Among the trends one might get into as a child, there are many to choose from. One that pops up every now and then in the greater culture are dinosaurs. The ancient beasts have captured the imaginations of millions through various means, arcade games being no exception. With IAAPA 2014, we had a revelation that Jurassic Park would be returning to the arcade, followed by the trailers for the upcoming Jurassic World film. With all of that going down, let’s take a look at their history in the arcade.
In the early days of arcade video games there isn’t anything that would give dinosaurs any screentime so if needed we have to refer to pinball games like Four Million B.C. (Bally, 1971) or Middle Earth (Atari, 1978) to get our fill.
The earliest game I could find to prominently feature dinosaurs was Konami’s Roc N’ Rope (1983). This used the theme of cavemen and dinosaurs although the way the game was played (shooting ropes into higher platforms then climbing them) made it like a slower version of other single screen platform climbing games that were popular back then (like Donkey Kong Jr. or Kangaroo).
About the same time there was a game with a more obvious tie-in to our subject matter, simply called Dinosaurs by Eastern Micro Electronics (1983). This is an obscure game and aside from the flyer I have not been able to find out much about it. The concept sounds like Mr. Do! meets Volified.
The most prominent use of dinosaurs in 80s arcade games (and video games in general at the time) would certainly be Bubble Bobble (Taito,1986). It was the cute application of dinosaurs with a focus on co-op play that created a memorable and fun game to play. Bubble Bobble would spawn sequels and spin-offs, the most popular of those would be the Puzzle Bobble series which would become one of the most notable puzzle game types after Tetris. While I was writing this, Azrial says that official documentation claims that Bub and Bob are dragons…I have always heard them called dinosaurs but we could make an exception as dragons are close enough.
There were a lot of scrolling shooting games to be found at the end of the 80s. Prehistoric Isle in 1930 (SNK, 1989) was one of them but they found a way to stand out – make the game about dinosaurs! Granted, they do explode with a little bit of blood when shot although it is pretty tame by today’s standards. You have to enjoy the deep game story that launches you off: “Some planes were reported missing in the 1930s near Bermuda, let’s go investigate!” All righty then!
The push for dinosaurs really caught on in the late 80s and early 90s, when thanks to media like Dinosaurs (the animatronic TV show), Denver The Last Dinosaur (cartoon), and of course Jurassic Park came along and had kids everywhere helping to make the field of paleontology hip and profitable for a change. Arcade game makers, keen to jump onto fads, produced quite a few titles featuring the non-feathered versions of the reptiles in a variety of ways.
Platformers were plenty popular in the early 90s and with Joe & Mac / Caveman Ninja (Data East, 1991), we got platforming with dinosaurs to boot. This also had a whimsical comic book personality to it that gained enough popularity to find its way ported to several home console systems.
Speaking of popular media, Cadillacs and Dinosaurs (Capcom, 1992), brought the comic-book into arcade life. It was a Capcom brawler, much like Final Fight. You do get to punch the living daylights out of some various reptiles but all that does is snap them out of their frenzy as you are trying to save them from becoming horrible genetic experiments or poached. Just the name draws attention to this game but it is a lot of fun too.
Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat made the arcade scene of the 90s focus on fighters. Most people are familiar with the most famous dino fighting game yet created – Primal Rage (Atari Games, 1994). It made use of some claymation like graphics and it involved humans worshipping the dinosaurs as gods. What most people aren’t familiar with is Dino Rex (Taito, 1992). Dino Rex came two years earlier and operated under a very similar concept although the humans are more cage masters forcing the dinos to duke it out. With only two buttons on the panel though, this did limit what the characters could pull off for moves compared to Primal Rage’s six button setup. Rage did grab more attention than many other games (and the arrival of the Primal Rage II prototype board caused quite a stir in the media) although it did not create the legacy that many other fighting games have had over the years.
Before we get to another famous entry in the Dinosaurcade circuit, it is worth mentioning a lesser known game by the name of Bonk’s Adventure (Kaneko, 1994). People know Bonk from his time as a mascot for the failed TurboGrafx-16 game console, forgotten in the battle between mascots with bigger budgets like Mario and Sonic. What could Bonk do that those two couldn’t? Bash dinosaurs into submission using his abnormally large and bald head. The arcade version did feature better graphics but I’m guessing the odd gimmick of having all of those smiley’s hover above his head meant that Bonk was not as endearing to people so this one has remained an obscure arcade title.
