Dick Tracy

Moby ID: 10341
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Description official descriptions

You play as square-jawed detective Dick Tracy as he tries to solve five different crimes that vary in difficulty. This game is mostly a platform game with some overhead driving to get to the different buildings in search of clues.

There are five different weapons in the game: hand gun, tommy gun, super punch, tear gas and Tracy's plain fists. There are also medical kits that can be found. Enemies can be armed or unarmed. If Tracy shoots an unarmed thug, he loses health.

The main goal of the game is to collect five clues; enough to be able to arrest the culprit. Clues are scattered all over town in various buildings, usually full of Tracy-hating thugs. You start by viewing the mug shots of known criminals, going to there last whereabouts and interrogating them.

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Credits (NES version)

5 People

Programming (uncredited)
Graphics (uncredited)
Music Composer (uncredited)
Arranger (uncredited)



Average score: 50% (based on 6 ratings)


Average score: 2.3 out of 5 (based on 17 ratings with 2 reviews)

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.

NES · by ETJB (428) · 2014

Even worse than the film.

The Good
Dick Tracy was an underrated gem. I'm speaking of the film, of course, because this game is awful. But the film version, it wasn't bad. Warren Beatty did a fine job as Tracy. Madonna's performance was probably the second best of her career (okay, that's not saying much). The kid was a little annoying, and most of the villains where hammier than BRIAN BLESSED, but all in all, not bad. As far as movie license tie-ins, they could have done worse.

The idea for the game play is also pretty compelling. You get a case, drive around town collecting clues, then you have a showdown with the culprit and take him in. In a world long, long before GTA 3, Fallout, or any other true sandbox games, the elements of the game play really feel ahead of their time. If only the same could be said of the execution...

The Bad
I'm pretty sure I remember this game being referenced in the book of Leviticus as an abomination unto God. Atrocity comes to mind as well. Dick Tracy the game is pretty much bereft of redeemable qualities. Let's dive in.

As mentioned, the game play centers on solving 5 cases. Each one begins with the facts of the crime and a clue as to where to begin the investigation. You drive around town from an overhead perspective, trying to reach your destination. Once there, you have to slog through a nest of thuggery, ultimately reaching a piece of evidence or a suspect who provides a clue, or proves innocent. Collect 5 clues and you're issued a warrant that can be served at the suspect's hideout. You can review the case details at any of the police precincts around town, as well as pick up a little health if you're on the brink. Pretty straightforward.So why is this thing such a turd?

Control. Or rather, the lack thereof. The two basic game modes are overhead driving sequences and side-scrolling levels and the control in both sucks.

During the driving sequences, you're ambushed and run off the road by snipers, gang vehicles, and idiot civilian vehicles. Tracy's squad car was apparently built on a grocery cart chassis. The top speed is akin to coasting a bicycle down a short hill, and the thing has to come to a complete stop to round a corner. Ambushed by a gang of rooftop gunmen? Great! You'll be Swiss cheese by the end. These attributes are especially appreciated during the car chase scenes that play out once per case. That's right. You get the thrill of navigating your glorified wheel barrow through a city occupied by death squads, chasing a speeding vehicle that shoots at you too. Brilliant! You can hop out of your car with the select button and attempt to shoot it out, but the snipers respawn, so its pointless to fight them. It's just a cheap way to make the game more difficult.

Control in the side scrolling bits is equally suspect. Tracy jumps with as much gusto as an octogenarian in traction. He's slow and lacks 'ups'. You can move a bit from side to side in the air, but it's nowhere near responsive enough to make precision jumps. Collision detection on the platforms themselves is almost no existent. If the ledge you're jumping to is small, you can pretty much count on sailing right on by and dropping in the water or the pit below. The game is also terribly inconsistent about what is and isn't actually something you can jump on. Sometimes a ledge that looks indistinguishable from the one you're standing on will turn out to just be window dressing and again, you'll go sailing right on by.

Tracy is equally awkward in combat. His punches can be described as mealy at best, though he does through them with a decent amount of speed. You can pickup a super punch item, but it only comes in packs of 10. While it's useful, the only way to pickup clues, health, and other items is to punch, and the super punch overrides your default wimpy jab. Luckily, Dicky has a trusty side piece that he can shoot from a number of different angles. Unfortunately, not only is it limited by his available ammo, but Dicky's conscience bugs him if he guns down an unarmed thug, so he takes a quick trip to the bathroom and cuts himself just a little to relieve his guilt. They don't animate this process, but you know it happens cause he loses half a heart (badge). This means that you constantly have to cycle through your inventory in the thick of it in order not to cause yourself accidental harm, which, of course, leads to accidental harm. At least the AI is dumb or it'd be hopeless.

This all gets to a larger point. This already difficult game is made way too hard by adding all sorts of arbitrary, unfair, fake difficulty. Four hearts is all you. There are no lives or continues, though you do have a password system. You have first aid that restores you in full, but the item is needlessly difficult to use. Not only do you have to cycle to it in your inventory, but you have to hold the select button (which you used to cycle) when you use it, unlike any other weapon or item in the game. You can go into any address that shows up on the map, and you may encounter resistance there. But if you interrogate too many of the wrong people too often, the game ends for your police brutality, no matter how many of their thugs they sicked on you just for being in the wrong place. The ambushes in the driving sequences are incredibly cheap as you can be hit just about anywhere in the city and you get no warning whatsoever that they're coming. This is especially infuriating when you've just finished a particularly difficult area, pop back out on the street, turn the wrong corner and get gunned down stone cold. Why?

The graphics and sound in this game are also unremarkable. Maybe if the colors weren't so muddy, you'd be able to distinguish where platforms should begin and end. Some of the background pieces like chairs and lamps stop your bullets, even though you can just walk on past them. The gangsters are all just palette swaps of the same ugly mug in a cheap suit. Sound effects are serviceable enough, but the sound track is pretty lacking. The tunes in the various areas are mostly forgettable and decidedly un-fun. Nothing in the presentation or interface is polished or feels complete.

All in all, everything about this licensed movie effort feels phoned in. Although that's par for the course today, at the time this came out, that wasn't universally the case. In particular, this game is contemporaneous with the various (1989) Bat Man movie tie-in games, all of which were pretty good. Sadly, I think this could have been a really fantastic game. If they'd spent a little more time refining the control and put more emphasis on actually solving cases rather than screwing over the player, I think this could have been really unique and fun. Maybe a better idea would have been a game more akin to Deja Vu, though you'd probably lose the younger part of the audience that the movie appealed to. Who knows?

The Bottom Line
Dick Tracy is an exercise in how to aggravate a player. It's relentlessly difficult and cumbersome. The effort is lame. I can't say enough what an awful waste of time it is.

NES · by Nancy "Infested" Kerrigan (36) · 2011


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Contributors to this Entry

Game added by RKL.

Additional contributors: LepricahnsGold.

Game added September 15, 2003. Last modified August 17, 2023.