Click here if you wish to visit the Dinosaurs for Hire description page for screenshots and more information.
Review by tankMage (February 2016)
Talk about obscure games, I couldn’t find much info on this one, but part of why I do this is to learn something about games that have gone overlooked. So, this rather unknown run and gun was based off of an equally obscure comic book of the same name that was in circulation during the late eighties and early nineties. The comic parodied popular films of the time and referenced other contemporary comics, leaving the humor somewhat dated in today’s world. As games go it’s neither very good nor very bad, but on a personal level I found this title to be sloppily designed and bereft of fun. While my heart urged me to give it a lower score than a C, I could not do so from an objective standpoint. Dinosaurs for Hire certainly has a few kinks in its design, but it’s not a miserable failure either. In fact, even I must admit the game had some strong points. This title pokes fun at venerated franchises like Terminator and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at the height of their popularity with a brand of tongue and cheek humor that only a nineties video game could muster, which makes it an interesting history lesson if nothing else.
Interested in how Dinosaurs for Hire became a video game? Check out this interview with Tom Mason, creator of the comic book on Wackoid.com: https://wackoid.com/interview/how-tom-masons-dinosaurs-for-hire-became-a-video-game/
The backgrounds, mobs and playable characters are all adequately detailed, but some of the creatures in this title are poorly drawn and have issues with perspective that stand out even in the world of 16-bit console gaming.
Explosions and special effects are unsatisfying and lack any sense of impact. For the most part a simple, uninspired explosion animation was used for must enemy deaths as well a few other effects. Malibu Interactive did manage to redeem themselves by creating a few cool bosses (primarily the Minotaur) and stocking each level with its own unique mobs, in fact, DfH distinguishes itself (to a modest extent), because it so rarely recycled monsters.
Understanding what DfH is supposed to be about was a challenge. The source material was completely foreign to me and I had to do some research to get a handle on the story. The comic book series was about four anthropomorphic dinosaurs from space (not making this up, I swear) that crash landed on Earth and were unable to return home. Fortunately they like to shoot things and happen to be good at it, so the dinos decided to become mercenaries. Right here we have the A Team, TMNT, and E.T. (ok maybe E.T. is a stretch) rolled into one comic book. From what I gather from the game and my research, the comics had a sort of dark, hyperbolic humor that was intended to parody popular culture. The comics were also highly episodic (I think) which is why the story of DfH is so disjointed; the Dinosaurs for Hire had different jobs that were not necessarily connected to each other in anyway in the comic and consequently each level in the game is its own story.
So, how does all this factor into the quality of the game’s story? Well, it’s confusing if you aren’t familiar with the comics. What’s worse is the player isn’t really given any explanation as to why they are fighting a particular boss until the end of the stage and even then it’s often vague and mostly a gag. In the game’s defense, at least some of the scenarios and dialog were mildly amusing.
I’m not sure if this game only had three songs or if it had seven that sounded very similar to one another, but either way the music was rather nondescript. The sound effects were just as plain. On the bright side, the music is innocuous and I didn’t find myself reaching for the mute button (for those that don’t know, I always listen to in game music so I get the full effect).
There are some issues with DfH’s gameplay, the causes of which I had some trouble identifying. After playing through the title, I concluded that these issues had little to do with DfH’s user interface. The game’s controls aren’t exactly tight, but they aren’t so loose that they hamper movement, jumping, and attacking. For the most part the buttons are laid out fairly well and can be changed in the options screen. Speaking of the options screen, there are several ways in which the player can customize gameplay, such as adjusting difficulty and the number of continues, which is always welcome. The UI does have one glaring flaw: the player cannot see his or her HUD during a boss fight. It’s possible that the devs removed the HUD to make the game more difficult, more dramatic or a combination of the two, but the desired effect was not achieved in my opinion. Watching my life drop with each hit always added tension to boss fights as far as I’m concerned and not being able to see how much life, bombs or extra dinos you have does not have much bearing on your performance in battle.
There were a number of things I liked about this title, but unfortunately I can’t say the gameplay and design were very well executed. While visually the game’s various levels are diverse and entertaining, the actual experience of navigating them leaves much to be desired.
The platforming is lame for lack of a better word. Players can expect all the cliche tricks devs like to use to kill them, such as drop away platforms and conveyor belts, which are often inconsistent in their timing. To make matters worse, these hazards are generally laid out poorly and don’t really provide much in the way of challenge. Any difficulty I had with the various traps and pitfalls the game threw at me came from my primary complaint about DfH: the dino’s hit box to projectile/mob speed ratio. See, as one would expect, the protagonists are not exactly nimble, but enemies sure as hell are. Bullets are often tiny and it’s tough to get out of their way (plus they move fast). Mobs are quick and often close with you before you can react. Coupled with the huge hit boxes on the Dinosaurs you will find yourself getting tagged by stuff you would have easily avoided in any other game. This also makes platforming more difficult for all the wrong reasons since getting hit by bullets, lasers and mobs that whiz across the screen will knock you into a pit or some kind of trap. Strategy also took a back seat to power in this game. A lot of bosses and mid bosses had attacks that were nearly unavoidable and it often came down to a matter of learning the levels well enough to have a fully upgraded gun so I could kill the boss before it killed me. In MMOs we call this method “face tanking”, because you simply stand in front of the monster and attack, rather than dodging attacks and looking for openings in the enemy’s defense. Even the last boss could be face tanked with a fully upgraded gun, which is not a good way to make an action game in my opinion.
As repugnant as I found this game, I can’t give it lower score than a C, because none of it’s flaws were so crippling or irritating that they made me want to throw my controller. In fact, the diversity of the stages made me want to push on and see what the game was going to throw at me next. It’s a shame the actual gameplay was plagued by some really annoying issues. Since Dinosaurs for Hire is a two player game, it’s possible that the two player mode is much more fun, but I’m not getting my hopes up.
It’s hard to justify playing such a mediocre game on the console that boasts such titles as Gunstar Heroes and Contra Hard Corps. If you played all the better 16-bit run and guns and need something new to experience, then maybe Dinosaurs for Hire is a good choice.