The NES is often remembered as one of the greatest consoles in history. When it’s brought up, people will bring up a couple dozen games that defined the entire generation. You’ve got your Marios, your Zeldas, your Castlevanias, and so much more. But did you know that there are over 800 officially released games on the NES?
If you grew up with an NES, there’s a good chance you ened up with at least a few games that aren’t part of that coveted dozen or so of classics. These are the games that your non-gaming relatives got you for your birthday. Or perhaps ones that you picked up because the boxart looked cool. After all, in those days, video game coverage wasn’t nearly as prolific as it is today. It wasn’t uncommon to discover a game while you were in a store.
Because you were a kid and didn’t have limitless money, when you got a game, you played that game. A lot. As a result, everyone seems to have that one game that no one else remembers, but you spent a significant amount of your childhood playing. One of those games for me was Dynowarz.
My copy of Dynowarz was a loose cartridge. Having never owned the instruction manual, and the game itself offering nothing in terms of story, I had no idea what this game was about. You were a blue guy with a gun. You’d go through pretty simple platforming levels until you run into a strange brain thing. After destroying the brain, you backtrack through the same level, then jump into your giant robot dinosaur and wreak havoc on other robot dinosaurs., As a child, I never questioned why any of this was happening. Here’s the thing about Dynowarz; it’s awesome. Robot dinosaurs, weapons, colorful visuals, great soundtrack… it’s all great. It doesn’t matter at all why any of this was happening, it’s just awesome.
Unfortunately, there’s something else about Dynowarz. It’s kind of a big thing, probably one of the main reasons that the game isn’t looked back upon as one of the classics. That reason is that this game is hot garbage. Almost everything about the actual act of playing this game is objectively bad.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, the game is broken into two distinct gameplay styles. The first is a fairly simple platformer. These are the parts where you control the blue guy. You start at the left and you go right, shooting enemies and hopping on platforms along the way. Unfortunately, the control has this real lag to it. Nothing you do feels fluid. Getting your character to do anything the way you want him to is a massive undertaking. If you want to jump on a small moving platform, you have to take into account the fact that he won’t respond immediately to what you’re telling him to do, and you have to line up that jump pixel perfect or you’ll fall to your death. There were several times while I replayed the game for this article where I swear I successfully landed a jump only to find myself dead.
After getting a few screens to the right, you encounter that brain boss I mentioned earlier. Hopefully you really enjoy fighting this thing, because it’s at the end of every single one of these segments. All you have to do to destroy it is keep shooting. The most variety that comes from these fights is in the layout of the room they’re in. Sometimes there’s some platforms you have to deal with with to get an ideal shot in. Other times there’s smaller enemies trying to get in your way. But none of that really matters. Every fight is extremely easy and they all feel like the same thing.
Upon beating the boss, you have to go back through the entire level. Thankfully, it does remember what enemies you have defeated, so it’s a lot easier this time around. This is a pretty rare thing in NES games and is very appreciated. The jumps can still be quite difficult though, and if you mess up you’ll have to do the entire section over again. When you get back to the beginning, you’ll find your giant dinosaur robot waiting for you.
Next you’ll pilot the robot dinosaur through a more action heavy stage. There’s still jumps over bottomless pits you’ll have to make, but these sections are much less platform-heavy. Now your primary goal is to beat up other robot dinosaurs. Some enemies use unfair tactics that make the game much less fun. While most are of the stand around and shoot variety, some will bum rush you the second you hit them. This results in almost completely unavoidable damage. Challenge is not a bad thing, but when a game stops feeling fair, when it feels like there’s nothing you could have done to avoid what happened, that’s when the game really starts to suffer.
As you progress through these levels, you’ll come across weapons power-ups. The weapon system in Dynowarz is actually pretty cool. Basically, when you pick up a weapon, you’ll receive the level 1 version of that weapon. If you find the same weapon and pick it up, you’ll receive the level 2 version of that weapon. Each weapon has three levels, which increase their effectiveness. If you happen to grab a different weapon, your weapon will be replaced by the level 1 version of the one you just picked up. As a result, you’ll likely find one weapon that you like a lot and stick to it, trying your hardest to avoid accidentally picking up a different one.
When you get to the end of these sections, you’ll fight a boss. Thankfully, these bosses actually look different each time. However, the strategy for beating them never changes. Just keep hitting them and try not to get hit yourself. When you defeat the boss, you enter a doorway and go to the next blue guy level. You repeat this cycle about seven times and then the game is over.
I’ve done a lot of complaining about this game so far, so why exactly do I love it? Well, as I stated earlier, there’s a lot of really positive features. The visuals and art style are very striking. The music is catchy and has been stuck in my head since replaying. The weapon upgrade system is fairly unique for this style of game. There’s just a lot to really appreciate here, but it’s the fundamentals that it messes up.
People talk about movies that are so bad that they actually enjoy watching them. But does this concept exist in video games? I think it can, but it’s a little different. Because you have more direct control over what’s happening in a game, gameplay problems can make it so you don’t see the rest of the game. You end up giving up because it just isn’t fun. Movies will keep progressing whether they’re good or not.
Sometimes, what you find fun is kind of inexplainable. But that doesn’t mean that you aren’t having it. I guess if there’s any point to this other than just wanting to talk about a game that no one talks about, is that no one can tell you what you do or don’t like. However, you need to be able to think critically about what the game doesn’t get right. I love Dynowarz, and that’s okay, but imagine if that game was actually good.If that was the case, I wouldn’t be the only one talking about it over twenty years after it’s release.
Oh, and one last thing. While looking up information on Dynowarz before writing this article, I learned that the blue guy is named Dr. Proteus, the bad guy is Dr. Brainius, and your robot dinosaur is called the Cyborasaurus. This game is great.