From the PopCap Vault: Dynomite!

You know a game doesn’t have good karma when, 10 years after it came out, it can cause a grown man to have a total tantrum. Such is the sad case with Dynomite! and your humble blogger here, who managed to blow nearly the entire day working on a retrospective look at this game, only to have the entire blog post vanish into the Internet ether due to my crappy AT&T connection. Yes, folks, I am beginning this week’s From the PopCap Vault entry with the old “the dog ate my homework” line. And I’d feel bad about that, but it’s really just my way of working through my anger rather than putting my fist through my monitor, which is what I’d rather do at this juncture in time.

But hey, let’s not blame Dynomite! for that. After all, it’s hard to get too mad at a game that has an exclamation point embedded in the title (thus proving how exciting it is), and that features both dinosaurs and explosives. In truth, this 2002 puzzle game is actually quite a charming little title, despite the fact that even by Match 3 standards it may fall somewhere south of Chuzzle, which itself rarely gets any respect. Gameplay-wise, those familiar with the old game Puzzle Bobble (also known as Bust-a-Move), will recognize the primary objective: You fire colored balls onto a board – angling shots when necessary – to match three similar colors to attempt to clear the board. All well and good and a fine way to waste your existence if you really have nothing better to do, which, if that’s the case, I am truly sorry.

What distinguishes Dynomite!, however, is the game’s dinosaur motif, because, first, it’s a scientific fact that no one doesn’t like dinosaurs, and second, because the designers found some pretty clever and goofy ways to use the dinosaur theme to inform the gameplay. To wit: Those colored balls you are firing onto the puzzle board are actually dinosaur eggs, being handed to you one by one by Steggy the stegosaurus, whose motives for destroying unborn members of his own species are not explored or explained. (Perhaps his troubled backstory was going to emerge in Dynomite! 2). Of course, it also is not explained why certain dinosaur eggs have sticks of dynamite attached to them, or how that’s even possible, given the hundreds of million years between the existence of dinosaurs and dynamite, short of some sort of Dr. Who-like time-travel escapade, which surely we would have read about in the news or something had that really happened. Or maybe we’re not supposed to assume this game was based on a true story. I just don’t know.

The point is, if you’re going to bother matching three of anything, there are worse things that it could be than dinosaur eggs with dynamite attached. And the designers did do a pretty great job of incorporating the dinosaur motif into the various game modes. Like the “Fossil Challenge,” which has you collecting dinosaur fossil fragments for your Fossil Museum, and the Stomped Puzzle mode, which has the Mama Brontosaurus rightly pissed off beyond belief that you are destroying her baby eggs and thus takes it upon herself to make the game harder and harder as you keep playing.

So, really, it may not look like much to our sophisticated 2012 eyeballs, but Dynomite! is actually a fun little game, due to it’s rather charming personality. Yes, this is the gaming analysis equivalent of the old blind date warning line: “But she has a good personality.” Yes, you will certainly play better looking games over your lifetime, and you may not actually want to bring Dynomite! home to your parents, but until you find Mr. or Mrs. Perfect Game, Dynomite! can serve perfectly well as your temporary, errr, “fun buddy.”

And, hey, I’d be remiss as a chronicler of pop culture if I didn’t also point out one rather eerily prescient moment in this game. When Kroney, the game’s timekeeper, occasionally sends out the warning to players that “Whirley’s coming!” it sounds almost exactly like the now-iconic “Omar comin!’ scenes in the landmark HBO series “The Wire.” Again, I don’t know how the designers could have pulled this off without some super-secret time travel device at their disposal, which may be the true secret to PopCap’s success. Though if this were true I’d wish they’d lend it to me sometime so I could go back in time and ask Lorie Chortkoff out in the 7th grade like I always wished I did.

And that’s your look back in the PopCap Vault for this week! Happy Friday!

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