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Defenders of the Dynatron City (NES) artwork

Defenders of the Dynatron City (NES) review


"As bad as Defenders of Dynatron City was, it was just a totally unfair judgement call away from being middling to good. Somehow, though, a game that tries so hard at being weird just wouldn't WANT to be average, if games had feelings. The description promises "Nobody's normal...six really cool superheroes...and an awful lot of enemies." The imagination is there, with Gatomorphs and Loogiehawks and some amusing backgrounds. About what you'd expect from the folks who brought you Sam and Max..."



As bad as Defenders of Dynatron City was, it was just a totally unfair judgement call away from being middling to good. Somehow, though, a game that tries so hard at being weird just wouldn't WANT to be average, if games had feelings. The description promises "Nobody's normal...six really cool superheroes...and an awful lot of enemies." The imagination is there, with Gatomorphs and Loogiehawks and some amusing backgrounds. About what you'd expect from the folks who brought you Sam and Max. But unfortunately the unfair bits get in the way. Like when suddenly enemies who did one point of damage do thirty-six on the first stage. Or how the difficulty progression is backwards from the usual games. Nope! Nothing normal about that.

Which is too bad, because the six superheroes you have definitely make a team, and you need that, and some power-ups, to destroy Dr. Mayhem in the end. They also get power-ups, which are mostly jumping. Of the six below, you get the last three and an option of the first.

* Jet Headstrong fires his head at people, and you can determine how far it goes.
* Radium Dog bites, which seems lame until you get in close with monsters who fire over his head.
* Ms Megawatt fires lightning bolts and moves very quickly.
* Buzzsaw Girl moves around on a buzzsaw wheel and can fire continually. Her power-up jump does damage if she lands on an enemy.
* Toolbox can't fight worth a darn but can take a lot of damage, and since you can flip inveterately between heroes, he's useful in a pinch.
* Monkey Kid throws exploding bananas, but not very fast or far, so he's lousy in close or long range. The only time you'll use him is to switch off with another superhero you've found. There's one in every superhero clique...

You can flip between these on a screen that offers the option of a map as well. The map just shows the intersections, which streets you've cleared, and where you are. This is useful early on as you struggle to remember right means north/east and are futzing to decide which player best does what. The first stage, where you clean a grid of streets, seems easy until your health meter suddenly starts dropping like crazy. After clearing a street, you can enter shops to find money, food for health, power-ups or even the two companions you didn't choose at the start of the game. Then at the end is a blimp, which follows the same rules the rest of the level does: anticipate it coming from off screen, fire at it, and you'll eventually blow it apart. The blimp drops a supercharger, which makes you invincible and increases your damage.

Then there's the mall, where robosaurs have taken it over. You have two floors of ambushing robosaurs as they come in from the side, deploy baby robosaurs, and get completely flummoxed when you zoom diagonally around them, then get completely ambushed as you gun down their offscreen presences. On winning these, you can buy food from places like Waffel and Falafel, and if Dynatron City had more than that, it'd be more fun to save. Unfortunately, it's the last place to spend money. After you defeat a few more Robosaurs and Atom Ed, a head with a gun who acts like the Robosaurs, you don't have the time to visit shops. A detour from the sewers, but the time constraints placed on each level make it very tough to do so and still win.

But fortunately you don't need to. As cool as the Gatomorphs and Loogiehawks are, you'd have to be pretty dense to let them kill you. The first attack too slowly, and the second barely do any damage. You then have an interesting round where you fight replicas of your own superheroes, though most of the damage comes from toxic green bubbles of Proto-Cola. Your heroes' range affects whose weapon they should use. And fortunately, the enemy AI is very, very stupid.

Then the final scene--bless it! You have four superchargers, and it turns out the best way to beat Dr. Mayhem is to have the fluorescent green Radium Dog supercharge and bite poor Dr. Mayhem on the ankles. Thus ensuring that the levels do become progressively easier. Which seems to edge out people no matter what they expected from the game. Those hoping for more engaging and challenging enemies, or maybe a bigger map than Dynatron City's ten blocks, don't get that. The level three sewers are, in fact, like clearing the city streets but without stores. Those expecting a break don't get it either, as the levels almost go too fast.

But even if the levels weren't in the wrong order, the game would have problems. People often complain about the hit detection for the game, and I'm not sure if the game randomly disallows certain hits or if it discounts them. It's not always clear if you shoot an enemy in the right place--for instance, if you fire at a robot that zooms diagonally in the air, you have to hit its base. But it certainly is frustrating to shoot an enemy and not see it fall apart, even if rapid firing generally guns the enemy down anyway. In other words, the way around ridiculous ambushes is a low-grade trick of your own. And in the sewers, you have two platform levels and ladders to move between them. Guess how tough it can be to get off the ladder, even with the super-fast Ms Megawatt? Enough for Gatomorphs to kill you with a few hits.

And given LucasArts's other ideas in the game, it's easy to imagine what could've been, even to imagine what they were trying to do and enjoy that. The stores you'll try to avoid if the time-meter is running low, or you don't want any more fights, are quite funny: "No dogs allowed" excludes Radium Dog. You have everything a good town expects in stores, with for-sale signs plastered everywhere. And the mall store names are good for a consistent giggle.

But the last three levels are either so colorless or derivative--the Proto Cola bottling plant with your clones being the second--that people who appreciated the first two levels will be left wondering what happened. Those who didn't enjoy the first two levels will probably give up before plowing through the third. In fact I barely stumbled through it, and my main source of inspiration to replay the game was of a shiny green dog biting the legs off a bulb-headed villain. People who bought the original cart probably never had a chance to put in cheats, see that, and look back and try again. I, fortunately, felt forgiving enough to assume LucasArts made a sound business decision in saving all the really funny stuff for Sam and Max.

Rating: 4/10

aschultz's avatar
Community review by aschultz (May 15, 2009)

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