Games based on licensed properties are often condemned to being either too easy like Rescue Rangers, or shoddy like Bill & Ted. Cartoon-themed games are especially prone to the former affliction due to the misconception that only preschoolers would want to play them. But every once in a great while, we're graced with something like, The Flintstones: The Rescue of Dino & Hoppy. While it's certainly not the epic that Super Mario Bros. 3 is, it's at least a lighthearted game that doesn't forget to be a game.
I'll be right up front in admitting that I am not very familiar with The Flintstones. I've only seen the cartoon a few times many years ago and I have never seen the movies. But Hanna-Barbera's 1960's "modern stone age" family has become so ingrained in our American culture that when I see phenomena such as a pelican acting as a basketball hoop or Fred Flintstone (the show and game's protagonist) sliding down a woolly mammoth tusk to launch himself into the air, I'm well aware that it's all in the spirit of the show.
So what excuse does Fred Flintstone have to be romping about in his own NES adventure? An evil bloke named Dr. Butler came from the future and kidnapped Dino and Hoppy, the prehistoric pets of the Flintstones and the Rubbles (their long-familiar neighbors), for his personal zoo. Dr. Butler apparently takes his family name far too seriously, since he actually dresses like the classic butler archetype while putting a whole new spin on the phrase, "the butler did it!"
Fred sets out to find the missing parts of the Great Gazoo's time machine so he can chase after Dr. Butler into the 21st century. (The Great Gazoo is an alien being who was added late to the cartoon series, and there appears to be a debate over whether he caused the show's demise, or if he should even be considered a canon character, but as I have no familiarity with the situation, I won't go into it here.) Fred's travels take him through the towns, jungles, and waters of ancient Bedrock, armed with only a club, and a few other primitive weapons he can find along the way.
Developers of NES sidescrollers often looked to play control gimmicks to separate their games from the rest on the crowded market. There was Kabuki Quantum Fighter, which featured a hero who whipped his hair around as a weapon. Rockin' Kats starred a feline with a punch-glove that could grip objects to launch himself skyward. The gimmick of The Flintstones is that Fred can grab onto the edges of certain platforms and pull himself up. While that doesn't seem like much compared to industrial-strength ponytails and boxing gloves, it has a certain potential, most of which is exhausted by hair-raising jumps to platforms that hover over bottomless pits and are seemingly just out of reach.
The curious thing about the design of The Flintstones is that it favors really short stages with one abnormally difficult part as opposed to long, sprawling stages. That "difficult part" may involve riding a tub over water in an autoscrolling area, or outrunning lava as it quickly rises up from below, or jumping across moving platforms with a low spiked ceiling, or it might just be the boss fight. Whatever the case is, there are enough of these moments to place The Flintstones in a category above "too easy", but not quite enough to elevate it to greatness. I had to question if having longer (or more) stages may have allowed Taito to get more mileage out of this concept, but it's hard to say.
One thing I can say, however, is that I would have preferred more stages to the basketball minigames that occur no less than three times. Fred must win these matches (which are pretty much a no-brainer) to get special skills that make completing certain areas easier. I'm not even sure why Fred's opponent here is a caveman character when it seems like Gazoo is the one who grants usage of the earned skills in the stages.
The only real exception to the "short stage with one really hard part" rule is the final level, which takes place in the future and features an opportune cameo from another Hanna-Barbera property. With six floors of obstacles and a three-part final boss fight, it can be arduous to reach the end...and disheartening when you lose to the final boss and have to do it all over again. Careful planning and practice will help, especially if you got those skills earlier. There's even a little bit of humor thrown into the Dr. Butler fight. (As if he wasn't enough of an oddity already, it's here where it's obvious that Dr. Butler was drawn in a different style than the normal Flintstones motif, causing him to tower over Fred and utterly dwarf Dino and Hoppy. I'm wondering if he was originally intended for another game.)
Interesting to note is that the game's ROM file contains a plethora of unused graphics, far more than what is typically found in NES games. This either suggests Taito was more ambitious than the end results suggest, or they had a difficult time getting some of their character and stage design concepts past Hanna-Barbera. Indeed, I've been told by fans that a stage set in a Japanese bamboo village is rather out-of-place in the Flintstones universe, although I personally see it as a harmless effort by Taito to put some of their own culture into the game.
Considering that the Flintstones cartoon patronized both adults and children, it is appropriate that the game challenges a general audience. It's also appropriate since it was understood in the 8-bit era that games were supposed to be challenging. I would have liked for there to have been more to it, but I'm not disappointed in what is there. I guess you could say I had a yabba dabba doo time with it, despite that it's merely a page right out of NES history instead of a whole book.
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