wandering about on foot. You quickly tap ‘R2’ to remedy that, then take off again. The whole sequence takes several precious seconds. Unless you had a huge lead, you’re now in fifth place.
As I mentioned, races aren’t the only place where you can be stripped of your dinosaur form. It can also happen in any of the ‘standard’ missions. Suppose you’re riding a cool elevator up the inside of a space station. Enemies are swarming you and you’re kicking butt. However, a few lucky laser shots hit your Dinobreaker and suddenly it’s overheating. Without any choice in the matter, you leap from the near-wreckage and run around on foot. Your only protection now is a pathetic punch and a floating orb you can use as a protective barrier. It blocks most missiles but you’re still a sitting duck.
For several seconds, you’ll have to endure this. One boss fight aside, it’s never fun. Worse, it happens at the most inconvenient of moments. For example, one mission includes a segment where you must hop around on moving lilipads, blasting at distant turrets that belch fire if you get close. In dinosaur form, you can fire missiles from a safe distance, but while you’re busy doing that, floating shrapnel might knock you from your perch. Even if you avoid that fate, your machine may eject you as it works to avoid overheating. At this point, it becomes remarkably easy to fall into the soup. You re-materialize on a nearby patch of solid earth, while your machine continues to float in the distance. This is agonizing.
Fortunately, DICE makes up for such moments in a few key ways. Firstly, there’re the ‘cool’ moments you encounter. One mission finds you destroying blocks of ice while enemies swarm you. It’s pretty cool. Another has you creeping through a maze while mechanical sentries try to fry you with lasers. Again, it’s pretty cool. So are boss encounters, which have enough variety that you might be smashing cylinders around a hovering robot in one mission, then biting a massive dragon from behind in another.
Throughout all of this, the visuals are top-notch. The Dinobreakers look fantastic. Their scales and metallic hides reflect surrounding light sources so vibrantly that you’d swear they’ve just been washed and waxed. Environments lack that degree of polish, but they still look great and drive home the fact that you’re exploring alien planets.
Aurally, DICE also excels. Bandai hired capable voice actors. They actually speak with the proper emphasis, something you won’t find in a lot of other games crowding the market today. Some of their lines are rather trite or even preachy, and some of the dialogue doesn’t seem to be aimed at North American audiences (we don’t often consider the moral implications of poaching, for example), but overall I was pleasantly surprised. The explosions sound great, too.
Ultimately, the game is a mixed bag. Just about every mission has a moment where you’re smiling and having a great time. Then things get redundant, or something feels cheap, or you’re hating the controls. Such flaws will discourage some gamers, but those who love the DICE cartoon will find a lot to like here. Dinobreakers rule!
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Staff review by Jason Venter (October 26, 2005)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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