Dick Tracy Review

Developer: Sega Publisher: Sega
Release Date: 1990 Also On: None

Video game companies are smart. They know when something sucks but at the same time they know how to play the market in order to sell as many crappy titles as possible. One of the most notorious plagues to ever sweep video game history then and now has always been the “movie-based” game. Though they do seem to have become better over the past few years, video game history is haunted by a slew of movie releases featuring some of the most hideous, ludicrous, mind-numbing gameplay ever not to mention generally sub-par concepts. Some are worse than others, certainly, and there were even a few earlier movie-based video games that were pretty good overall. Dick Tracy fits nicely into the former category.

Disclosure: We may earn a commission from links on this page

Graphically, there are points when things look really nice, but generally not. The best segments are the in-between level stills and the title screen, done in four-color style like the classic comic books, which also fits with one of the ideas behind the design of the movie. However, this is then ruined by the dreadful atmosphere of the actual game. Dick Tracy is animated fairly well, his gait seems to suggest the feeling of the movie and the theme. Everything else, however, is terrible. Basic enemies move like robots with this mechanical, mindless appearance to them. The backgrounds repeat
and there is little variety to be found until the final level, which itself
is nothing spectacular. It takes place in the “gear house,” where the
programmers attempted to make everything dark and mysterious by using
limited lighting and tons of shadow. Too bad they didn’t do their homework
because they seem to forget that light and shadow effects apply to
everything, not just the backgrounds, so when you have characters running
through darkness and light with no graphical alterations to suggest it, it
looks ridiculous. The damage done to buildings in the backgrounds when you
hit certain objects is the same shatter mark over and over again regardless
if it happens to be glass or a car, and the bosses are pretty much the same
character over and over with the same stupid animations. They hardly made
any attempt at making them look different other than changing colors. In
addition, they didn’t make good usage of the Master System’s capabilities,
using only a small range of colors and pathetic suggestions of detail. Other
than the few features mentioned way above, the only other part of the game
where anything looks good is during the bonus round. This, however, is
little improvement over the entirety because it too is the same thing over
and over again.

It’s been awhile since I saw the movie, but I don’t remember the music
sounding so out of place. Terrible. For the most part, other than the music
for the boss levels, which is excellent, the tunes are awful, rarely do they
fit the atmosphere. The sound effects are just as bad, with possibly only a
range of five different types overall. Tracy, when struck, sounds like an
empty tin can the way the effect reverberates, and you hear the same sound
when he’s shot. The only sound effect I remember enjoying in this game is
the one for your gun while firing, it’s probably the only sound effect in
the entire game that doesn’t suck.

Here’s my true test for suck if you’re familiar with my test for video game
greatness. If a game not only presents poorly but plays poorly in such a way
that it isn’t even funny for the sake of just wanting to laugh, you have
truly a terrible title. Dick Tracy is one of the worst platform titles I’ve
ever played. Even considering the odd way it’s arranged, it would have been
decent had they made Tracy move quicker, because as it stands you get hit
regardless of what you do to avoid it. Anyway, here’s how it’s organized.
You have to go through six levels with three stages each. Tracy has several
hits, three lives and continues (unless you have it on the hardest setting,
where you get no continues to start). On most levels Tracy can fire his
pistol infinitely, but now and then you can only punch. There is actually a
“punched enemies” bonus tallied up at the end of each stage that’s kind of
cool. No power-ups though, which is incredibly disappointing. Not only this,
but Sega programmed a really strange feature into this title. You move left
to right, but the background is almost quasi-three-dimensional. There are
gangsters and other characters occasionally in the background standing there
or running about, and in order to kill them before they shoot you, you have
to hold in the fire button while pressing the Directional Pad up and to the
left or right, wherever they happen to be. Very strange. Tracy pulls out a
Tommy Gun and starts firing away. It’s a unique touch, just not well
implemented. It’s difficult to control, which is probably why they added the
“no break” bonus to the end of every stage. You receive 10,000 points if you
manage to kill the background enemies without striking a window, car, or the
like. Bosses can only be killed by firing at them in this way, so the fact
that it’s hard to control makes it uber annoying.

