Friday, 16 September 2016

Dinosaur Detective Agency (Amiga)

Dinosaur Detective Agency title screen
Developer:Maximum Effect|Release Date:1993|Systems:Amiga

This week on Super Adventures I had a sudden urge to play Dinosaur Detective Agency for the Amiga, and I'm as confused as anyone about it.

I'm surprised I even remember the game, as if you add up the number of minutes I've spent playing the game they'd be less than the number of years since I last booted it up. In fact I was expecting the hero to look more like Sam Spade than Sherlock Holmes. Naughty game, encouraging kids to smoke pipes.

Hang on, does that say "1993" down there? Wow, what are the chances of this coming out the same year as 'Jurassic Park'? To be fair dinosaurs were already plenty popular before the movie, so I wouldn't say this is cynically cashing in on a fad. Because if they were he'd be riding a skateboard like Radical Rex.



I left the title screen on for a bit just in case I got an intro, but all I got was this ultra-90s high score table. It's okay though as they've put dinosaurs in the background so it fits the theme.

Well this conversation took a weird turn at the end. I decided to tell him 'both'.

So I'm apparently playing as a detective who looks like Sherlock Holmes but is called Sherlock Ness. There's a joke there I'm sure of it, but I don't quite see it. Oh that's supposed to be a H, not a K! It's hard to see with this grey on grey text. So he's Sherloch Ness then... I suppose that explains why he's got a picture of a sea monster next to that photo of his lunch.

I hope he's getting paid a bit for this case as his office really needs some work doing. His desk is falling to pieces, his door is crooked and half the stuff in the room is being held together by bones. The door has bones for hinges, the tiny mouse door has tiny bones for hinges and he's even using a rotary bone phone!

Alright, I'm getting out of here before that venus crocodile plant gets bored with licking spiders and comes after me.

It's a platformer! Who could've seen that coming?

The game seems a bit slow, but it's got decent movement and even a tiny bit of parallax scrolling there. The guy should really stop turning his head like that while he walks though. No one does that, not even dinosaurs! And wasn't he wearing a deerstalker hat and a bow tie earlier?

I honestly didn't think there'd be a shred of detective work in this, but I'm starting off at the bank and following the breadcrumb trail of coins straight to the thief, so that makes sense. Not sure why the 10 coin said "18" and then gave me 100 points when I picked it up though. 

That was close! I just remembered in the nick of time that jumping on other dinosaurs hurts me, so I need to get around without touching anyone.

Actually what I need to do is grab that blue flashbulb down there to get some flashes for my camera. But not the egg, that's another enemy in disguise.

Photographing a dinosaur temporarily freezes them in time and space, meaning that it's safe for me to walk right through them. Though it costs one of my precious flashes so I'll try not to if I can help it.

Plus if I keep using my camera defensively I'm going to end up with a roll of photos that all look like this:

(It's from Jurassic Park Interactive)
Actually that's got me wondering: if I'm a dinosaur detective in a coat solving a robbery for another intelligent dinosaur in a suit, then why are all these other creatures the regular dumb naked variety of dinosaur?

I thought I was stuck for a moment there, but then I noticed that the ground looked weird. Turns out that this guy has some amazing tunnelling skills. They should've made this Mole Detective Agency the way he can dig, because that ain't exactly a dinosaur trait.

Another clue! It's a flashing severed head… and it’s looks just like me? This seems like a way more interesting mystery than the bank robbery, so I’m swiping the thing.

Aww I can only hold five hit points? I should've wasted one on the spider along the way. Or better yet, not waste my precious time at all. The counter's ticking down.

Aha, the game's trying to trick me into pushing this block down to get past, but I can leave it teetering on the edge and use it as a step to get up and grab this $100 note! Though it turns out that I can get up there without it, so my cleverness was pointless.

So I've got a choice between going up or down now. Up takes more effort to reach so I'll investigate that first.

It led to a clock. Well that's one way of saying 'sorry I wasted your time' I suppose.

Hang on, where's my fifth dinosaur head gone? I had five a second ago and now there's four.

Oh I see, it's these harmless looking drips that got me. Turns out that the dinosaurs went extinct because of their vulnerability to water; even the splash is deadly. I didn't realise what was going on at first because there's no invulnerability flashing after I get hit. Man, this really is an old school platformer.

I've discovered something else as well:

Sherlock looks like a happy frog creature when you catch him halfway through turning.

Dino-mite... very clever. I can't shove the smaller boxes out of the way so it's lucky I pushed this block down here really or else I would've been stuck here. Hang on, I should check if I can jump back up again to where I found it in case I'd left it up there.

And it turns out that I can. Okay game you win this round.

Damn, I was so close to sneaking under that spider! Well at least I hurt him more than he hurt me. Poor guy only had the one hit point.

This is an entirely different block of yellow rock, but pushing that first rock paid off so I'm seeing where I can shove it.

Aha, pushing the block down activates the mine cart which automatically opens the vault door as it goes through! Well that makes as much sense as anything I suppose.

Oh joy, it's a moving mine cart platforming section! Whenever I fall down I have to do them all over again! I feel like I should be annoyed by this but I'm really not, it's not a big deal. Unless the timer runs out before I finish it, then it is.

I can imagine it'd be more of an issue for players who chose to turn the music on earlier and are only now coming to realise that they can't stand it and that it'll never stop looping. Me though, I like it just fine, even if some of the instruments are a bit grating. It's not quite catchy enough to get stuck in my head though.

Crap! When I realised I wasn't going to make it across I tried to steer my descent to land on the island between the spikes instead, but it didn't work out. Who puts spikes under a mine cart rail anyway? This isn't a Temple of Doom.

