Peter Graphic (PG): Word on the street is there’s a video game about a famous copper, see? Dick Tracys’ the name. Dick Tracys’ the game. Problem is this Gum-shoe has more than one. NES and the Sega Genesis ponied up, and they both have their own!
Eringobrad (EGB) and I decided to get behind the eight-ball and find out which Dick Tracy games the best of the bunch.
Read on and solve the case with us!
Dick Tracy – Review
1990 – SEGA / BlueSky Software
By: Peter Graphic
Dick Tracy – Review
Nintendo Entertainment System
1990 – Bandai / Titus Interactive
EGB – First off, if you’ve never heard of Dick Tracy, you’re most likely in the majority. The 1990 Warren Beatty film both of these games are based on is largely forgotten. Based on the 1930’s comic strip of the same name, this big budget, somewhat lighthearted crime drama just didn’t resonate with moviegoers quite as much as comic movies such as 1989’s Batman. It was heavily promoted, and with that promotion came a plethora of merchandise including video games. Both the NES and Genesis versions of these games followed the narrative of the film with you aiding the hard-nosed detective in his campaign to rid the streets of the crime lord Big Boy Caprice. The method in which they each present this story however is when the similarities begin to differ…
PG – Admittedly, I haven’t played the NES version. But being a big Sega Genesis fan, I jumped at the chance to step into the shoes of my favorite yellow coated detective. Dick Tracy on the Genny is a straight up action game. If Dynamite Duke and Rolling Thunder had a baby it would be Dick Tracy.
You walk the mean streets (somewhat slowly) and shoot gangsters as they come out. Sometimes you can duck behind a crate, or you’ll have to climb up a level to get at them. The big gimmick here though is the background. Most games (like Shinobi) take place on a single plane. But here, you can unleash your tommy-gun on enemies popping up in windows, doors and even in cars. It’s a cool idea since the bullet hole pattern is a big part of the movies aesthetic. The trick is managing the background and the foreground enemies when they come out. Dick will stop in his tracks and snuff out those guys in the back, but will be open to enemies in the foreground. At times Dick will announce he’s out of bullets and you’ll have to rely on your fists to dish out justice.
Some stages you’re suddenly hanging out of the door of a speeding cop car! I wasn’t kidding when I said it was action packed. Like the game it’s taking a page from (Shinobi) there’s also a nice bonus shooting gallery level.
EGB – While the Sega Genesis version of Dick Tracy has a straightforward action approach to gameplay, the Nes version tries something decidedly more ambitious. Actual detective work must be done before completing each stage. Clues must be found and suspects must be interrogated before making the ultimate arrest. There are still side-scrolling levels within a case but in addition to these you also must traverse a top-down city street map much like the classic Grand Theft Auto games. Dick can even get in and out of the police cruiser to fire his weapon and enter random buildings. Though most of them are red herrings and do not pertain to the case at hand.
During these driving portions you may sometimes find yourself in a police chase even. Coupled with the side-scrolling levels that contain both brawling and gunplay, Dick Tracy on Nes has a surprising amount of depth for a movie tie in game.
PG – Controlling Dick Tracy is fairly simple. The control pad moves him left and right and down ducks.
A is to fire your pistol or give crooks a knuckle sandwich and B is jump. Where it gets tricky is the C button. This fires your tommy gun into the background but you need to fire and direct the shots with the D-pad.
When you’re in shooting gallery mode, targets come up in threes. A B and C act as left center and right. Hit the goons but don’t shoot “The Kid”!
EGB – Genesis Dick Tracy certainly does have simple yet responsive controls that are nearly without complaint. NES Tracy is plenty competent in this area also but with a few quibbles perhaps. For instance using health items isn’t immediately obvious. Without reading the manual or checking an internet guide you may never even learn the button commands. Another complaint may be how the vehicle controls on the city map screen. You don’t have free motion while driving and merely are on a set grid much like Pac-Man. Lastly there’s the occasional platforming issue when trying to collect the necessary clues. Jumping to them can be very tricky sometimes when they are oddly placed. Aside from these few issues it overall controls very well.
EGB – This is potentially where there is a clear winner. Let’s be honest here, 16 bits are obviously more than 8 bits. Most of the graphical presentation in NES Tracy is typical for its time. Perfectly serviceable. But what is particularly noteworthy are the cutscenes that feature mouth movement animations as well as interrogation screens that feature character expressions and ticks. It still can’t stand up to the graphical prowess of the Genesis though.
PG – I couldn’t agree more with Brad. It’s not fair to compare the two games in the graphic department. But what they both pull off well is capturing the look of the film and the use of the original comic books color scheme. Sega uses some nice big sprites and really shows off detail in the bonus areas. The cut scenes in the sega version take a hit and it’s always a static Dick image that was also plastered on a ton of the merchandise back in the day. They even repeat a few!
PG – Sadly, not too much to write home about here. The genesis isn’t known for having the strongest chiptunes and Dick Tracy doesn’t leave a lasting impression. At least the songs are different between each level and try to copy that “old timey” jazzy 50’s style. The bonus level has a little more of a hectic beat but I couldn’t remember tunes anything being stuck in my head.
EGB – I personally find the tunes in NES Tracy to be very fitting for the time period and detective theme. The office and overworld themes have a noir flavor, and other tracks have a sort of swing style that perfectly suit the early 1900’s era. I actually find myself humming some of these tunes from time to time. Though that may the nostalgia factor at play to some degree.
EGB – NES Dick isn’t the toughest game on the console by far but it does have its challenges (some of them on the poorly programmed and unfair side). One of these challenges comes into play much more prevalently further into the game. Snipers will begin to randomly fire upon you from rooftops in growing numbers on the overworld streets, which is admittedly annoying. Not much warning is given and they take away much needed health for main scrolling levels. Other than this odd design choice the game isn’t overly difficult and is actually beatable with the use of passwords to resume progress.
PG – If you like fast paced twitch shooters like Rolling Thunder and Code name Viper you should feel right at home with Dick Tracy. The first few stages are a walk in the park and let you get used to the layout of the level. Like any typical game the difficulty ramps up with each level. Boss fights are a different beast however and you will need to memorize patterns and each boss has a different gimmick to figure out.
PG – With all the evidence and clues laid out on the table, I’m going to give the Sega Genesis version 4 out of 5 Trogs. It’s full of action, has great variety in gameplay and some really nice sprite art.
I’m definitely going to keep my eyes peeled for the NES version and give it a shot. What do you say Eringobrad?
EGB – I give the NES Dick Tracy a solid 4 out of 5 Trogs but I like them equally. Both Tracy games have very different play styles but excel in what they attempt to do. I feel you can’t go wrong either way, so on that note I say CASE CLOSED!
GameTrog Review By
Peter Graphic is a retro game player and collector. He enjoys writing about and photographing his collection as much as he likes to play! Follow him on Instagram!
GameTrog Review By
Eringobrad is a perler artist and game enthusiast. If you enjoy retro games and art inspired by them find him on instagram and facebook.