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Dinoland

Genre: Pinball Developer: Wolf Team Publisher: Renovation Players: 1-2 Released: 1991

Ah, Wolfteam. You created a couple of very solid titles for the Genesis, didn’t you? You created one of the best-looking shooters on the Sega CD (Sol-Feace), one of the more entertaining FMV’s for the same platform (Road Avenger), some pretty decent action/RPG’s (Arcus Odyssey), but your strongest genre was probably action/platforming games with original storylines (like El Viento or Earnest Evans). So what drove you to create a dinosaur-themed pinball game?

Well, whatever reasons their may have been, on January 25, 1991 they went ahead, and Dinoland was published, which was actually the first pinball game to be released on the Genesis. Now, being the first, the obvious question is raised: What does this game bring to the table?

Maybe it’s best to start off with the most unusual aspect, the story. Yes, this pinball game actually has a backstory detailing the misadventures of a loving pair of dinosaurs (though they look more like armadillos to me than actual dinos). However, for all the extravagance of actually having one, the tale that is woven is actually pretty stock. Girl of Dreams (a pink dinosaur named Meeshell) gets kidnapped by huge dinosaur. Our hero (who goes by the name of, not kidding here, DINO-Bunz) has to set out and rescue her.

Before I get to the game itself, I want to lose a few words about the manual. It is probably about the most unhelpful booklet for a video game that I’ve ever read. The screen shots printed in there aren’t even taken from the game itself, they are mockups. It’s even more apparent when the picture showing the difficulty settings shows different text than what is in-game; at least in the manual they are written correctly (other than in the game with its “BIGINNER” setting!). The controls are described rather cryptically. Who’d have thought that such a thing would be possible with a pinball machine? The control pad manages the left flipper and the “C” button the right one. “A” button controls the plunger, and the “B” button is reserved for a special action.

Since our hero can turn himself into a ball, he allows himself to be shot across three different tables (following the themes land, sea and air). Each of these has a boss stage where your kidnapped girlfriend is being held, and which you can access by fulfilling certain stage requirements. Now, the manual tells you that in these areas, you can switch between your dino and the ball form. However, it doesn’t give you any hint on how to defeat the boss. Of course, you have to hit him until his life bar runs out, but there is still more to it. While you are battling the gigantic dino foe, a unique and entirely indestructible antagonist (whom the instruction manual calls “Ball Eater,” though he doesn’t do anything of that kind. Stupid, misleading instructions!) is slowly approaching your captured girlfriend. If he reaches your girl, you are immediately tossed back to the regular table. So how do you prevent him from kidnapping your girl over and over again? Well, unroll into dino form and run into him so he’ll turn the other way, of course! However, you can only stay in this form for a very short time before you revert back into a ball.

If you manage to defeat the boss, you’ll get a 10,000 points bonus for rescuing your girl, and that’s it. You can enter and defeat the boss stage over and over again; it doesn’t really change a thing other than racking up your score. There isn’t really an end to this game, so why the developers thought they had to tie all this together with a story, I really don’t know.

You’ll always start on the land-themed table, from which one you can reach the air and water-themed stage once you fulfill the requirements. So, you don’t really have three different tables, only several settings within one game. If you lose the ball in the water or air stages, you fall back to the earth one and have to re-gain the access again from scratch. Don’t try finding the requirements you need to fulfill by interpreting the manual correctly. It only contains a very cryptic hint (you have to be “carried by a bird”), which is actually pretty misleading. A key element in reaching the other two tables is the “slot machine-like” area in the upper left, which when activated by hitting the correct ramp displays three different icons. One of two ways of reaching the water stage is by getting three seashells as a result in the slot machine, a very rare outcome to say the least. The other way is not much easier to accomplish. Gaining access to the other two tables therefore requires two things: minimal skill, and a shitload of luck.

This is just as well, since getting skilled in this game isn’t easy due to the rather sloppy controls. The course the ball takes after being hit by the flipper just doesn’t feel right. The flippers also don’t seem to have a proper pressure point either. It doesn’t matter if you tap the buttons hard or soft, the flippers react pretty much the same. Aiming is therefore pretty hard to do properly. It doesn’t really feel like playing an actual pinball machine.

That’s pretty much all there is to say about Dinoland. It’s not very versatile, since you always start off from the same table in every single game. Moreover, gaining access to the other stages works in an almost totally random fashion, which doesn’t really give credit to any skills one might gain playing the game. It doesn’t really feel like playing a real pinball machine at all. The boss battles were a nice idea, but they are pretty pointless and aren’t that much fun to play either. The sound effects are rather decent, the music is okay, and the graphics can be pretty much described as “adequate.” They’re nothing to write home about, but not ugly either (although the graphics might glitch out occasionally in the air-themed stage).

Dinoland tries to go beyond simply simulating a standard pinball experience, but the execution of this idea falls rather flat. In terms of a video game, it grows boring and repetitive rather fast. In terms of a pinball simulator it’s not very accurate. But if you’re a dinosaur fan, half of the manual is dedicated to describing several dino races and presenting theories on what the causes for their extinction may have been. I guess this has to count for something.

SCORE: 5 out of 10

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