Wait, hang on, that's actual game over? I've actually lost the game, there's no lives? Damn, man. Fortunately I was able to continue from the beginning of the level, which in this case is also the beginning of the whole game.

So I played through the level and got back here again to see what was on the other side of the mine carts. And... all I found was a bit of cash and a dead end, then I had to ride the mine carts back again. This isn't the first time the game's pulled this on me either, as this would be my... fourth dead end so far I think.


LATER, AFTER GETTING BACK UP TO WHERE I LEFT OFF.


Thanks to the miracle of image stabilisation I've been able to show my escape from the mines without any of that awkward camera motion that makes GIFs massive. I really shouldn't waste flashes like this but I didn't exactly have much room to manoeuvre here.

I wish the creatures would flash or something to let me know that they’re definitely stunned. A dumb shocked expression would also help; the one on the left knows what I'm talking about.

I'm out of the mines, but I've got an intelligent whirlwind chasing me now! I'm not used to enemies actually coming after me instead of patrolling their little patch. I didn't even know Tasmanian devils were around in dinosaur times.

Surprise pop-up stegosaurus! What an incredible load of bullshit.

By the way, now that I've got another GIF with my score on it I've been reminded that my points aren't wiped when I use a continue. So I could beat the high score table just by failing enough times.


ANOTHER RUN OF THE LEVEL LATER.


Oh I see, I have to dig under the box of spooky animals to drop it into the soil, then I can walk past it and leap the gap on the right! That's clever.

But there's one thing I don't understand: why does Sherlock dig lying on his side? You can see the top of his hat even when he's digging sideways and it's weird.

Alright, I've finally reached the secret hideout at the end of level one! So, uh, now what? What am I doing wrong here, why can't I go in?

Well I just checked a Longplay video and it turns out that the missing ingredient may be flashes. I need to be carrying some to photograph the boss inside and I have none left. I can't backtrack to find more as all the enemies I passed will have become unstunned so I guess I'll have to retry from the beginning again and try not to be so careless with my snapshots this time. It'll only take five minutes, it's not a huge level.

Okay I've replayed the entire level again with 6 flashes left this time and it still won't let me in so I don't know what's going on here. What does it want from me? Do I need to know the secret handshake? Do I have to press F6? Did I load up the demo by mistake?

Oh no, I've just figured it out, and the truth is horrifying.

The clues were staring me in the face the whole time, I just didn't see them. The game's not letting me out of this level until I've been everywhere and collected every single piece of money. It's a bloody collect 'em up!

So I'll just go and do that then. Whenever the path splits, I'll have to take both routes, crawling through every bit of cave and exploring every dead end.


EVENTUALLY, IN THE SECRET HIDEOUT.


I found all the money and they let me inside the secret hideout for a first person shooter action scene!

For this bit I had to move the crosshair to get a clear photo of the criminal as he runs and leaps around his stolen loot. Took me seven shots but I finally nailed him with one flash left. Dunno what would've happened if I'd ran out of flashes before getting a good photo but I can't imagine it would've been anything good.

It actually did give me a bonus by the way, I just cut it out to keep the filesize down.

Nice to see that the spider's still just about hanging in there.

Alright my next job is to find this woman's kidnapped pet, Terrance. I think I can handle that, as long as there's a sign saying 'PET KIDNAPPER'S LAIR' right next their hideout.

Oh damn, what happened to the Flintstones look from the earlier levels and the title screen? You can't just write 'TELEBONE' on a phone box and call it a day! It's not even Victorian to match the protagonist's clothes, this is just a regular modern city. It's giving me flashbacks to We’re Back: A Dinosaur's Story.

Actually it's like an evil version of Soccer Kid with the saturation up too high, it's horrible. In the mines it was obvious where I could go, but this is a sprawling mess and I can't tell which parts I can jump on and what I'll fall right through. This is a bit of a problem because I have to search every corner of it collect all the items I need to open the exit.

I was actually kind of liking the game earlier, but my enthusiasm has just crashed.

Oh thank fuck, the game's given me a reason to turn it off. Poor Sherloch Ness, killed by tripping on a can and falling out of reality.


CONCLUSION

It's funny how Dinosaur Detective Agency is about a prehistoric dinosaur who dresses like a Victorian detective and jumps around a modern city, because the game itself doesn't quite belong in any time either. It was a budget release from the start and it was never meant to compete with full price platformers, but it more or less looks the early 90s title that it is. The gameplay on the other hand comes from the 80s when Amiga games were all ports of C64 and Atari ST games; it doesn't even give you a couple of flashes of invulnerability after you take damage. It's not quite as basic as Manic Miner, but it did make me jump over patrolling enemies and collect all the items in the level to leave.

The game's definitely made for kids, but then it's a platformer from the 90s, so like duh! It's not a cakewalk though as there's no lives or checkpoints, and it may take several attempts to get through a level with enough ammo left for the photo shoot boss battle. I didn't stick with it long enough to know if continues are infinite, but they lasted longer than my interest for sure. It's only a four level game though apparently, so I've just shown you more than a quarter of it.

I wouldn't really recommend this to anyone, but I wouldn't warn you to stay well clear either. Reviewers at the time seemed to agree that it's trash, but I'd say it's more mid-tier from what I've seen and you could find some fun in this if you keep your expectations to a minimum. Amiga platformers get far worse than this.


Now I can proudly tell the world that I've written about Dinosaur Detective Agency on my site. But I'm not satisfied yet, so next week there'll be another game of moderate retro-ness. Guess the clue and spoil the mystery!

You can also share your thoughts about the game and my site in the comment box. Though I'm sure I don't have to tell you that.

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