Review by Siegfried

"Uncanny"

The beat-'em-up genre has always revolved around the Final Fight and Streets of Rage series, the two rival powerblocks. Consequently, one can just imagine how things would turn out whenever fanboys of the two parties clashed. Lame insults would be hurled, long-winded rants would be posted on message boards, and all hell would break loose.

I'll end this on-going debate here.

Both the Final Fight and Streets of Rage series are good. Each has its own masterpiece, and each has its ugly sibling, which it desperately tries to hide. However, when confronted to each other, the battle, by itself, never ends simply because they remain on equal levels. Thus, if this were a real fight, it would never stop and would rage on until the end of time. The only way to bring it to a halt would be to bring another game into it.

Cadillacs & Dinosaurs is that game. While Final Fight and Streets of Rage would be busy bickering, it would come and grapple both titles to deliver a fatal blow. C&D is so good it even single-handedly CRUSHES the two aforementioned games.

Why?

Because this game successfully combines all the key elements of a good beat-'em-up to an extraordinary atmosphere to bring forward one of the most exciting arcade games I have ever played. Playing through it is like living through a dream. It's not a case of just beating enemies anymore; it's a case of doing so in style, of making the most of the enormous number of skills and weapons granted to you. There is no doubt the setting is another factor that makes C&D so daunting.

In FF and SOR, you fought humans; weirdly-dressed humans, guys wearing shades even at night, 200-pound bodyguards, but still humans.

In C&D, you'll still face humans, but a lot more than in the two aforementioned titles. Plus the humans here have skills too. Each acts differently. One will thus use a whip to throw a spiked ball at you while another short guy will jump in and place dynamite somewhere before fleeing. Or, more logically, another one will barge in and proceed to plummet you to your demise.

...But there's something else you will encounter in C&D:

DINOSAURS!

Big green dinosaurs. Fiery brown, ferocious pterodactyls. Terrifying and eternally hungry T-Rexes. Take them out with guns. Or take them out with your bare hands.

Only to watch them mutate into the most frightening freak you have ever seen in a beat-'em-up. And if you are shouting in glee, you are right in doing so because this is just a short prelude of the BEST brawler ever created.

Welcome to the world of Cadillacs & Dinosaurs!

Cadillacs & Dinosaurs was originally a comic created by Mark Schultz. The premise can be deduced from the name itself. The past and future have collided in a world gone mad where dinosaurs now mingle with humans. The result behind this chaotic state of affairs is a certain Dr. Fessenden who's trying to recreate the world as per his dreams. In any other game, that would have amounted to the usual ''WORLD DOMINATION'' through groups of losers and sub-losers. Here, this amounts to letting dinosaurs loose, conducting experiments with those...and the usual thugs and more apt level bosses.

''I'm a bad Mamba Jamma!''

As you choose among the four characters available, you learn that each has his/her own skills. Jack Tenrec is the overall good guy respectable in every department. He's strong and quick at the same time, but doesn't really excel in either. On the other hand, Mess O'Bradovich speaks with brute strength; he's slower than a bear, but packs enough punch to send a buffoon cowering away with a single blow. Mess also walks a la Haggar; here's Capcom chipping in with its own publicity.

Then comes my favorite character, Mustapha ''Flying Kicks'' Cairo. As his name implies, Mustapha is all about speed, and the guy just screams domination. Mustapha professes to be an engineer, but his attire resembles that of a mechanic. It's a strange sight, but there's no denying that the chap looks COOL. Completing this ecclesiastic cast is the only female found throughout the game, Hannah Dundee. While most would think Hannah is the stereotyped swift but weak female, it turns out Capcom deliberately got rid of this image. Hannah is quite strong and she shines as being ''item-skilled''. Give her a mere knife, and your foe is in big trouble, as she uses it to repeatedly slice him, as opposed to everybody else's lethargic, single throw.

Now, let's get one thing right: you aren't limited to the usual two players in C&D. Indeed, this game actually lets 3 players play at the same time for some really hardcore action. Picture it; Mustapha, Jack, and Hannah on the screen at the same time, each delivering his own special technique on a couple of thugs of dubious merits. There's nothing quite like playing C&D when you're three (and, of course, the game does get easier!).

C&D plays similar to most beat-'em-ups, but it does have the decency of sprinkling new features over the usual ones. As usual, there's the attack button and a jump one. Mashing the attack button will enable your character to pull a small combo. It is NOT possible to repeatedly use the first blow to trap your foe like you did in Final Fight or any other beat-'em-up. Capcom was wise to prevent this, as even with a small stop between hits, the character will still perform the subsequent kicks or punches with ensuing presses of the button. Getting rid of this aspect obviously makes the game harder, but at the same time, you know there's no cheating going on, since the same thing applies to any opponent (but don't worry, it's not as if they need these cheap tactics to make your life hard!).

