Video Game Archaeology: Dinosaurs for Hire

It’s time for more Video Game Archaeology! This entry’s game is Tom Mason’s Dinosaurs for Hire for the Sega Genesis. Dinosaurs for Hire was developed by Malibu, probably, and published Sega in 1993. I found it, sans case, at Game Zone, a video game store in Joplin, MO. While the cover comes off as more derivative than genuinely interesting, I thought an unknown Ninja Turtles knock-off to be intriguing enough to warrant a 3.99 purchase.
Extreme enough for you?

Dinosaurs for Hire was developed either by Malibu or Sega Interactive Development, or in conjunction. In the game, it says Sega ID, but most places on the internet credit Malibu Entertainment. Malibu was a comic book company that published the book that this game is based on. They did branch into video games in the early nineties, at first mostly creating games based on their comic book properties but they were bought by Marvel in 1994. The video game company kept producing games, but by 1995, they were doing mostly Game Boy ports of sports games. Sega did publish this game, so it is certainly possible they were involved in the development. Sega ID was responsible for Eternal Champions for the Genesis as well as porting some Genesis games to Game Gear. It is an interesting pedigree if not one to instill much faith in the game.

The game is not really  bad, but it is certainly rough. You can choose between three dinosaurs: Archie the T-Rex leader of the crew, Lorenzo the triceratops and Reese the stegosaurus. There was clearly plenty of work put into animating the dinos, though even some of their movements are rough. But they look much better that the enemies. While they being dinosaurs could explain the player characters being twice the size, the enemies are still small and ugly. The sound is poor as well. The Genesis rarely sounded good, but the music in Dinosaurs for Hire is tinny and annoyingly repetitive. The bosses look really good, though they are more by the numbers for a 16-bit game than awesome.

Yep, that's Godzilla. Zany, huh?

As for how it plays, Dinosaurs for Hire is a sloppy Contra clone. In general, it plays the same, but it is missing much of what makes Contra good. Instead of one hit kills the player gets a life bar, but that just seems to be an excuse to throw enemies on the screen randomly. Cheap hits abound, but they aren’t a big deal because you can take so many before dying that it is merely an annoyance. Many of those cheap hits come from the fact that your character’s gun is very long and enemies get inside your shooting range. The game gives you a melee attack to counter this, a genuinely good idea, but it is hard to switch from shooting to swiping as dozens of ninjas jump on you. Then there is the level design, which is boring. The levels don’t seem that well thought out, just boxes and corridors to be filled randomly with enemies. It does branch out later, with a scrolling stage straight out of Battletoads. The game controls well enough and the underlying gameplay is good enough, but it makes what could have been a very good or even great game a good to mediocre one instead. I do not think there is any difference between the three dinos other than their sprites, but I could be wrong about that. There is also a disappointing variety of weapons. As far as I can tell, the power-ups available just increase the spread of the player’s one gun and the size of the shot. This is especially disappointing for a game that is contemporaneous with Gunstar Heroes. It is a double whammy of poor levels and poor weapons. Run-and-gun games usually have to be egregiously bad to be not fun, and Dinosaurs for Hire is certainly fun. It is definitely not a game of the caliber of Contra or Gunstar Heroes, but there is still fun to be had.

Dinosaurs for Hire is a certainly an interesting game, a definite product of its time. The game hits on many popular subjects of the time, like dinosaurs, ninjas, guns and Ninja Turtles clones. It is a game that fits in with the Genesis’ attempts to brand itself as the “cool” console, while still appealing to the same kids that played the NES. It starts with a joke about blast processing for Christ’s sake. So it does have mascot animals in the dinos, but it loads them down with guns and tons of that signature 90’s ’tude so they are cool, unlike that lame Mario. It is replete with pop culture references, now horribly dated, and the humor is on the level of a sixth grader’s. It certainly feels like a 90s comic book property.

Dinosaurs for Hire is sloppy and derivative, but it is still somewhat fun. Is it worth playing? If the price is right. I wouldn’t pay the Virtual Console price, but for about half that I was happy enough. If for some reason, you feel you need a concentrated dose of 90s then Dinosaurs for Hire is as good a choice as any game.

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