I wanna hold your hand: Dino Run
Pixeljam’s Dino Run, in all its pixelated, low-rent glory, offers something I’m finding less and less in big mainstream titles: compelling gameplay. It’s simple: you control a dinosaur running for his (her?) life from a life-obliterating wall of death caused by a meteor impact. You collect eggs to try to save your species, eat smaller dinos, upgrade your stats, but mostly you just run. The wall of death is so terrifying—when you lag behind the music is replaced by a bass rumble, everything goes dark, the earth shakes, and trees and rocks rain down from the oncoming shockwave—that it’s all the motivation a player needs to run.
This also gives an interesting twist to the usual relationships found with NPCs in a sidescrolling game. Instead of being enemies who try to impede the player’s progress, they’re other dinosaurs and creatures running for their lives—you’re all on the same sinking boat. As I played through Dino Run, I actually felt a little sorry for the other animals. The animation helps here: the stegosaurus running as fast as it can on its tiny legs, the triceratops bucking its head in fear, and the snake crawling fast for its hole in the ground all add to the atmosphere of panic. When a flaming chunk of rock fell out of the sky and sent a stegosaurus tumbling down the mountain to its death, I actually felt kind of sad; he was my comrade in a race for safety.
Of course, the game also rewards you for eating smaller creatures, so my empathy was tempered with a survivalist drive to come out on top, and the larger dinosaurs can get in your way and crush the precious eggs under their feet, but the refiguring of sidescrolling NPCs from standard bad guys to be jumped on, evaded or mowed down to other panicked survivors running for the hills gives Dino Run an interesting charisma.
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