As movies like Jurassic Park, video games like Dino Crisis and rampant imaginations like our own have shown us, dinosaurs are something of an enduring cultural icon. There’s just something very compelling about our terrible lizard ancestors. Perhaps it’s the fact that we will probably never have a complete picture of what their world looked like, or maybe it’s imagining a landscape so similar to ours and yet so completely different. Maybe it’s just because they look cool.
The thing is, though, there actually aren’t that many stories which cast dinosaurs as the protagonists. The reason why is obvious: humans are empathetic, dinos not so much. Still, there’s a huge amount of (somehow) untapped potential for dinosaurs to star in their own tales of wanton destruction and chaos. Enter Rio Rex, the latest effort from noted Flash developer GameTornado. Will Rio Rex finally give us the chance to play as the rompin’ stompin’ dino dervish we’ve always wanted to be?
Rio Rex casts players as the titular Tyrannosaurus rex, who comes to the city of Rio de Janeiro in order to wreak havoc. The reason why isn’t particularly well-explained, nor does it need to be; Rio Rex is a fairly bare-bones production, so its lack of narrative justification is a breath of fresh air. Also, we honestly can’t think of many plausible explanations as to why a T. rex is terrorising modern Rio, so we’re OK with this one being handwaved. Anyway, said T. rex must stomp its way through 16 increasingly frenzied levels, completing a series of objectives along the way.
These objectives usually revolve around blowing stuff up or eating it. The nature of said stuff changes from stage to stage; sometimes your T. rex is snacking on a tasty aperitif of human, while other times it’s charging through a laboratory to get at some flavoursome biological material (yum yum). Whatever’s happening, though, you can bet your left hallux (it’s a dewclaw-like protrusion on a T. rex’s foot, look it up) that something’s gonna get wrecked.
In gameplay terms, this love of wanton destruction translates to a Metal Slug-inspired 2D (ish) sidescroller, which sees players rampage from left to right annihilating everything which is audacious enough to get in their way. The main T. rex model is actually quite well-rendered considering the size and scope of the project; the title screen of Rio Rex is kinda alarming on first glance, somehow managing to trigger our lizard brain fight-or-flight reflex.
Luckily, within Rio Rex itself, animations are a little more basic, as befits a stripped-back project like this one. That’s not a complaint; although the backgrounds can get a little busy, which makes it hard to see objectives sometimes, the visuals are usually well-done enough to communicate what needs to be eaten next and where. This isn’t a game which lives or dies on its visuals, so it’s not super-important for the graphics to compete with AAA titles or whatever, but a degree of graphical fidelity should be expected, and Rio Rex delivers.
Graphical quality aside, though, the main question with Rio Rex (as it should be with most video games) is one of entertainment value. Put simply, the question is thus: does Rio Rex provide a proportionate degree of entertainment to its price point, size as a project and time to complete? Let’s tackle those questions one by one.
Price point isn’t an issue for Rio Rex, since you can play it here for free. The other two questions are perhaps a little more relevant. Rio Rex can get a little repetitive at times, since the objectives almost never change and leaving a gleeful trail of insane destruction can only carry the game so far. That said, Rio Rex offers 16 levels and then it’s over; no upgrade mechanics, no storyline and no tortured cutscenes or microtransactions to speak of. With that in mind, the game really doesn’t have the time to become as repetitive as it might if the project was larger and more ambitious.
In that sense, then, Rio Rex absolutely delivers according to its size as a project. Time to complete is a bit more sketchy, since the game is actually pretty difficult. Later enemies can really ruin your steez if you don’t spot them in time, since their weaponry becomes larger and more ridiculous with each facility breached. The only real incentive to replay stages is score-chasing (each enemy eaten and object destroyed contributes points to your overall total, as does the time left over at the end of each stage), so if that’s your bag then fill your boots. We love trying to top our own high score, so it really worked for us, but if you need more meaning in your replay value then Rio Rex unfortunately doesn’t quite deliver in that area.
Rio Rex is, in the end, a glorious little romp through a series of semi-destructible environments. It’s not here for a long time, just a good time, so if you devote an hour or two of your life to it, you’ll be sure to reap rewards, especially if (like us) you’ve dreamed for many years of laying waste to human cities as a massive lizard. Don’t judge.