On paper, Kale In Dinoland on iOS is a nice – if niche – concept. A loving homage to the black and white Game Boy platformers of the 90’s, it had the potential to rekindle the nostalgia of retro gamers and allow the younger audience to see what they missed out on.
The ingenious PR campaign for the game pitched it as a lost title from 1992 by developer Skysoft, when in actuality it’s a new game built from the ground up. Sadly though, Kale in Dinoland works better as an idea rather than a final product. It has much to love, but its flaws become far too suffocating to make it an enjoyable experience.
You play as the titular Kale, who is looking to save his girlfriend Terra from the crocodile Mr. Dino, who resides in - you guessed it - Dinoland.
To do this you have to complete six areas, all of which have several mini sections to complete. They’re pretty much your platformer staples, with a grasslands stage, a jungle level and your underwater, ice and fire worlds all making an appearance.
Kale’s moveset also makes sure to fit into the old school set up. You jump with A, shoot coconuts with B - with all your actions being performed with touch screen buttons and d-pad.
Virtual touch screen controls have been the bane of many an iOS platformer, and you’d expect it to be the main problem with a game that requires quick reactions and almost pixel perfect precision. In actuality they’re not too bad – although with physical buttons it would be a much more enjoyable experience – but instead the game’s major problem is its key gameplay gimmick.
Riding for a fall
You can ride nearly any enemy you see, and you do this by simply jumping on top of them. Mastering this is essential in completing the game. ‘Completing the game’ is not something many will do though, with most of the beasts being hugely infuriating to both jump on and control.
From the dogs that leap back and forth endlessly, to the monkeys that are mobbed by their fellow simians as soon as you jump on them - the game quite literally never gives you an easy ride. Even the rocks aren’t easy to control.
This may not have been such a problem, had it not been for the game’s insistence of forcing its old-school principles onto everyone. You have three continues with which to complete each area, otherwise you are thrown all the way back to the start. This is refreshingly old fashioned at first (if such a thing is possible), but considering each area is made up of multiple sections replaying sections over and over will become an all too regular occurrence.
The last two stages in particular ramp up the difficulty to an almost unfeasible degree, with swarms of enemies to negotiate at every turn. Even with physical controls these sections would be no picnic.
The high level of challenge also exacerbates problems that seem minor when you start off with the game. There’s too fine a line to jumping on top of enemies and being hurt by them for example, which is all too apparent when attempting to ride the bounding dogs or hounds. Even worse are the occasional glitches that see you spinning out and taking damage from nothing at all, causing you to be thrown back to the beginning of each stage. Such occurrences only happen fleetingly, but it does little to subtract from the feeling that this is a game that wants you dead – and quickly.
An option to play the game with a few more continues would be more than welcome for those who prefer their platformers without a masochistic edge. An upcoming update is rumoured to introduce mid-area save points, and this addition can’t come soon enough.
Let’s do the time warp again
As it stands Kale in Dinoland can only really be enjoyed on an aesthetic level – even if the effort that has gone into making the game seem like a product of the Gameboy era is undeniably impressive. From the virtual instruction manual to the way you have to press a cartridge down to start the game, Kale in Dinoland has clearly been assembled with a great deal of care.
The visuals and (brilliant) soundtrack are far superior to anything the Gameboy could achieve, but that’s perhaps to be expected for the game to appeal to both modern and retro gamers.
In fact, on occasion the game even hints at being more than just a love letter to the good old days. Its end of level cutscenes feel like something from an arthouse flick, and see you being confronted by Mr. Dino – who speaks in mildly threatening riddles. The final stage, set in a Mansion, is also brilliantly oblique at times, opening with a drawn out section where you run down an abandoned and creaking corridor. It’s sections like these that hint that the game could have perhaps turned out to be something far greater - and that developer The Rotting Cartridge’s next project could be well worth looking out for.
As it stands though, Kale in Dinoland is a decently priced (£1.49) trinket for retro enthusiasts to coo over – but will only serve to frustrate you if you hoped that the game would turn out to be as fun as its concept.
Kale In Dinoland (iOS) Trailer:
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