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What’s wrong with… Dinocide?

What’s wrong with… is a segment I’m trying to start where I try to help developers by being critical of their product, and not blindly exclaiming the game to be perfection incarnate. I take the game, play it for a while, and give my honest criticisms on how to make the game better.

According to the website, Dinocide is an homage to vintage games, with dinosaurs and some modern mechanics. They have a lot of interesting features they bring to the table, and the art is pretty good. That being said, there is a lot of room for balance and fixes in this game. The controls feel a little unpolished, you essentially have 11 resources to manage, and a fickle health/timer system.

First, let’s talk about my biggest issue with the game. The health/timer mechanic. On paper, this sounds like a great idea. Tying together the amount of time you have to finish a level with your health makes each hit you receive all the more dangerous. This mechanic quickly becomes more of a nuisance though, as you become frustrated with every tiny hit taking away almost half of the time bar. You also don’t know when that next piece of random fruit will appear (like a banana in the middle of a cave full of lava), which is the only way to replenish that constantly depleting time bar. This creates an artificial sense of urgency in the game, as you frantically hop along as fast as you can to complete the section. There could be multiple solutions to fix this. To keep with the general vibe of the game, I would actually add food as another resource you have to manually take. However, I would increase the amount of time you have total, make the food completely fill the bar, and then make food just slightly rarer. This would allow the user to have more control over their impending doom, rather than leaving it 100% up to some random bat that is guarding the platform while you only have 50% time. This is a very promising mechanic that just needs a little more love to make it truly shine.

Second, there are a LOT of things to manage. Should I bring the axe or the arrow? What if the level has quicksand instead of lava pits? Why do rocks do almost nothing against anything except my patience? The game tries to keep a sense of scarcity, as would probably be exactly what John Q. Caveman would face on a daily basis. However, you only find a weapon per level, and you lose your weapon every time you die. Why not make the weapon last the level until I finish or give up? That would still maintain needing to balance my weapons, but not make the game almost impossible because it takes 50,000 hits from point blank using rocks. Also, Dinosaurs are a nice perk, like getting Yoshi. Maybe consider taking them out of the start screen, and just have them as a fun perk for that level?

Third, and last, thing that should be addressed is the controls. Everything seems a little off. It is hard to explain. I think that jumping is a little bit sudden. The precision this game is trying to encourage could use a little slower jump, so you could get the timing down better, and react a little faster. Like I said, this is hard to explain, but this area should definitely be looked at, as it is such an integral part of the game.

Overall, I think this is a solid game that gives you what it tells you: a modern game with a classic feel. The pixel art is well done and colorful, and there are even some surprises thrown in for those that pay attention. I feel the game is worth the price, if you enjoy retro games, and would rate it a solid B-, which is great for a smaller developer like AtomicTorch.

Score 4 out of 5

Thanks to the publisher for providing a code for review.

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