Guilty party – Dynamite Dux
Crime – Disappointing a 9 year old child
Redress – Dynamite Dux is to be played again, to see if it can redeem itself
Before I go through my many gaming sins, I’m going to write about a game that probably affected my judgement of gaming purchases forever. Let me take you back in time, to 1993…
The scene is set in a branch of ‘What Everyone Wants’ in St Helens, Merseyside. A young Retro Redress is wondering what great (read: average game in discount shop’s range) Master System game to spend his hard earned £11.99 on. Enthusiastically, he grabs a copy of Heavyweight Champ and runs the decision by his mother. His mother reads Heavyweight Champ’s box blurb, which states that Heavyweight Champ only has four rounds and notes that Retro Redress should buy a game that will last longer. A game called Dynamite Dux is thrust into Retro Redress hands, it’s box blurb confirming that Dynamite Dux contains five rounds. Presented with this sound logic, Retro Redress decides to purchase Dynamite Dux.
Retro Redress then takes Dynamite Dux home….and promptly beats the game in an afternoon.
And back to 2017…I still feel robbed. I blame Dynamite Dux for wasting two months pocket money and giving me a fear of buying short games that persists to this day.
So the mission is simple – Dynamite Dux needs to prove it’s worth to me, so I will give it a second chance. Will I enjoy Dynamite Dux more in 2017 or will it disappoint me as it did in 1993?
The game starts with a boy and his girlfriend in a meadow, spending time together. We’ve all played enough video games to know that bad things happen to happy couples. Sure enough, an evil sorcerer called Achacha appears, steals the girl (called Lucy) and turns the boy (Mickael) into Bin the duck. So Bin now has to defeat Achacha in order to rescue his girlfriend and to be restored to human form. This plot is different from the arcade version of Dynamite Dux, where Bin (and his red mate Pin, absent from the Master System port) was Lucy’s pet. Maybe Sega thought Master System owners wouldn’t be motivated to play the full five levels to rescue a girl unless their character was dating her? I’m pretty confident that I’d be happy to beat things up playing as a duck, regardless of the plot. More importantly, why did Achacha pick on this young couple and turn the guy into a duck? Did the love of his life leave him for a duck? The mind boggles…
The game starts in a generic city level, the type of bright, clean city that only exists in 8 and 16 bit games. My early impressions of Dynamite Dux are good though – I’m impressed by the graphics and the game seems to play fairly well. In my experience, Master System arcade ports suffer from a condition I’ve labelled ‘Sega Master System Arcade Port Syndrome’. Basically, if Sega publish an arcade port for the Master System, the focus is usually on the graphics. Therefore, the screenshots look great on the back of the box, but the actual game is as smooth as a tortoise wading through treacle. Dynamite Dux seems to have avoided this terrible affliction, but the challenge is clearly lacking from the first screen. I noticed straight away that you can just walk past enemies. If an enemy can’t bounce into you, they will just happily keep bouncing until they are off the screen. Sure Achacha wouldn’t be too thrilled with his henchman letting the hero just wander to the end of the level?
To be fair to Achacha’s animal minions, they are not helped by the game’s programmers. Firstly, the player is given long range weapons…against enemies that can mostly only walk towards you. It’s like shooting fish in a really big, transparent barrel. Secondly, the collision detection is super random. It doesn’t benefit either the player or the computer, with hits decided via benefit of the doubt. Throwing a bomb in between two enemies? Both enemies die. You try to walk past an enemy? Nope, you brushed against the enemy and lose hit points. It’s a shame, because Dynamite Dux does have a great variety of enemies. You’re faced with snakes with boxing gloves, feline construction workers, rhinos in football gear…yet none of them make a lasting impression. Dealing with the enemies in Dynamite Dux is just a distraction from walking to the end of the level.
The levels of Dynamite Dux all follow the same format; wander past enemies, face a sub boss, wander past more enemies, then face the end of level boss. The sub bosses and bosses all follow a similar format of a central sprite firing/maneuvering projectiles. They’re not too inspiring and can be beaten quite quickly. Unfortunately, you have to face the same three or four bosses throughout the game. I always think bosses should be the defining point of a game (i.e. Castlevania and working your way through the bosses up to Dracula) so to have to repeat the same dull boss battles doesn’t inspire me. Surely facing a boss should be a momentous challenge where you prove that you are developing the skills necessary to progress further into the game? For example, the Fire Sub Boss above is easily beaten by dodging the little flames he throws and blasting him with the water gun.
The end of level boss for Level 1 is the ‘Rock’ Boss, who can be defeated by hitting his spinning rock projectiles. I found a sweet spot on the bottom section of pavement where I can hit the rocks, defeating the boss fairly easily. So far, I’m pretty uninspired by Dynamite Dux – the game doesn’t engage the player at all. It’s neither an enjoyable game or a game that rewards skill and practice. You can blame the orignal Dynamite Dux arcade game for this gameplay, but surely Sega must have figured that there was little depth during development. I reckon they should have made it mandatory to defeat all the enemies, a la Streets of Rage 2, before advancing. I reckon this might have added more challenge to the game.
