So, what is there to say about an already-dead franchise (as far as I can tell, it no longer even airs on Cartoon Network's Toonami block where it originally appeared) that seemed to be on life support from the beginning anyway? Well, if you can strip away all the thematic elements, the forgettable storyline, and bland characters, you're left with an alright, mediocre SEGA-esque arcade game. The game takes place over 16 nigh unrelated missions set across some interesting, but empty locales that unfortunately begin to repeat about halfway through the game. It's kind of fun fighting atop a snake-like cargo ship soaring through a planet's atmosphere as long as you don't try and contextualize it. But when you have to do it again just a handful of levels later, it can become sorely repetitive.
Each individual mission is often split up into roughly 8 different rooms or sections, each with a different objective which may be solving a simple puzzle, defeating all of the enemies, or simply making your way to the exit. Except for a few areas, difficult only due to their frustrating goals, each goes by quickly enough that it doesn't rake on your nerves too much. In fact, it can be somewhat fun as each room has a timer that records how long it takes you to complete it. By the end of each mission, your scores and times are added up and you are given a grade for the entire level. Your grade also determines the number of credits you receive, which can then be spent in the game's store to unlock new things. Some entertainment can be had trying to speed through levels as fast as possible. This sort of shotgun, arcade-like gameplay works in DICE's favor as long, drawn-out levels would've only added to the other repetitive elements already found in the game.
Most of the game plays out like a beat-em-up of sorts. Before each level you get to pick from 9 different Dinobreakers (the giant robots you pilot), though 2 can only be accessed once you collect enough credits to unlock them. Each Dinobreaker is slightly different, but there are usually only one or two worth actually using. As nearly all of the fighting is melee combat, it makes sense to pick the machines that are the strongest with the best defense. A couple Dinobreakers have limited flight capabilities, which can help with the few troublesome platforming sections of the game, but even then, the controls aren't polished enough to justify using them in those situations. Considering their sole advantage is inherently awkward, it's unwise to use them as they lack the power of the other Dinobreakers.
Whatever vehicle you end up choosing, though, each has three different modes - Dinobreaker, Car, and On-foot. Dinobreaker is the most versatile of the group and the one you'll spend the most time using. As the chief combat mode, it comes packed with a fair number of techniques to pull off. Though it's easy to simply mash Square over and over again, it is occasionally worth using other moves to take out concentrated groups of small enemies. Either way, it isn't far removed from the combat in other beat-em-ups. Though you can choose to exit your vehicle at any time, when your Dinobreaker overheats from too much damage, you'll automatically be thrown into On-Foot mode. If your machine overheated, then you'll have to run around until it cools off. Though sometimes annoying, this gives you incentive to perform as well as possible since you lose a portion of your life each time it happens. If you're On-Foot you are slightly more agile, but enemies do more damage to you and losing all of your health in this mode will end the mission.
The final form transforms your robot into a high-speed car. This mode is used sparingly in most missions, usually only when you need to make it from one end of the area to the other quickly. One instance requires you to trip a switch, then drive through an obstacle-filled course to reach a door before it closes. There is little to no reason to use this form for combat as it overheats rather easily and is harder to use in the enclosed spaces where most fighting takes place. Several missions are composed entirely of races against enemy vehicles. Ironically, this is where the Car form performs the worst and as you need its speed to win, it would be silly to use the other forms at all. The problems arise in the controls and track design. Each track is actually somewhat creative, but doesn't jive well with the handling of the vehicles. 90-degree turns and slalom-like fields of obstacles simply don't work for a gigantic robot with a bad turning radius. Furthermore, many sections of each raceway lack guardrails, which means you'll go flying off the edge more than you'd like. Each time this happens, you reappear on the track and get tossed out of your vehicle as if it had just overheated. If the time you lost falling off wasn't enough, then you might as well forfeit the race, since there is no way to recover - the enemies navigate the terrain too easily and I never saw one zip off the track.
Each of these forms is augmented by a Satellite Robot, which allows your Dinobreaker some sort of projectile shot. Each one is different, from penetrating lasers to homing missiles and flamethrowers. The variety is good enough and holding the Circle button down allows you to lock onto enemies. Though only a few are available from the beginning, more Satellites and their upgrades can be purchased via the shop. In Car mode, they can provide you with more boost and in On-foot mode they serve as a convenient shield for your vulnerable pilot, as well.
Aesthetically, DICE isn't all that bad, though it doesn't have high production values. Menus are fairly easy to navigate and in-game graphics work well. Dinobreakers and enemies both animate fairly well and the metallic sheen on your vehicles look nice. Environments have a clean, organic look, but it would've been nice if they weren't so sparse. In terms of sound, the music provides a nice, light-techno ambiance. There is nothing spectacular here, but it isn't offensive and neither is the voice acting. Though you likely won't care much about what the characters have to say, their voices seem to fit and don't grate on the ears like you might expect them to.
If you're going to play DICE, its short-subject, arcade-style gameplay makes it easy to get through in short bursts. As long as you forget the context of what's going on around you (which is relatively easy to do), fun can be had in classic beat-em-up fashion and attempting to obtain a higher ranking on each mission can become addicting. There is also a decent amount to unlock from training missions and upgrades to new vehicles and Satellites. DICE isn't much more than fluff in the end, but since it is now retails for $9.99 at most stores, it might serve as a fun and cheap diversion for a younger member of the family.
12/30/2005 Cavin Smith