Well here at Rough Edge, we (and by we I mean “I”) pride ourselves on being contrarian, so instead today we will have an obscure ENGLISH Sega Saturn gem instead.
Created by the now defunct Appaloosa Interactive, creators of games such as Ecco the Dolphin, Three Dirty Dwarves is a side-scrolling beat-em-up with 1-3 players co-op feature and a unique sense of humour.
Beat Em Ups aren’t terribly well-known for their plots, but this one takes the cake for pure unfiltered surreal insanity. 4 teenagers, unhappy with their life as lab rats in a military research facility, utilize the power of Many-world Interpretation in order to bring their Dungeons and Dragons characters (the titular “Three Dirty Dwarves”) from the fictional universe to the “real” world in order to rescue them from their captives. And this is long before Visual Novels made that the cool thing for stories to do!
The dwarves enter a portal, survive atmospheric entry and conveniently land in a sports shop on Earth, which they mistake for an armory and proceed to loot for equipment, modernizing themselves with updated gear and ready themselves to set out. However, the Orcish horde and other enemies have followed them through the portal, and the real world isn’t any less dangerous than the fictional one, so it’s up to the dwarves to battle their way through America in their quest to rescue the children.
Elves may be more popular in culture, but everyone knows Dwarves are the Superior Race. Let’s get introduced to our bizarro-world Lost Vikings (Wait, are The Lost Vikings dwarves? I always thought they were). The three Dwarves from left to right on the game cover (SORRY FOR MAKING YOU GUYS SCROLL UP AGAIN) are as follows:
Taconic: Bowling. The right-hand man.
Greg: Baseball. The leader of the group.
Corthog: Uh, Hunting? Is that a sport now? What kind of shop sells rifles right next to their sporting equipment? He’s kind of touched in the head.
But since those names are hard to type from now on they will be “Bowly”, “Shooty”… and Greg.
(Wait, why the hell is Corthog green? Is he a product of an interracial Dwarf-Orc mixed marriage? Very progressive, this game.)
Gameplay is pretty simple: each dwarf can make melee attack or ranged attack and they all have their own gimmicks to differentiate each other. For example, Bowly’s bowling balls take a long time to wind up and the bowling balls are very slow projectiles but he’s quick to recover, while Shooty’s shotgun blasts are quick but he takes a very long time to reload. Greg’s sort of in the middle, but his baseball ranged attack gimmick has a pretty high skill cap, where you have to toss your balls and tap the button at exactly the right time to bat them at the enemy. If done correctly, it can deliver a massive barrage of damage at the enemy, but most players will probably whiff it.
This is where the the co-op aspect of the game comes in: While the game can be played with only a single player, it is significantly easier with multiple players as you can cover your weaknesses. I personally believe that the game shines with 2 players and I wouldn’t try to play it otherwise.
Interestingly enough, there is no health bar in this game. Once again showing the game’s innovation, when a Dwarf is hit, he becomes “Downed”/”Stunned.” Other players can attack the disabled player to knock him out of the state, and as long as 1 member of the Dwarven trio is still alive, they aren’t completely out of the game yet. You might have seen this system used in games like Left 4 Dead but this game came out in 1997!
The Dwarves can also pick up powerup “skulls” on the floor which allows them to use special abilities. They’re all easy to pull off: simply press the X-Z button for a special move costing 1-3 skulls respectively and increasing in power. Proper use of these abilities will allow you to give yourself a breather when things get frantic.
On the hardest difficulty, the skulls also double as another balancing factor: getting hit makes you lose a skull, and when you’re out of skulls, you get a game over. This creates an interesting tension where you got to decide exactly how much power you want to portion out to defeat your enemies and yet not get yourself killed. In multiplayer, skulls are shared so you might want to have good rapport with the players you pick to play this game with you!
It’s not all button mashing fun though. In certain ways, the game feels like a spiritual successor to Battletoads: Once in a while, you’re given “gimmick” stages where the gameplay changes entirely and you have to use your brain instead to tackle the situation. For example, one stage involves using a wrecking ball to demolish a building, Rampage style, to reveal a dragon taking cover behind it. After he is revealed, the Dwarves have to lure him to a fire hydrant and douse him with water, thus defeating him.
Unlike Battletoads though, this game is much easier on those stages and provides a much better mix of both beat-em-up and um… brain-em-up? They occur just enough to break up the pace without completely overriding the game. The biggest criticism I have about the puzzle levels is that they’re almost entirely single-player only and Player 2 and 3 generally can’t contribute in them. On the other hand, they’re short and the game is entertaining enough in other ways that your friends probably shouldn’t mind watching it along with you until the next multiplayer stage shows up.
So what I am saying is that Battletoads sucks.
(Like seriously, how many beat em up stages were there in Battletoads, 3? Pretty low for a beat em up game.)
The game’s aesthetics, art and music are top-notch. The animation feels just like a hand-drawn cartoon from the 80s, which gives it a unique look in today’s world of overly super-polished CG graphics animation. While the game art is traditional hand-drawn animation, it makes use of concepts like depth of field to give a “3D” effect to certain levels. It’s a shame I can’t really portray that in screenshots though, it just has to be seen in action. The game has a rocking soundtrack (seriously) that you can play right off the CD-player if you wish. It has a wicked sense of humour and should leave most people laughing as the plot plays out. Examples include having to play a mock baseball game against the orcs, a boss with a coat made up of dogs that he constantly picks off to throw at you and having to fight a gym while it throws dumbbells, protein shakes and other thrash at you.
Yes, you fight a gym. As in the building.
The Sega Saturn is the only console that has this game, although there is apparently a PC version. The only thing I know about it is that it has slightly inferior music to the Saturn version though. Interestingly enough, the game HAS seen a Japanese release and each version of the game, US Pal and Japan, has its own boxart, which is kind of cool. They didn’t change the art style to attempt to market it to the Japanese people either, which I am kind of glad about because I don’t really want to see MOE dwarves, but it does make me kind of curious what they thought about it.
(If anyone knows whether they dubbed the game in Japanese or etc, let me know, I’m curious.)
The game’s not perfect, for example there can be difficulty spikes at times and if you wanted a deep complex fighting system in your beat em ups, the big brothers of Guardian Heroes and Capcom’s Dungeons and Dragons are probably more suitable games for that. Also, that game name definitely isn’t the best for sales and I’m pretty sure 99% of the people who read it thought it was some kind of fetish midget pr0n movie.
Still, it’s unique, it looks awesome, it’s hilarious and like I’ve said before, I appreciate “time capsule” games that capture a lost time where they were allowed to be more experimental.
Plus it probably sells for much less than those other Saturn games on Ebay… I think!
If you plan to buy a copy of the game, be sure to pick up a copy with the manual intact. While unnecessary to play the game, it offers lore information that adds to the humour and enjoyment. Also it’s hilarious when the manual portrays a really horrifying, out of the world monster and the description is all “Yup, just a typical denizen of the Bronx.”