Primal Rage maybe wasn’t the best fighting game to hit arcades in 1994, but I have some fond memories of playing it with friends. I wish we could get some sort of re-release, or maybe even a release of the canceled (but apparently finished) Primal Rage 2. But we’re not talking about Primal Rage. We’re here to look at DinoRex.
Released by Taito in 1992, DinoRex has a lot in common with Primal Rage. There are dinosaurs animated by stop-motion and humans in the foreground. I would use that same description for both games when trying to explain them to someone who hadn’t played them before. However, while Primal Rage is an “okay, not great” game, DinoRex is more of a “so bad it’s kind of good” kind of game—the very best flavor of kusoge.
It is just incredible.
DinoRex is a fighting game where you play as a mostly-naked dude in a mask. He’s got a whip, but it’s not what it looks like, I swear! Your dude wants to become the DinoRex or something, which supposedly means being the best at forcing a dinosaur to fight another dinosaur. While you’re stuck with being a buff naked man, there are seven dinosaurs you can pick from, ranging from chubby to annoying. Each one is extremely different to control, so maybe don’t try to switch midway through a game. It’s like learning to roller skate again after a severe head injury.
Apparently, there’s a part of the world where archeologists apparently have never been, where dinosaurs existed well after their alleged extinction. Long enough that people were able to ride them. DinoRex sees humans doing what humans do, as we take these critically endangered creatures and make them fight for our amusement.
There’s a prize for whoever manages to coerce their dinosaur into winning the tournament; they get to become King. I think. The text crawls that try to tell the narrative are hilariously mistranslated to the point where I don’t think I fully understand what’s going on. There’s some sort of queen involved, but I don’t really know how she plays into this. I think it might just be an excuse to have a woman in a loincloth on the attract screen.
I’m not even being facetious or disingenuous here. DinoRex has more expositional cutscenes than you usually see in this sort of arcade game, and I still can’t really tell what’s going on. It starts out simple enough, then you blink and find it rolling down the steep slope into madness. I still can’t tell if the Queen is some sort of overlord or a prize for winning at dinosaur abuse. It’s very eager to tell you nothing at all.
It’s also really difficult to describe the gameplay. It subscribes to the general idea most fighting games following Yie Ar Kung-Fu did. You hold a direction, press a button, and your dinosaur does a thing. However, I’m not sure how many different moves each one has or how they relate to the combination you’ve pressed.
Here’s how you win, though: find the button/direction combo that makes your dinosaur latch onto its opponent’s throat. Keep doing that until someone dies. You win.
If you want to cinch the win, you can force your dinosaur to do its special move. Your special bar is segmented into three pieces. You fill it by holding up, which makes the dinosaur throw its chubby head back and give a mighty roar. Then, once it’s filled, you can hit the special button and then just walk away. So long as it doesn’t get interrupted, your dinosaur will pull off one attack for every segment of the bar you have filled. So, if you have one bar filled, it will knock its opponent back once. If all three are full, your dinosaur will hit the other dino once, wait until it stops skidding along the ground, hit it a second time, wait for it to stop skidding again, and then – you guessed it – hit it again.
The three-hit process takes literally 10 seconds, which, when put in the context of arcade games in general and fighting games specifically, is approximately a decade. In these 10 seconds, no one needs to press a button. The sequence cannot be interrupted. You are a slave to the dino-combo.
On the other hand, the special combos are kind of cool. If there’s one thing that DinoRex does legitimately well, it’s the destruction of its environments. Amazonians scatter, cages are crushed, and dust flies up as structures give out under the ample bodies of the dinosaurs.
It’s not the absolute best part, however. The best part is that every few battles, there’s a bonus stage. These are framed as being dreams, but they involve your portly pal marching through modern cities and wrecking buildings. These don’t really play any better than the fight scenes, but the mere fact that you’re kicking army dudes and knocking helicopters out of the sky makes them worthwhile spectacles.
There are two city bonus levels, but the last one is kicking Amazonians for some reason.
Weirdly, the dream sequences seem to tell a side story. Your dino pal is wrecking up Ho Lee City, which is run by Mr. Ho Lee. Beyond just running a city, Mr. Ho Lee also has some sort of tower that he’s really protective of. He hires the police and military to protect that building in particular from the rotund reptile wreaking havoc, so your ultimate goal is to knock it over.
What that has to do with anything, I have no idea. However, succeeding, you’re rewarded with the “Collopse of the cIvIlIzatIon” [sic, obviously]. Simply incredible.
Uh… Past Vexation
At the end of the fight, for absolutely no reason, a pterodactyl swoops down and snatches up the Amazonian dude as they grieve the loss of their best dinosaur friend. Sometimes, they just fly off with the guy, but every once in a while they’ll just swallow them whole. This sort of player shaming was what made this era of arcade games the best.
It’s hard to tell if the developers were in on the whole ridiculous spectacle – if it’s intentionally humorous or accidentally funny. There are times when it seems like they were trying to make something cool that might pull people away from Street Fighter II, but other times, it’s just too ridiculous to be accidental. Exactly like Deadly Premonition, is what I’m saying.
And like Deadly Premonition, I absolutely love DinoRex. For a long time, it was never ported. It did land on a Taito compilation for PS2 in 2007, but only in Japan. I probably wouldn’t have discovered it if it hadn’t landed on the Taito Milestones 2 collection for Switch. More recently, it’s also available as a standalone Arcade Archives release.
Every once in a while, I come across a kusoge that just is so fascinatingly inept that I practically fall in love. DinoRex was one of these games. I’m so enthusiastic about its terribleness that this is the third time I’ve written about it and each time, I extoll how incredible it is to experience. This is one of the best parts about art across all media. Whether something is well-executed or not doesn’t matter in the least. What matters is how well it connects with you.