The real shame here is that in spite of these flaws it only gets much, much
worse. It could have been salvaged, but no. The levels are all essentially
the same stupid enemies over and over. Either a guy with a gun, a guy
throwing grenades, a guy with a knife, and those stupid guys in the
background with guns who as far as I remember all wear grey with no variety
at all. The action is tedious, redundant and boring. They tried to mix it up
with the bonus round, which doesn’t really add much at all other than the
ability to gain continues, and then they also threw in these car chase
stages. Terrible, it’s the same damn chase scene every time you come across
it. You move your stupid squad car left or right, no way to move up or down
to down enemy fire, which is perfect since Tracy can hardly jump bullets in
the first place (he’s standing outside the car holding on). Every now and
then this stupid brown car comes across the middle of the screen and a
stupid little grey gun man sticks his head out and yes you have to press up
while firing and so on and so forth. The boss segments are incredibly
difficult, mainly because Tracy’s movements are so poor, but also because
the bosses tend to have killer aim and most of them have gun-toting minions
that pop up at the right or left of the screen shooting at you, making it
nearly impossible to get a shot in more than once every minute or so. Why
all these gangster bosses chuck dynamite is yet another question I would
like to have asked the programmers. The only differences I remember were
Flattop, who only fires at you with a Tommy Gun and is probably the easiest
boss of all, and then Big Boy, who throws dynamite like everyone else but
also causes giant gears to come bouncing down towards you to add even more
difficulty. Good luck on the hardest setting, you’re not going to get
through it, but there’s no reason you’d want to because you get the same
lame, single-screen ending with text that you get on the easiest setting so
screw it.

Dick Tracy is just too hard overall, even for experienced players, and this
stems mainly from poor controls, slow movements and occasional glitches. For
example, on the fourth level, when you’re in the sewer you get to this
section where you have to jump over several ditches. When you do, enemies
approach from the right and when they jump onto your platform they push you
off. Took me several tries to figure out the only way to avoid this
programming idiocy was to jump onto the platform, jump back, kill the enemy
and then do it again until there aren’t any more. For the most part the
enemies are worthless, if you get a few behind you you can just keep walking
forwards and no more will appear, enabling you to make it to the end of the
level without getting hit. As they approach you, if they are throwing
grenades for example, they toss one as soon as they get close enough, but
since you’re still moving it won’t hit and the cycle keeps repeating until
you just walk out of the stage. They tried to follow the movie and generally
do a good job with the between-level plot, but that doesn’t mean the game
itself actually follows said plot. The worst feature of all may seem minor
but it was absolutely stupid. “The Kid,” a young orphan who helps Tracy in
the movie, is supposed to appear to restore your life bar. Okay, that’s
cool, but why does he only appear once in the freaking game at the start of
a stage when I already have full life? Come on. Oh yeah, one more thing, you
can also call on your police buddies if you’re “in a bind” by pressing
Buttons 1 and 2 at the same time. This is only available once per level. I
was excited to see what happened when you did this having Streets of Rage in
mind, but shouldn’t have expected much considering everything else. What
happens? Nothing much, you just hear the pathetic sounds trying to imitate a
Tommy Gun and a few bullets spray out of nowhere, regardless if it would be
physically impossible to appear where they do. Sigh. The only feature in the
gameplay that’s somewhat redeeming are all the different points you can
acquire by accomplishing certain things. It’s not enough for a good score,
but it was enough to keep my semi-interest while I played.

Creativity? Hmmm, though it pains me, I must admit there are a few creative
elements in here. Sure, they’re not implemented properly, but they are
there, such as the Tommy Gun attack you use to eliminate enemies in the
background. But, despite a few issues like this, Dick Tracy is still a
minor, poorly done platformer. Even with a ton of innovative features it
would have likely played bad, but since it doesn’t have many to begin with
it still scores low in this category.

Hahahahaha, replay value. No way, there is no way I’d come back to this game,
even using a cheat device there is simply no fun to be had here. With
nothing redeeming and some of the most boring, tiresome gameplay in video
game history it’s doubtful anyone would want to play this more than once.
If you’re looking to complete every game in the SMS library, perhaps you
may play this a few times until you do, but you’d still have to be pretty
obsessive to want to do that in the first place. The length, however, is
pretty decent. You could finish it in about an hour or so, so it’s just
enough to have a sit down without going into the late hours, but the problem
is you first have to want to sit down with it.

In conclusion, let it be known that it’s a general rule of thumb for any
video game prior to the PlayStation era that attempts to recreate a movie is
not the best title to acquire. Dick Tracy offers almost nothing in terms of
entertainment. It looks poor, sounds poor, plays poor, it was born into
poverty. It’s another odd move on Sega’s part since it came out right near
the end of the Master System’s life span in the states, and considering how
little control they had over the market why they’d want to release such a
piece of garbage is a mystery best left unsolved. As far as I’m concerned,
it’s obvious someone thought using a movie title for a then current film
would draw attention, hoping parents or players would have purchased it on
this fact alone without researching the suck therein. Luckily, it appears
to have failed miserably, because Dick Tracy is one of the rarer releases in
the NTSC market. Again, as I usually say, there is a reason for this.

Graphics: 4
Sound: 2.5
Gameplay: 1
Creativity: 3.5
Replay Value/Game Length: 4
Final: 3
Written by Stan Review Guide

Leave a Comment