Spectrum 2.0

Review of 'Dynamite Dan II'

Rating:5 User: ewgf

Dynamite Dan 2 is a 48K Spectrum game, released in 1986 by Mirrorsoft. And to me, Dynamite Dan 2 is definitely the best 2D platform game on any system ever. Forget Manic Miner, Super Mario Bros, Super Mario World, Yoshi's Island, Earthworm Jim, Sonic the Hedgehog, Chuckie Egg, etc, I've played them all, and excellent as they all are (well, apart from the Sonic games, they just never appealed to me), they can't hold the proverbial candle to Dynamite Dan 2.

Dynamite Dan 2 excels in many ways. To begin with, it has some of the best graphics and music on the (48k) Spectrum. Not just the quality, but also the variety. It's amazing how much is packed into one game.

Still, great graphics and sound mean absolutely nothing in a bad game, and fortunately the game is very, very good indeed. We're talking the sort of quality you mostly only dream about. You (as Dan, a sort of secret agent) have to infiltrate the islands of the dastardly villain Dr Blitzen, and blow up his record factory (he's been corrupting the youth of the world with subliminal messages in his records, the cad). To do this, you have to visit all eight islands one after another, and find a record then play it on a juke box, before leaving for the next island in a Zeppelin.

The game is very large indeed for an 8-bit platform game, with each of the eight islands being made up of twenty-four screens, making a total of a hundred and ninety-two screens in total. Each island has a different layout (no repetition here, thank you very much), and each island also has it's own "them" (such as woodland, Chinese culture, Aztec, etc) complete with items and enemies unique to each island.

Yes, items. As you go through each item you find and pick up (by touching them) different items. A few items are common to all islands, such as bombs (to blow up locked door), goggles (to stop Dr Blitzen from hypnotizing you), and cans of fuel (you need a can of fuel to start the Zeppelin to get to the next island). Most items are unique to one island, and perform special tasks such as allowing you to use hidden passages, killing all onscreen enemies, walking on water (otherwise Dan drowns on contact with water, as he can't swim!), become invisible for a time, and so on. I won't list them here, as part of the fun is discovering them and their use.

Oh, and the location of all items are randomized at the beginning of each game! A feature that really adds to the replayability of this truly classic game.

And as for the enemies, well they are unique to each island too, at least so far as their looks go, but their behaviour is common across all islands. All enemies sap your strength on contact, and some enemies also steal an object off you, if you are carrying an object that's the same colour as they are. Especially bad news if you're carrying only one jerrycan full of fuel as you make your way back to the Zeppelin ready to leave for the next island, and you see a magenta coloured enemy approach you - quick, run!

There are some other variations in enemy movements too, such as the way the white enemies always walk, the purple ones fly, and also move faster if they rebound off something, the red ones fly in a butterfly-style way, etc.

Oh, and that rascally Dr Blitzen appears occasionally, and tries to zap you with his hypnotism ray - avoid him as much as you can, but if you have a pair of goggles then he can't hypnotize you (if he does, then Dan loses control for a few moments and walks forward - very bad indeed if he's facing a deadly drop into water, for example).

There are more nice touches too, such as the way each of the eight records plays a different classical tune when used in a jukebox, or the way you can hide behind some scenery (and if you do then the enemies just go past you without hurting you, as they can't find you).

So is the game perfect? Sadly not. Like everything else in life, it has it's flaws. Dynamite Dan 2 has three flaws that I can think of:

1. There's no end sequence - due to memory constraints or lack of time before release, there's no successful ending to the game - after you complete the game then you just return to the title screen. This is a real pity, although since the game is so long and so hard most people won't get far enough to discover this anyway. Still, a simple message of congratulations would have been nice.

2. The game keeps track of a high score, but badly. By which I mean, the high score is displayed when the game is played, but then you're usually too occupied to look at the high score display (or your own score, for that matter), and when you die the game immediately goes back to the title page, with no message about you having achieved a high score, no displaying the high score you to read it, nothing.

3. The game doesn't have a "lives" system, it has one health bar, and you replenish your health by eating food which is found all over the island, and of course if your health falls to zero then it's game over. This is great, and much better than a lives system, except for one "feature"; when you lose most of your health, your jumping height is suddenly diminished. This can make it impossible to get to any food, meaning that it's game over. I really could have done without this design decision...

Apart from those three problems though, all of which are minor (you play this game for the immense fun it gives you, not for the satisfaction of seeing the ending, I don't think that anyone would really care about the score in this game, as it's about exploring and having fun, and it's rare (though annoying) that you'll get a low enough amount of health that you can't jump high but are still alive) the game really is superb. No exaggeration. It not only does everything I've described in this review (and all on a 48K Spectrum!!!), but it does it fantastically well, moving at just the right speed to be fun, with no slowdown, no graphics tearing, no bugs, no gameplay hitches at all.

And all with some of the best graphics and sound on the Spectrum.

Best. 2D. Platform. Game. Ever.

And it's now free for non-commercial use for anyone. Just go to:

worldofspectrum.org

and download it (and an emulator, if you don't have a real Spectrum), and play this example of what a first class programmer/artist/musician can achieve on our humble friend the Speccy.