Dino Land brings prehistoric pinball to Evercade

Evercade Renovation Collection 1 banner

While the Renovation Collection 1 cartridge for Evercade very much has a few “headline” titles — with the Valis titles and the excellent shoot ’em ups Gaiares and Sol-Deace likely ranking pretty highly for most — it also has plenty of lesser-known titles that are worth a certain amount of exploration — and Dino Land, a peculiar pinball game from Wolfteam, very much falls into that category.

This has always been the case for Evercade cartridges; they quite deliberately include a number of “big hitters” to draw you in, and couple those well-known classics with some more obscure yet nonetheless interesting titles that can broaden your understanding and appreciation of a particular developer, publisher or platform’s library of titles.

This is, to me, the biggest strength of the platform as a whole; its ongoing acknowledgement that “retro gaming” isn’t just about the same limited selection of games we’ve seen rereleased a thousand times before. It’s also about providing an experience where maybe one in every few hundred people might end up going “oh wow, yeah, I actually remember that” — and a few more might end up discovering some new favourites.

Dino Land

Anyway, Dino Land. First released in 1991 for the Mega Drive, Dino Land casts you in the role of Dino-Bunz, who is attempting to rescue his sweetheart Meeshell. Rather than going about this in a convenient manner, however, Dino-Bunz has elected to roll himself into a ball and hurl himself at his enemies in pinball style, and it’s up to you to hit the flippers and make sure he accomplishes his goals.

Practically speaking, this means that there’s three different “tables” you need to master in order to rescue Meeshell, with each table featuring its own unique gimmicks and theming. You’ll always start on the “Earth” table, but by fulfilling various conditions, you can also make your way to the “Sea” and “Sky” tables by draining the ball when the appropriate lights are on.

Each table is relatively straightforward and easy to learn, typically involving dinosaur-themed drop targets that contribute to your score multiplier, plenty of rollovers and things to light up, lanes to shoot Dino-Bunz into with various effects, and “magnetic” targets and holes to take aim for.

Dino Land

Each of the three tables features a “boss” that can be triggered in some way, and the eventual aim of the game, besides simply achieving as high a score as possible, is to defeat the bosses and rescue Meeshell. This is, of course, easier said than done, but Dino-Bunz has an unusual trick up his sleeve that distinguishes himself from your common-or-garden pinball: he can transform from a ball back into his dino form and just wander around on the table for a bit — at least until he bumps into something, at which point he’ll curl back up again.

Since being able to use this ability in an unlimited sort of way would probably compromise the balance of the pinball gameplay, you can only make use of it in the boss stages. By taking full control of Dino-Bunz, you can position him carefully to deal with the various dinosaurs that appear during boss encounters, and situate yourself in the best place to try and knock down the boss before it’s too late. Don’t worry if you fail, though; simply fulfil the conditions on the table for the boss encounter and you can try again.

Dino Land’s biggest strength is probably its accessibility. Pinball can be a daunting type of game to get into despite the simplicity of its controls, but Dino Land’s tables strike a good balance of demanding a certain amount of skill and making it clear exactly what it is you need to do. It doesn’t overcomplicate matters with “missions” and elaborate series of prerequisite events to simply score a respectable amount of points, but it does reward those who have decent control of the flippers and at least a few techniques beyond simply bashing the buttons randomly in the hope of hitting something!

Dino Land

That said, Dino Land’s inherent simplicity may also be a little offputting for pinball veterans, who may find the three tables just a little too straightforward. There aren’t many individual components to master, and once you’ve got the hang of them fairly conclusively, there’s not a lot else to do other than rack up some big scores. That said, the default high score table on the game does start at what might initially appear to be unreasonably high numbers, so perhaps the real endgame here really is just making that all-important number get as big as possible.

Dino Land is presented nicely, with cute graphics, catchy music and a delightful recreation of a mechanical “rolling digits” pinball machine score display — firmly in keeping with the rather retro feel of the fairly simplistic tables. There’s some baffling spelling mistakes in the menus — particularly given that the screenshots in the original game manual actually had the correct terminology — and the scrolling is, at times, a little jankier than the ol’ Mega Drive was capable of.

But looking back on the game as a retro curiosity as it’s presented here on the Renovation Collection 1 cartridge for Evercade, it definitely has its charms, and it’s absolutely worth playing. CodeMasters Psycho Pinball may well offer a better overall pinball experience on the Evercade, but you’ll definitely have some fun with Dino Land while it lasts.

Evercade’s Renovation Collection 1 cartridge is available to order now. Screenshots from the Evercade version running on Evercade VS.

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Pete Davison
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