The year 1993 would become the last peak year for arcade beat ’em ups coming out from both Capcom and Konami. In that year, Konami hit arcades with three very different titles: post-apocalyptic face bashing in Violent Storm, Altered Beast-like Metamorphic Force, and the fantasy-themed Gaiapolis.
Capcom would also hit arcades with three beat ’em ups of its own, each also very different from one another: a Marvel-licensed outing for The Punisher, Dungeons & Dragons’ Tower of Doom, and an arcade game based on the cult comic series, Xenozoic Tales, called Cadillacs and Dinosaurs.
Now, Konami’s house focused quite a bit more on comic and cartoon licenses by tagging properties like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to more obscure ones (at least in the US at any rate) such as Asterix for the beat ’em up crowd. Capcom didn’t. Their approach seems to have been more focused on original works based loosely either on history or film tropes from Dynasty Wars’ Chinese-themed history smash ’em up to Final Fight’s gang blight buster.
But that didn’t mean Capcom completely ignored the power of a good license — or the potential it brought to the table to build an action game around it. The Punisher was a perfect shoe-in and fans since then have praised it as one of, if not THE, best beat ’em ups ever made. The same with their Dungeons & Dragons play.
Xenozoic Tales, though, seemed a bit out there much like Konami’s move to license Wild West C.O.W. Boys of Moo Mesa for the arcade. But like the Boys from Moo Mesa, Xenozoic Tales had an interesting spin on a particular subject — in this case, a post-apocalyptic Earth where dinosaurs now ruled and Cadillacs ran on dinosaur guano. And if you wanted a beat ’em up made of your favorite comic or cartoon, you really couldn’t go wrong with either of these two.
The series by Mark Schultz started way back in 1987 and ran on a very irregular schedule up to 1996 where it stopped at the 14th issue. But that was enough to inspire CBS and Nelvana to create a short-lived, thirteen-episode cartoon series which ran from ’93 to ’94. This review on Prehistoric Pulp praises the series as “the best dinosaur comic ever published…one of the best adventure comics ever to appear.”
And like Konami who banked on the short lived popularity of Moo Mesa the year before in ’92, Capcom bet a beat ’em up on the unique world that Schultz had created and which TV eventually brought to animated life.
Cadillacs and Dinosaurs eventually replaced “Xenozoic Tales” as the title of the series when it appeared as a small “blurb” on the second issue and caught on, eventually leading to a slew of Cadillacs and Dinosaurs inspired creations such as the cartoon series.
According to the series, we shouldn’t even be writing about this stuff anymore because humanity should almost have died out by now. In 1996, the world is wracked by ecological disasters and by 2020, what’s left of humanity retreat into vast underground shelters to wait things out. Six hundred years later in the 26th century, they emerge from the depths a little worse for wear only to find that nature has reclaimed the planet, a second Moon is in the sky, and dinosaurs have returned to life.
Technology is a rarity in this post-apocalyptic nature preserve. Those who know anything about it, such as mechanics, essentially become some of the most important people on the planet like one of the game’s protagonists, Jack Tenrec, who has set up and now runs a garage on the surface filled with restored — you guessed it — Cadillacs. Hannah Dundee, who actually doesn’t play herself off as a love interest in the series, is a scientist dedicated to recovering lost knowledge and teaching what she knows.
The cartoon series was also noted for emphasizing environmental themes, especially when it came to pursuing poachers or when the main characters would focus on a balance between themselves and nature. It wasn’t Captain Planet, not with all of the dinosaurs (or the violence in the comics toned down as it was for Saturday mornings), but shared the same goal with its own approach.
Capcom’s arcade translation took those themes and wasn’t shy when it came to gibbing bad guys with an exploding grenade. Up to two or three players could play simultaneously and, like Capcom’s previous beat ’em ups, had intuitive controls that made it easy to jump into with a basic eight-way controller to move around each side-scrolling area, jump and attack buttons, and what the manual called “MEGACRUSH” which was a character’s super or desperation attack done by pressing both the attack and jump buttons at the same time at the expense of a little life.
