Category: Arcade Adventure

Dynamite Dan (1985)

Plot

Dastardly Dr Blitzen has locked the secret plans for his Super Psychon Mega-Ray in a safe which is hidden deep in his huge house. Arriving by Zeppelin, Dan must find 8 sticks of dynamite, blow the safe and escape with the plans.

Dan arrives on the roof of Dr Blitzen’s mansion in his zeppelin.

Graphics

The first thing you notice about this game is how bright, well-animated and colourful everything is. In fact Dynamite Dan is just generally a very slick game – everything moves smoothly and there’s often a large number of fast moving enemies on screen with you. Dan as a hero also has great appeal. He’s a nonchalant hero, whose hands never leave his pockets as he casually strolls from one screen to the next.

Gameplay

Obviously heavily inspired by the seminal Spectrum platform game Jet Set Willy (JSW). Like Willy in that game, Dan also finds himself in a huge house surrounded by surreal enemies and with flashing objects to collect. Willy was famously combining blue pills and alcohol. So I do wonder what Dan is taking? Whatever it is, it’s definitely something to avoid! Here Dan is assaulted by mini-troll dolls, floating mermaids, toy helicopters, levitating octopuses, and unicycling waiters. It might have similar gameplay to JSW but Dynamite Dan is still very much it’s own game. Dan has a mission to complete (to steal the Secret Plans) and you don’t need to collect every object in the game. The mansion here is slightly smaller at 48 screens which wrap-around. Click HERE to see the map.

As well as being useful, all items increase your score.

There are objects to collect that will aid you in your mission. Test tubes give you an extra life. The oxygen-canister allows Dan to survive a fall into the river. The deodorant will make Dan temporarily invulnerable and is similar to a power pill in Pac Man – it allows you to permanently kill any enemies you come into contact with. Dan also gets hungry fast and will lose energy as he starts to starve so collect as much food as possible!

Sound

There’s a tune on the title screen but no music in game. There are great sound effects however. When you pick up an item a little tune with often play. Which is almost a reward in itself. Falling into the river will play a sea shanty, and picking up a credit card will produce a long sound effect that rises in volume as your score increases. Very satisfying.

Three Moments From the Game

1. Transporters

Hop into one of these to re-appear in another transporter somewhere else in the house.

That’s a transporter on the bottom-left.

2. The Cheese in the Bath (!)

One of the hardest objects to collect in the game if approaching from above, and a good test of your timing skills. Here’s how it’s done. The arrows show the enemy paths.

Hmm this could be tricky…

Notice how Dan’s leap must be timed to avoid both the horizontally-moving green robot and the 3 rapidly vertically-moving er..spinning things. Even then Dan survives *literally* by a pixel on either side.

Dan’s quiff is just one pixel away from getting him killed.

3. The Underground River

Dan isn’t fixed to the boat – so you’ll have to keep walking to stay out of the water. The boat is always moving and you’ll need pixel perfect positioning and jumping skills to get far on this river – often you’ll have to move Dan to the edge of one side of the boat and have to keep walking very slowly just to maintain that position to avoid a rapidly moving enemy.

Dan is attacked by dragonflies and evil spiders, while doing his best to stay on the boat.

The Verdict

Amazingly – considering how slick and well executed everything is – this was Rod Bowkett’s first game after transitioning from the music industry. He would write only one more game, the sequel Dynamite Dan II, which in my opinion isn’t as good. It’s larger, less focused and has randomly spawning enemies.

Dan has just 3 moves: walk left, walk right, and a fixed jump. But full use is made of them by the level design. The fixed jump may seem like a handicap to anyone used to being able to change direction in the air (Hello Mario!) but it’s actually essential to this type of game. It also means you’ll need to plan your route carefully through each screen.

This is a fun game, it’s bright, vibrant and has pixel-perfect collision detection. The controls are responsive and it’s addictive trying to beat your score, number of rooms visited and number of sticks of dynamite collected each game.

Is It Better Than Jet Set Willy?

In some ways yes – this is slicker, faster, better-looking and feels like the next stage of evolution on from that game. It also plays a better game in some respects. But overall I would say it isn’t quite as good. The house that Dan explores is less interesting. Every room is just crammed full of monsters and platforms. Which means there’s less room for the distinct character of each room to emerge. There’s also none of the clever pop-references that JSW crams in.

Is Dynamite Dan Worth Playing Today?

The short answer is Yes. It’s the kind of game that you don’t really find anymore. A computer game as opposed to a console game. Most platform games now have console-stylings – with smooth learning curves and no rough edges. Dynamite Dan however has brutal difficulty. It takes pixel perfect jumps and timing to the extreme. Sometimes you’ll execute an amazingly accurate leap only to have to keep moving and produce two more just as good to avoid losing a life (Dan starts with 10 but it’s still not enough). There are a number of games around now which make a selling point of how difficult they are: Dark Souls, Super Meat Boy, The Impossible Game etc. Dynamite Dan fits in nicely alongside these.

Should you get inside the safe, Donna, Dr Blitzen’s assistant awaits…

What’s Bad About It?

Sadly you’ll find it’s less fun once you reach a certain standard. You’ll play a superb game at some point and get maybe 5 or 6 (out of 8) dynamite sticks, but also realise that to progress any further would require a huge commitment with little in the way of reward to pay you back (there’s a lot of trial and error deaths). This is where most players will give up, and rightly so. Even hard games should stay fun. There’s also the slight nagging feeling that some of the rooms have been put together in a rush without much thought and that a load of monsters have been thrown in to finish them off. This is rare though.

Also terrible trampoline-physics: Dan doesn’t quite bounce on the trampolines the way you expect. What seemed good at the time now feels quite ‘wrong’. Still, you get used to it.

Overall

A great game even today. It’s not perfect but so far I have spent more time on Dynamite Dan than any modern 2D platform game. They don’t make them like they used to. 7/10

The End!
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