If you were a gamer in the 90s, and spent time in arcades, Capcom was a name you knew very well. Street Fighter II was released in 1991, and was a smash hit, popularizing the one on one fighting game genre. But if you were looking for a less competitive experience in your video gaming, Capcom was still a big name, producing some of the greatest co-op arcade games of all time.
A quick glance at Capcom’s arcade releases from the time reads like a list of all-stars. The 19XX series. U.N. Squadron. The King of Dragons. Captain Commando. The Punisher. Alien vs. Predator. Both Dungeons & Dragons games. On this list are several examples of superb shmups and brilliant brawlers. Each one of them, of course, came with a hefty dose of co-op.
From this hallowed developer, in 1992, came an unusual and memorable title: Cadillacs & Dinosaurs. It was a video game based on a short-lived cartoon series based on a comic book called Xenozoic Tales; layers on layers, a bit like Inception, but with Tyrannosaurs and vintage cars that run on dino poop instead of weird gravity and mind tricks.
Based on a colorful pre-existing property, and created by arguably the best beat-em-up makers in video game history, Cadillacs & Dinosaurs is the exact opposite of a generic brawler. The story takes place in the future, where humanity was forced to move underground to avoid the dangers of pollution. When humans come back up to the surface hundreds of years later, the land has been overrun by prehistoric creatures. It's pretty much Mad Max meets The Lost World, which is totally awesome.
Like the exotic setting, the characters players could choose from were quite different from the norm. The main protagonists of the comic and cartoon, mechanic Jack Tenrec and scientist Hannah Dundee, are both present. Joining them in the adventure are the woefully named pair Mustapha Cairo and Mess O'Bradovich. Each member of the team plays differently: Hannah is an agile jumper, Mustapha is fast, and Mess is a slow powerhouse. As the leader, Jack is the most balanced character, and each one of them have different special moves and attacks.
Cadillacs & Dinosaurs uses many of the same gameplay conventions as other Capcom brawlers. One button jumps, the second attacks, and you can press both together for a powerful area attack that costs you a bit of your health. Tapping the controller in any direction twice begins a dash, which you can use to get out of trouble or to begin a special move. A good selection of weapons, from machine guns and rocket launchers to torches, rocks, and clubs allow you to beat up your foes in style and keep the game fresh and exciting throughout.
So where do the Cadillacs & Dinosaurs come in? During one stage, you hop in Jack's pet project, a sweet vintage ride, and use it to run down dozens of bad guys. It turns out that vehicular manslaughter is pretty fun! Dinosaurs show up more than Cadillacs, ranging from Allosaurus to Triceratops and many others in between. An interesting mechanic is related to the color of the dinos; green ones will not attack unless they are hit, so avoiding them, or talking enemies down before they enrage the beasts, is a good strategy. When they take damage, dinosaurs turn orange and begin to attack, even the plant eaters. It's fun to see how long you can keep a sleeping T-Rex from waking up, for sure.
Cadillacs & Dinosaurs does a great job of showing what made the Capcom brawlers so great. The gameplay is easily accessible, yet refined to perfection. In contrast to many of the games in arcades in 1993, the setting is exciting and unique. The fact that it's both an adaptation of a comic and a tie-in to a cartoon only adds to the charm. Like many licensed games, the chances of getting this gem on modern services like Xbox Live Arcade is slim. So keep an eye out, and if you ever happen to run across Cadillacs & Dinosaurs in an arcade somewhere, grab some quarters and spend some time with this great Co-Op Classic.