Dick Tracy (NES)

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Developed by
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100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
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Written by  :  ETJB (450)
Written on  :  May 18, 2014
Rating  :  3.6 Stars3.6 Stars3.6 Stars3.6 Stars3.6 Stars
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A decent movie tie-in game, with a few "dick" moves.

The Good

Dick Tracy started out as a comic strip series in the 1930s. While some men in yellow hats adopted wild animals, Tracy preferred to tame the members of the criminal underworld.

The comic strip became a regular comic book series, along with lots of Dick Tracy merchandise. The Dick Tracy T.V. cartoon series will always have a place in my childhood memories.

In 1990, new life was pumped into the franchise with the release of an ambitious, colorful and campy Dick Tracy film. Alas, the "pump" did not have much fuel.

The film's interpretation of the Dick Tracy comic book series, much like the video game, felt it best to put the detective in a PG, film noir-art deco setting.

While this decision does harkens back to the "classic" Dick Tracy, it did ignore much of what happened in the Tracy comic book series after the Second World War.

Dick Tracy for the Nintendo Entertainment System combines side-scrolling action with some adventure gaming puzzles and even some early "sand box" elements.

Dick Tracy wants to arrest Big Boy, but lacks sufficient evidence. Mr. Tracy has to crack four cases, before he can go after his arch-nemesis in the final, fifth case.

Each case requires the player to collect enough evidence in order to make an arrest. Evidence or clue icons are located in certain side-scrolling levels.

This requires the play to do a bit of adventure game sleuthing, although it is rarely to difficult to figure out where to go based on the clues. Once you figure where you need to go, typically a building or waterfront-themed location, the game switches over to a more standard action game.

In the side-scrolling locations, Dick Tracy can punch, jump, and fire an assortment of cool, 1930s era firearms. The detective will need all his weapons, because each location has a large number of heavily armed thugs with orders to kill.

At the end of a location, instead of a boss, the game may have a familiar character from the film. The character may give out a valuable clue or, if you have enough evidence, you can arrest the crook.

The combination of action and adventure gaming elements works well in the game, with success requiring a good mind and blistered thumbs. It is not without its faults, more on that later, but credit must be given for the developers of this game.

Dick Tracy could have just be a mindless, side-scrolling game. While action is certainly a part of the franchise, Mr. Tracy is also a top-notch detective who can crack the toughest cases.

This game recognizes and respects the Dick Tracy franchise for both its cerebral and blistered thumbs elements.

Lastly, it should be noted that this game features an early, 8-bit version of the "sand box" feature. The player is encouraged to explore the entire city - by car or on foot - and while it's not Grand Theft Auto, it is pretty darn good.

The Bad

Dick Tracy has some very nice graphics in terms of the intermission and interrogation sequences. The actual game's graphics are just slightly above average for an early, 1990s Nintendo Entertainment System game.

The sides-scrolling locations are numerous, but lack much in the way of variation. You are fighting you way through a series of similar looking indoor buildings or similar looking waterfront.

Apparently, only one interior decorator offers his services in the city. Background tends to suffer the most.

The game's graphics are good enough to determine what something is supposed to be, the recycled-looking city locations, with lots similar plants, artwork and office designs can get old quickly.

I cannot say for certain how much of the interior design recycling is a product of design or the hardware limitations of the Nintendo Entertainment System.

Either way, I can understand why the sand box concept didn't really become popular until relatively recently. The sand box or "open world" concept requires both superior hardware capabilities as well as a tremendous amount of work and creativity on the part of the developers.

The level of difficulty in Dick Tracy tends to be rather "dickish". Several cheap and mean aspects of the game hurt keep it from being as good as the game has the potential to be.

Dick Tracy is something of a video game wimp. He can only take a few direct hits before he dies, and their are no extra lives or continues.

Yes, a password feature, allows you to start at the beginning of a case. It is cute how the case passwords function as the combination to the safe, but having to restart a case from the beginning becomes tedious.

Killing civilians in the game cost you precious hit points, and the only sure way to know the difference between a criminal versus a civilian is to wait until the criminal opens fire. This is especially a problem because you start the game with very weak firepower.

Later on in the game, you can collect some cool weapons. However, they do tend to run out of ammo quickly. They also tend to be a bit of a pain-in-the-you-know-what to access in the side-scrolling levels.

This is because you are forced to explore you inventory while everyone is trying to kill you. This puts your character into a rather nasty Catch-22 situation.

You will lose hit points, if you shoot an "innocent" citizen.

However, if the citizen does pull out a gun, making them fair game, it is difficult to switch from your fists to your gun, without getting hit.

Yes, the hit points look cute as detective stars, and, yes, their are a few ways to restore some of you hit points, but their is no good rationale for forcing the player to explore his inventory while bullets and bombs are flying every where.

One particularly "dickish" aspect of game, is its habit of making platforms look an awful lot like the background.

This can be a real pain in the waterfront locations where you have to carefully jump into a series of platforms, which look like the background.

If you fall into the water, you get to start the level all over again. Apparently, swim lessons were not part of the detective training process.

But what about the sand box? Well, when you are exploring the city, you are constantly being shot at by nasty snipers who always respawn.

I can accept their spawning after you completed a case, but being resurrected every time you leave the screen, makes the sand box rules seem petty and tedious.

Your police car seems to be able to block the snipers bullets, but otherwise seems to be made out of aluminum. Your car has to slow down, if not fully stop, to turn corners and no one in the city seems to practice basic rules of the road.

Seriously, respect for law and order seems to be on the sharp decline in this city. It seems that respectable citizens think nothing of associating with heavily armed criminals, or, when you are driving, ramming into police cars. It almost makes you reconsider your pledge to protect and serve!

None of the city's residents seem interested in helping out. Just about all of the characters you meet are trying to kill you, trying to get in your way or just seen to take delight in making you do lots of tedious legwork.

The Bottom Line

Dick Tracy for the Nintendo Entertainment System combines action-adventure gameplay elements with a rudimentary sand box. Clearly, a lot of creativity went into the look and design of the game, but the game suffers from both the hardware limitations of the system and some cheap moves by the developers. Think of the game as one with some pretty sharp, rough edges, but also some real creativity.