Now we finally get to the Jurassic Park series of games. The first one was released in 1994, a short time after the book-to-film stomped the theater and had infected kids everywhere with dinosaur fever (no matter on the film rating). Sega nabbed the rights to create this one and they reused some ideas as found with their 1991 title Rail Chase – it was a two player game and the players used analog joysticks to shoot the hordes of creatures on the screen. They also had a motion version of this out there, designed to recreate riding in jeep like viewers had seen in the movie.
In 1997 Sega would follow-up with Jurassic Park: The Lost World and this is the title that became the face of Dinosaur games in the late 90s. Unlike the first effort, this title had proper light-guns to make dino blasting a breeze. I remember coming across this particular cabinet everywhere in the late 90s, among arcade operators it was often seen as a “den of iniquity” thanks to some of the gross stuff people might – leave behind. some ops even removed the back plexi to remove some of that problem. Despite that, this brought dinosaurs into 3D at the arcade and is still held in high regard by players around the world.
Since we’re on the subject of Jurassic Park, we can’t forget two of the pinball games to be based upon the first two movies. Jurassic Park Pinball featured a tazer stun gun ball launcher, a T-Rex toy that would “eat” the ball, three flippers and more; The Lost World Pinball had two flippers, plastic ramps, a special “never before seen device” called the Snagger which would capture and lock pinballs, a baby T-Rex in an egg and an optional 3D backglass art package that it used to attract play.
Blasting dinosaurs with a light-gun is fun and all but what if you want to *be* the dinosaur? Savage Quest (Interactive Light/Intel, 1999) allowed you to do just that by filling the err, footprints, of a T-Rex. You must save some eggs from an evil witch doctor by the name of Karn, feasting on smaller dinosaurs for health as you venture along. (I actually have the PC for this but none of the I/O board or controllers to make it work; it came in a huge cockpit cabinet with a 30″ monitor)
Taking a page from the content of Jurassic Park: The Lost World, Prehistoric Isle 2 (SNK, 2000) for the NEOGEO MVS resurrected the Prehistoric Isle game but now dinosaurs are attacking the modern world. While piloting an attack helicopter they also added a Defender element to the game where you can save civilians who are caught up in the mayhem of the dinosaur infested streets.
While I’m not sure of the exact history on this, the 3rd Jurassic Park game-to-movie rights went over to Konami instead of Sega, which in 2001 gave us the Jurassic Park III arcade game. Once again going the route of a light-gun shooter, this had an “escape” element where pushing one of two buttons could help you escape from a dinosaur with you on the dinner menu.
Gun Survivor 3: Dino Crisis (Capcom/Namco, 2002) Finding info on this one is tough to come by as thanks to the PS2 release, most everything is about it. I believe this was only released in Japan which is why. Overall it was a much different take on the Gun Survivor idea for the arcade as instead of zombies it was dinosaurs.
The most recent time the ferocious reptile beats got an arcade spotlight was Sega’s Primeval Hunt(2008). This was a unique light-gun game which featured pump-action rifles and a touchscreen control in addition to the main display. The guns were a bit heavy for a typical light-gun, in part due to the speakers in the butt of the gun but also the more elaborate sensors used being this was an LCD screen game. As for the touchscreen, this was a cool idea on paper to have your player make their own path around an arena full of the dinosaurs. You could draw a path or just choose a dino to head towards. I said on paper as most operators did not like the touchscreen, being that in many venues it was a temptation for rowdy patrons to hit either with the hands or the butt of the gun. It is not the first time in human history good ideas have fallen to the wayside because human nature just won’t allow them to flourish and it will not be the last.
Forgotten by time already and because it was a Chinese only release, Dino Survivor by Tecway/Belrare came out in 2011. It was a co-op mounted light-gun game but not a whole lot was known about it as we received very little info on it, just this picture and this very low rez video below. But it does fit the bill as a dinosaur game so it counts.
What’s next? If you’ve been reading the site lately then you know – Jurassic Park is returning once again but this time thanks to Raw Thrills. The game has elements from the first three movies, it’s hard to say if there is anything from Jurassic World in there but judging on the trailer it does not. Who knows if they might add something via software update afterwards. Here’s the footage I captured of the game as it was seen recently at IAAPA 2014:
Barring any overlooked games on my part that should do it. What is your favorite arcade game to feature dinosaurs?