Next, jumping and attacking will cause your alter ego to use a jumping attack. C&D is brilliant in that there are actually two of those attacks for each character, and both are actually put to good use. Running (yes, everybody can run in C&D!) and then attacking will unleash a powerful kick, which is among the most intuitive blows in the game. Such attacks are varied too, as Jack will use a sliding kick while Mustapha will opt for the more conventional jump-straight-forward attack. In addition, mix moves accordingly and you'll know why C&D just crushes its rivals with its game engine. There's so much to do in C&D it isn't even funny! Take Mess for instance. In spite of his bulk, you can perform his combo, slide-kick as soon as it's over (it's hard to do, but can be done), grab someone as soon as he gets up, perform his additional move (done by pressing up, down, followed by the attack button -specific to each character) and finish with…

…the whimsical special technique!

Like in any brawler, special techniques are unique to each character and come at the expense of your own health. You thus lose some life whenever you use these techniques (done by pressing the attack and jump buttons simultaneously), but you will use them as they're basically your sole option when you're being surrounded by not less than 5 thugs and a couple of dinosaurs. Again, the game itself prevents you from abusing from the moves when you are on the verge of dying, as it is impossible to perform those when you are too low on health. Otherwise, it would have too easy to just pull special technique upon special technique without ever stopping. Thankfully, Capcom again was ingenious enough to ensure such cheap tactics cannot be used in the game.

Final Fight had pipes. Pipes were great to mess with. Cadillacs & Dinosaurs doesn't have pipes. They would probably seem too out of place in a game where the weapons granted to you range from pistols to bazookas, without forgetting the regular shotgun. An amazing collection of weapons awaits you in C&D. And, while ammunition is limited for every weapon, you may be lucky enough to find more bullets, which will enable to unload a few more rounds in those annoying fat guys that had previously been ramming their heads into your stomach. When in dire need, you can also use knives, swords and even throw rocks at your enemies. Or how about getting rid of one foe by throwing a grenade of a pack of dynamites at him? INSTANT DEATH!

C&D is generous with its weapons; too generous, in some instances. You may think this makes the game easy, but don't let this facet of the game fool you. In spite of the ludicrously high number of weapons you find on each stage, the legions of enemies you encounter will make this number seem dreadfully low to you. Keep in mind that you lose a weapon when you're KO'd, and you'll know how essential it is to make the most out of each weapon available. In addition, your character always starts with a bazooka when you start a new game or continue. It's a nice way of making things somewhat easier, and very helpful given the number of times you may die against a boss. There's nothing like seeing your character appear again with a big bazooka on his shoulder while the words ''They're gonna pay for this!'' above him clearly show he means business.

''Bad to the bone!''

And, of course, you can also grab items that will merely increase your score and food that will replenish your health. These items range from jewelry to wad of bank notes. The importance of netting as many points as possible is shown by the fact that you gain lives when you break certain score limits (500,000, 1,000,000, etc…). This makes grabbing as many items as possible an almost necessary facet of the game, as you will need every life you can gather in C&D. And there's also the fact that you become invincible for a short while whenever you do earn these elusive lives. The character dialogues that pop up at the same time also make this totally worth it.

Perhaps Cadillacs & Dinosaurs' real strength is how it is vivid and frantic while retaining touches found in the comic. The characters occasionally say something (though, sadly, there's no voice-over, but instead, the words sprawl on your screen as in comics), and the dialogues between your alter egos and the bosses can be hilarious. My favorite is the second stage boss, Butcher, who will greet you with an arrogant ''XXXX YOU!!'' simply because you dared disturb him while he was feasting on a…dinosaur. Add to this the fact that you actually begin this second stage in the emblematic Cadillac, and you'll understand while I adore this episode (stages are called 'episodes' in the game, with each being broken down into different sections). Moreover, the typical 'SMACK' will punctuate some of the action, except the excerpts used in the game are very flashy and colorful.

If anything else, the beginning will suffice to show you how C&D is so different from any other beat-'em-up. Where any other game would just begin by having your character walk in and instantly start punching away, C&D gives you a truly memorable opening. Picture it; a pterodactyl flies over the outskirts of a town. As a devastated city appears in the background, your character stands on a building and is surrounded by half a dozen thugs. One of them, the first level's boss, then proceeds to threaten you and orders his men to kill you…and your character defeats them simply by performing his special technique. And the game doesn't really stop to show this is just the beginning; as from this instant, it relentlessly throws enemies at you as if it has nothing else to do. Combine this introductory sequence to the short, but wonderful opening theme, and C&D gets one of the best openings ever seen in a video game (only topped by titles such as Metal Gear Solid 2 and Final Fantasy VII).