Level 2, with it’s Oriental setting, is where the Dynamite Dux tries to up the challenge. We now have moles that can pop up out of the ground and foxes in military uniform that shoot homing weapons. However, I realised quickly that I can just jump away from them without getting hit. Level 2 is also where I started to notice Dynamite Dux’s slowdown – now we have more enemies on screen, the game really starts to chug. Mind you, the slowdown is more noticeable when I’m constantly jumping over and around enemies, so maybe it’s my fault.
The sub boss is the ‘Steel’ projectile boss, he’s tougher than the previous two bosses but still fairly easy. Bin has a super uppercut (a cartoon like wind up uppercut, executed by holding and releasing the attack button) where he is invincible during the punch animation. You can use this to glide through the projectiles and register damage to them. A cloud version of the level 1 ‘Rock’ boss ends the level, cursed by sprite flicker and my ability to spam super uppercuts. He’s defeated quickly as I move on to Level 3, hoping that Dynamite Dux can turn things around.
However, Level 3 (another generic US city) sees no change to the structure of the game. I’ve now established that it’s easier to jump and walk around the numerous if mindless enemies, rather than engage them. I don’t mind when a game is fun, but not terribly challenging, but an easy, dull game is a chore. The slowdown isn’t improving my enjoyment of the game either. This Star sub boss is an embarrassment as you can freely super uppercut him till he dies. Frankly, the foxes who fire homing weapons are tougher than Mr Star here. I feel sorry for those foxes, as they are at least trying to put up a fight. It’s tough for them though, given that the game keeps giving me lots of health pick ups and guns. The boss of Level 3 is the Fire sub boss from Level 1. He’s no tougher than he was previously and I take him out even quicker than last time because I know his attack pattern. I’m realising that Dynamite Dux is not going to redeem itself, but I’m going to play until the end.
Level 4 is the Wild West, where after a quick jog past the usual minions, I’m confronted by penguins, of all things. A quick series of super uppercuts sees off the Penguin King and his minions, but I accidentally fell off a ledge on the next screen. This means I have to use a continue, restarting the level again. If there are ledges that might actually present a challenge, I might have to rethink my ‘outrun, outjump’ strategy. I quickly get back to where I died, dodge the usual valiant effort of the foxes and face the boss, a faster version of the ‘Stone’ boss. He’s tougher than before, but again, there is no difference in his pattern so he’s beaten pretty quickly.
Level 5 is the obligatory ‘bad guy palace’ level all end bosses live in. No wonder the hero always finds them. At this point disaster strikes as the game resets to the title screen….I’m gutted until I realise that I’ve set myself a challenge and that I owe my 9 year old self some closure on Dynamite Dux. Motivated by pride and the fact Dynamite Dux is ten minutes long, I start up the game again…
A quick replay of the first four levels later and I’m back to level five. Upon my second playthrough, I realise how easy the game is…getting my health refilled after every level, defeated enemies giving up tons of health pickups, loads and loads of guns…the list goes on. At least I’m aware of the game’s flaws now, in 1993 I imagine 9 year old me really tried to enjoy this game; in 2017 I’m yawning and looking at the clock. I guess I was disappointed in 93 as I really thought Dynamite Dux was a good game, 2017 has shown me that it’s got the depth of a puddle in summer and I’m happy that it’s going to end soon.
The palace is fairly simple to get through, though Achacha has made sure to put loads of foxes in there. This is actually a good idea as they are the only useful minions he has. Getting to Achacha doesn’t take long though and although he’s much faster and more erratic than the other bosses, he’s still not difficult to beat. I beat him first time, courtesy of the collision detection giving Achacha nothing. A few shots from a rocket launcher and a wild series of uppercuts later and I’ve completed the game.
In typical Dynamite Dux form, we get a quick ending, where Bin becomes Mikeal again and jumps up and down in the meadow with Lucy…which is basically the intro again. So if I had just watched the first five seconds of the intro, I could have avoided all this. Personally, I would have preferred Bin to refuse to return to his human form and become a crime fighting duck, pummeling criminals with silly cartoon uppercuts, but whatever. We then get a roll call of the minions…which doesn’t include all of the minions in the game. When the baddie roll call at the end of the game is only half completed, you know you have a pretty half-arsed game…
Verdict – Did Dynamite Dux redeem itself to me? In a word, no. It’s a shallow game that can be experienced in fifteen minutes. However, I’m glad I replayed Dynamite Dux – it’s cleared up any doubts I had and means I can move on to better games. Better games that I need to make amends with…