Dynowarz: Destruction of Spondylus is one of the many games I saw reviewed in Nintendo Power magazine years ago that I was curious about, but due to my limited budget at the time, I thought I would never get a chance to play. Many years and used game bins later, I have not only played, but also completed it, all within less time and with far less effort than it probably took those magazine artists to draw that fantastic poster art of the player-controlled robot dinosaur/dragon. Dynowarz is such a barely minimal game that I have to wonder why it garnered any coverage at all...except that someone really liked their poster art of the giant robot dragon and it was too late to turn back now.
Dynowarz begins with you controlling a man in a spacesuit with some of the world's worst play control as he runs through a few screens of platforming before hopping aboard his giant robot dragon, which has the same control only slower and clunkier. You are immediately plopped into this situation with no context and no explanation of what's going on. Although Dynowarz is from an era when the larger part of game stories were often left to the manual, some exposition, even if it's just a screen of text a la the crawl at the beginning of The Legend of Zelda, would've been appreciated. Alas, a quick glance at the manual reveals the plot to be nearly identical to Mega Man; just replace "Light" and "Wily" with "Proteus" and "Brainius" and replace the "Robot Masters" with "Robot Dinosaurs". Although Dynowarz has a couple of nice cutscenes of the dragon (which might be its most passable element), there is no dialogue at all, with the lone exception of an hilariously misguided "thank you" message in the ending sequence.
The stages of Dynowarz are split between controlling the spaceman and controlling the dragon, an idea seemingly inspired by Blaster Master's timesharing with Jason and the tank. (The spaceman in Dynowarz even looks suspiciously similar to Jason, only taller and thinner.) Unlike Blaster Master, you cannot switch whenever you want, but only when you reach the end of the stage, and the change in the gameplay is nowhere near as dynamic. Indeed, the part of the game that should seemingly be the most fun, the dragon/dinosaur stages, is the worse of the two. Because the dragon can take a staggering number of hits, and the enemies also take way too many to kill, you're just as well off ignoring them altogether and trudging through the entire featureless stage until you reach the boss - most of which can be destroyed by getting up close and punching repeatedly.
While the spaceman stages are marginally better, that's nothing to brag about. They're one-screen-at-a-time, with only a handful of different screens that are shuffled and repeated later. They all end with the same exact boss, and although some have a different floor layout, it's usually easy to find a safe spot in the room from where you can attack with impunity. Unlike the dinosaur stages, the threat of falling into a pit and getting a "game over" is actually present, but the thought constantly looms that if only you had the play control of Super Mario Bros., or Contra, or Ninja Gaiden, it wouldn't be. Instead, we have the awkward delayed jump and push forward method made famous by Action 52. After plodding through seven stages with barely any noticeable increase in difficulty, without any warning or fanfare the game comes to an extremely abrupt end.
Even on a technical level, Dynowarz is unimpressive. The graphics are lazily implemented. At one point you pass by a long line of the same exact red planets all in a row. Most of the dinosaur designs, including your own, are uninspired and based on the antiquated vertically-standing posture of Godzilla, instead of the corrected horizontal structure of the CGI dinos in the movie, Jurassic Park. Although the cinemas are well-drawn, there are only three total, two of which are repeated in every stage. The music is passable, but forgettable.
Unfortunately, the lesson here is that not all games that looked incredibly cool in those old magazine reviews are all they were cracked up to be. Although occasionally it's possible to find overlooked or undiscovered diamonds in the rough, there are generally good reasons why some games became popular and others faded into obscurity. Perhaps this is what was to be expected of a game whose title resembles "leetspeak".
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