The game ran on the CP System Dash, also known as the CPS Q Sound, which was a transitional piece of arcade hardware between the CPS and CPS-II. Like both, the hardware was Capcom’s standardization attempt to cut down on manufacturing costs and support headaches for itself and arcade owners. Game ROMs were cartridges which could be swapped in and out instead of having to gut an entire cabinet or buy a new one for a game. It was also built around Motorola’s 16-bit 68000 CPU with sound handled by Zilog’s ever popular Z80.
The Dash featured the famous Q-Sound synthesis chip that would become a standard piece (and logo) for later Capcom arcade titles. It also used suicide batteries which were anti-tampering measures meant to curb piracy. Any interruption of the battery voltage between it and the memory space where the encryption keys for running the game ROMs were stored resulted in a total loss of those keys turning the hardware into an expensive doorstop. The only way to get them back was to send the board to Capcom for a new set of keys. Of course, batteries also eventually run down which was another problem that arcade owners had to beware of.
Four characters were available and performance gauges visually broke down what each one was good at into Power, Speed, and Skill though not a lot of explanation for how each one actually worked. There was Jack who was the most balanced of the characters though the range on his general attacks was pretty short. Hannah didn’t have a lot of power, but she was faster and more skilled than anyone else making her pretty versatile if you value speed and hits over finishing enemies off too quickly. Mustapha had a lot of speed, decent strength, an okay skill, but his flying kick attack which had incredible range. The last, Messo, was the muscleman of the group. Not very fast, had some skill, but he hit like a truck especially with a running attack.
It’s also interesting to note that on choosing a new character to play as when continuing, the short description that they’re also tagged with on the main character select screen is shown. Jack has “Good Ability”, Hannah is “Item Skilled”, Mustapha is marked as “Flying Kicks”, and Mess. O has “High Power”. Continuing also doesn’t reset your score and drops you right back in the fight following a friendly missile salvo saturating everything.
Cadillacs consisted of eight stages, each ending with a boss fight and a bit of story to clue players in on what was going on. In short, poachers attacking dinosaurs are making trouble for Jack and his crew, and as defenders of the environment, go after them with a vengeance only to stumble on a much bigger plot involving sinister science and mutations.
Tons of drops are scattered throughout the game to help them out from shotguns, Uzis, and rocket launchers (all of which seemed to have survived after 600 years). Also like a Capcom tradition, food and scoring extras ranging from hamburgers, steaks, sushi, and sunglasses also burst forth from barrels and other props.
Unfortunately, only one stage showcases the mighty Cadillac in a racing stage where the goal is to drive through as many obstacles and enemies as possible until you reach the motorcycle boss at the end which you can try to ram. Failing that (when the Caddy explodes from getting grenaded), our heroes can resort to just punching the guy and his hog.
Dinosaurs also mix things up from time to time. While our heroes are supposed to be trying to protect them, there’s nothing preventing them from punching them down, either, when they go wild. The weird thing is that when that happens, they always attack our heroes and never any of the other enemies onscreen, though enemies can occasionally hurt each other with certain attacks.
Stages take our players through ruins, jungles, and eventually, a vast underground cavern and a secret base complete with a Fat Man a-bomb on an altar where they face off against the nefarious Dr. Fessenden in a climactic finish. After an ending cinematic, our heroes drive (and run) home for a well earned rest.
Cadillacs and Dinosaurs essentially follows the Capcom basics for a beat ’em up while adapting the cartoon and comic series to its unique action and it doesn’t do a half-bad job. The use of dinos in the game to trip up players and a special stage where you race along in a Cadillac are standout pieces in what’s pretty much a standard action beat ’em up game. That isn’t to say it’s bad, though. The action is fast, there’s plenty here to fight through, and it deftly avoids making enemies too repetitive, though the boss fights didn’t really seem as exciting as its peers which is weird to say about a Capcom game.
The sad thing is that it hasn’t been ported over to anything else. A game based on the series did come out for the Sega CD, but it was a linear shooting game featuring plenty of cartoon animation though it had nothing to do with the arcade version. Still, there’s always hope that Capcom might find a way to include this in a future collection. I just hope it doesn’t take 600 years.