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Dynowarz: The Destruction of Spondylus (NES) artwork

Dynowarz: The Destruction of Spondylus (NES) review

"And after seven sequences of this, it all abruptly ends. No more muted, garish colors. No more laughable showdowns. No more trying to hit a miniature velociraptor with a stupid arcing bomb because the power-up literally blocked your path on the opposite side of a gorge, forcing you to die or collect it."

I suppose a game can grow on you, and in some ways, Dynowarz: The Destruction of Spondylus has. It has that unique quality, a knack for making you feel more and more at home as you learn to adapt to the rigid jumping, the unwieldy clashes and the discouraging weapon upgrade system. You develop an affinity for its lackluster design, the depressed pastel colors against perpetual blackness, the repeating corridors of purple bubble bases with frames crafted of the same bronze. The tediousness becomes comforting, the backtracking over eerily barren terminals soothing, the battles with airborne Pterodactyl-mechs as you harness the power of your inadequate and inadvertently-attained weaponry…

…still a pain in the ass.

You feel safe as you exploit the game, finding all the safe spots in the poorly programmed platforming. There are games that turned out bad, and they were rushed to market without a single flaw fixed. This was a bad game. But I get the feeling earlier versions may have been much worse, as if Bandai struggled to adapt these ideas and make this playable. I get the sense, in some respects, this disaster is an actual achievement.

The ideas themselves are not that bad, following the line treaded by Blaster Master and ilk. Like that game, the hero switches between foot and machine, though here you won’t be interchanging within the same levels, with separate areas for each. You’ll start sans the dinosaur mecha, beginning as a spaceman utilizing a helpful spreadshot to clear enemies from what I can only assume is your home complex. After a few simple single screens – no scrolling levels on foot, but traditional Pitfall-style platforming – you come upon your mecha, a fearsome T-Rex of uniform orange, and enter.

“Now the fun is about to start,” you’ll think your first time.

It doesn’t. Picture Rampage as a side scrolling platformer and you have the other half of the game. Controlling the lumbering metal lizard, you’ll walk right across rocky foreign surfaces – all of a homogeneous hue – dueling with other clumsy behemoths and taking heavy fire. You’ll start by battling with solely fists, but defeating other dinosaurs will yield a hideous assortment of weapon options, each capable of being powered up by attaining icons in succession. You have a ridiculous rocket fist that traces a square pattern as it boomerangs back to you. You have fireballs and beams, your safest bets in the repertoire, which are essentially the same attack only beams continue through enemies whereas fireballs are absorbed. Lastly, there are arcing bombs -- do not acquire these! Their trajectory is perfect for airborne enemies, but otherwise leave you defenseless – you’ll have to run backwards futilely lobbing them one at a time – against even the small fry land foes.

I cannot stress enough how much damage you will take, how incapable your lead-footed vehicle is of dodging almost any bullet. Enemies damage on touch; many will attack by trying to rest inside you, chipping away at health. Others launch projectiles; I suggest not even bothering to avoid these and pressing on. Your energy bar is large enough to absorb most of this damage. Continues are unlimited, and will put you back at the same length you died during. One could beat these stretches just marching rightward and jumping over the occasional abyss, merely trudging past – nay, thru – anything and everything that stands in the path. Because larger enemies take so many blows to level, this may not be the worst strategy. Only the very last mecha needs to be defeated, dropping a key that will return you to on-foot missions traversing the single screen series that form enemy complexes.

Here, you’ll have the same size energy bar, but a different bar itself; did I mention that damage is all but unavoidable in this game? On each screen you’ll have two objectives. The first will be to clear the screen of loosely strewn about bullet-spewers using your spreadshot, asterisk spitting aliens and mounted turrets the two most common assailants. After this, you’ll navigate some simple platforming pieces – once you get the hang of the rigid, no momentum needed jumping – to get to the right exit. After a few of these screens you’ll reach the core, where you’ll need to pelt a mollusk-resembling creature, one of the spondylus, guarded by a glass shield and hurling its offspring, before backtracking out of the base and back to your mech.

Unlike its counterpart, die anywhere within these confines and you’ll restart at the very beginning of the complex, having to repeat all the screens over again. This includes if a mistimed jump sends you freefalling on your trek back out, after the nucleus destroyed and all the adversaries vanquished.

This can be very frustrating.

You’ll storm your mecha across seven different planets, the only distinguishing feature of each the color of the ground. You’ll quell seven different cores, each identical in substance and color scheme, some even replicating whole screens you’ve seen before – it’s clear the same contractor designed all of these bases. Along the way, you’ll die a few times, usually on foot as you lapse and plummet into the unknown depths, but as you grow more accustom, because your energy depleted. This isn’t a game you can beat without dieing I doubt; the fact Bandai threw out the whole system of limited numbers of lives and continues should tell you something was amiss.

And after seven sequences of this, it all abruptly ends. No more muted, garish colors. No more laughable showdowns. No more trying to hit a miniature velociraptor with a stupid arcing bomb because the power-up literally blocked your path on the opposite side of a gorge, forcing you to die or collect it.

I wish there was more, because just as I was getting used to the pointlessness, just as I was taking pleasure in overcoming the wretched design, there was nothing left to play. I had won. Thanks for playing another great game by Bandai!

That line frustrated me even more. This isn't a great game.

Is it?

Dynowarz: The Destruction of Spondylus started as a borderline unplayable atrocity in my book. And then I learned to play it. That didn’t make it a good game -- didn’t make it much better at all -- but I could at least see what it was hoping to achieve, imagine the concessions it made and revamps needed to attain a seal of quality. Every time since, it seems a little more excusable. Every time booted, I become a bit more apologetic for it all. There’s something truly endearing about what this game tries to do with its paint-by-numbers planets, and even though it never comes close – not one aspect within reach of quality – I cast a blind eye knowing all too well what is really going on.

Such is how I learned to stop worrying and love this bomb. It’s absolutely terrible.

But you’ll get used to it.

drella's avatar
Staff review by Jackie Curtis (December 23, 2008)

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True posted December 24, 2008:

Am I the only one who thinks the guy on the cover page really, really, ridiculously looks like Bobba Fett?
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zippdementia posted December 25, 2008:

Excellent review. I laughed, I gawked, I got interested in the game, and then heeded your subtle warnings and decided to never touch it.
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drella posted December 25, 2008:

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wolfqueen001 posted December 26, 2008:

Haha. Good review. I honestly wonder if it's just nostalgia that makes me like this game... We actually own this on Nintendo, and both me and my brother were able to beat it without caring how crappy the interface was. I think that whole unlimited continue thing helped a lot, otherwise I probably never would have liked it as much as I did.

I'll admit playing it again on an emulator I was really able to see it for what it was... but then part of me wondered whether playing it on the emulator made it actually harder to play somehow.

Anyway, I think you did a great job summarizing its strange perplexing attractiveness. I have a feeling that if I really put effort into playing it again, I'd feel the same way.

I rather enjoyed this. Thanks for reviewing it.

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