The bosses also just cry for attention. You'll laugh when you first meet Fessenden's assistant, Morgan, a Frankestein-like dwarf. Of course, he just killed a poor innocent, but there's no denying Morgan is a hilarious character with extremely witty dialogues such as the game's best quote, ''Aargh! Now, I'm really going to get bent out of shape!'' when he's already as ugly as **** (but in a good way -however the hell such a thing is possible!). And you'll probably crap your pants when you beat him a first time and he transforms into one of the zaniest dinosaurs you'll meet throughout the whole game, only topped by Dr. Fessenden himself (whose mutation is the single most breath-taking moment featured in this kind of game). On the other hand, the fourth stage's boss, Slice, is perfectly normal although he is insanely quick; he moves around so fast you never know when and where to hit.

The entire last stage is awe-inspiring. Its underground setting, combined with all the dinosaurs it throws forth, is assuredly the best in the entire game. C&D takes things onto another level by actually using music you would never dream of hearing in a brawler. As an example, the last section's (just before the final encounter with Dr. Fessenden) finely orchestrated track is a slow, soothing and melancholic theme that is ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC. You'll feel strange about hearing such a theme, which would be more suitable in a RPG (such as Final Fantasy II, known for its awesome soundtrack), but you'll grow to like this specific part just because of the music.

Cadillacs & Dinosaurs was released 3 years after Final Fight, and the excellent graphics show it. The characters are somewhat small in comparison to their famous predecessors, but their design and animation is staggering. Hannah's generous attributes bounce as she runs, and you can clearly see Mustapha's cap sway during some of the moves. The number of individual frames dedicated to each character will shock you, even more so when you realize there's no slow-down AT ALL. This is even more surprising given how the action is fast-paced with enemies barging in before you can even recover from the previous fights. Without forgetting the huge dinosaurs you'll occasionally have to defeat.

The backgrounds are similarly colorful, but more noticeably, the level of details used to make each setting unique will baffle you. The first stage itself actually depicts two cities, with the second one flashing away in the background while water splashes further beyond. But the greatest part of the game is without doubt its jungle stages. If you had been amazed by the more regular settings, you'll probably be knocked away by the stunning artwork of these particular stages. Moreover, leaves fall off trees (which, in turn, tremble) as you send foes reeling into them, rain pours down in certain sections, dinosaurs leaves foot tracks as they run around, and your character marches on, unaware of all the threats around him. Keep in mind that each opponent is equally well-drawn, and C&D is virtually flawless.

''The doctor is crazy!!''

Your alter egos shout when they use their moves, cry in agony when they are knocked down, and each boss has his own grunts and squeals. The voices used for the main characters are excellent, and you'll laugh in turn when you hear a foe snicker at you because you were foolish enough to underestimate him. Jack's serious tone is definitely the best here, but don't let that lead you into thinking that the others fail to be as good.

And, of course, in a game where so much kicking and bickering is going on, sound effects constitute a very important part. No need to fret, Cadillacs & Dinosaurs does everything right. The weapons' onomatopoeia is extremely realistic, and each action is accompanied by its lifelike effect. Throw an overly-aggressive driver, and the corresponding thud will signal you such an action just took place. Slash at a knife-throwing foe with a sword, and you'll have the pleasure of hearing the distinct noise of the blade plunging into his skin while blood spills all around him.

But if there's one thing that is absolutely fantastic in Cadillacs & Dinosaurs, it's the music. I'm puzzled as to how a game with such a powerful soundtrack could remain ignored. You'll feel drowsy with the opening theme, check your pulse rate while the ensuing upbeat track plays, and cry when the final piano track (which I already talked of) announces the end of the game. C&D's music is that good. As each episode is fairly long, Capcom decided to give each section its own music. Some sections share the same piece, but this is not a problem when the music is so GREAT. If it weren't for the last theme, I wouldn't know which to choose as a favorite. But, beyond that, it's hard to choose a second favorite as each and every theme surpasses the rest in some departments. The boss theme is particularly enthralling, as it combines piano strings and techno beats to deliver a never-ending fiery piece.

Brawlers are known for their exhaustive replay value, and Cadillacs & Dinosaurs is no exception. Moreover, C&D is longer than any other beat-'em-up, and is insanely tough. However skilled you may be, it will be downright impossible to beat this game with a single credit. The action instantly chokes you, and never lets you rest. Of course, that's a very good thing because brawlers are meant to be action-packed. And, while the story is nothing to stir water about, the ending can be particularly vicious when you beat the game a first time.

Cadillacs & Dinosaurs is a flawless title. Don't get me wrong; I'm personally a huge fan of Final Fight. However, asking me to choose between Final Fight and Cadillacs & Dinosaurs is like asking me to choose between soccer alongside cheater Martin Keown and sex with Jennifer Love Hewitt. Final Fight was brilliant; Cadillacs & Dinosaurs is a wonderful work of art. Sadly, C&D nevertheless remains ignored and never got the recognition it deserves. But, once you do get the chance to play through the whole game (or even only the first stage), you'll see for yourself how this extraordinary game is superior to its older brother in every way. And, like me, you'll LOVE it (but certainly not as much as I do!).


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 04/15/04


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