Booting up Dynamite Dux outside of its historical context, my first reaction was to groan at yet another clunky by-the-book beat-em-up with “wacky” characters as its only stand-out feature. A perfunctory opening showing generic cute girl Lucy being kidnapped and her two loyal pet ducks charging to the rescue is followed by waves of big colorful enemies designed to draw eyes in an arcade setting. But do I really want to slog through six stages of this? Does it have anything special to offer?
Well, it turns out a few things help Dux stand out from the crowd. The controls let you move and attack smoothly in eight directions, which gives your duck pretty good maneuverability among the hordes of enemies, even if I find myself wishing the jump was a little longer and snappier. The default attack has hardly any range, but comes out extremely fast with almost no recovery time, allowing you to plow through groups of enemies in a flurry of rapid-fire punches. Your duck can also pick up a variety of limited-ammo weapons, from rocks and bombs to homing missiles and flamethrowers; learning their characteristics is critical to gain a much-needed advantage.
The other standout here is the bosses, one at each stage midpoint and ending, which show a good deal more creativity than most beat-em-up fights from this era. Many are large, multi-sprite creation that make use of the arcade hardware (the same board used for Golden Axe and Altered Beast) to whirl around in pseudo-3D arrangements of spinning halos or giant golems. In fact, many bear a striking resemblance to set-pieces later used in much better known games from Treasure. A few do get re-used, but often with variations to mx things up… and then, just when you think you’ve seen all their tricks, you’ll hit something completely out of left field, like an “emperor” penguin commanding his chaotic penguin troops.
Okay, so the wacky enemies are pretty charming after all. Did I just get run over by a spherical cow? While dodging some moles with a startling resemblance to the future Mr. Resetti? And a bouncing sausage-moose that twists into nothingness when it dies? Ahead of some rocket-launcher toting wolves? Yeah, the enemy designs are fun. Speaking of those rocket-launching wolves, though…
After figuring out the controls and getting into the rhythm of the game I’m actually having fun, until it starts really kicking me in the teeth. Later levels are so filled with enemies and projectiles that staying alive at all becomes an exercise in frustration. That hefty-looking life bar doesn’t count for much when enemies can deplete it in four hits. Clearly there’s some quarter-munching motivation at work here, but pumping in infinite credits isn’t a terribly satisfying way to “win” a game.
Still, “arcade difficulty” aside, one could certainly do a lot worse when picking through the late-’80s glut of side-scrolling beat-em-ups. Dynamite Dux delivers a fun cartoony look and enough variety to keep you going for at least a few play-throughs. But I won’t tell how many times we continue if you won’t.
Article by Ben Elgin
GameSpite Journal 12: Dynamite Dux