Five of the Best is a weekly series served every Friday with your lunch (ie. noon UK time). While you’re chewing your sandwich, we’ll celebrate an overlooked part of video games. So far we’ve celebrated potions and hands. They’re the kind of things you don’t notice at the time but you never forget, either. Today…
Dinosaurs! How can you forget a dinosaur? It’s the ultimate beast. Back in the playground, when you were arguing about what would kill what in a fight, someone always pulled out a dinosaur. “Yeah? My tiger would rip your lion to pieces!” “Well my T. rex would batter your tiger!” “Fight, fight, fight!”
We’re fascinated by dinos (probably because we never had the chance to kill them off, sad-face emoji) and we’re obsessed with bringing them back to life. Games are the perfect place to do it, not the real world – I’ve seen the documentary Jurassic Park so I’m well aware of the dangers! So let’s celebrate the best dinosaurs in games. Here are our favourites, which are yours?
Thief: A Dark Project
Why were there dinosaurs in Thief?! I still can’t believe it, 21 years later. Why did a game about a thief in medieval times have dinosaurs? One minute, you were distracting armoured guards so you could sneak up and cosh them, and the next minute you were in Jurassic Park. It was madness!
All right, all right, they weren’t technically dinosaurs, they were Burrick – large two-legged lizards like T. rex, with iguana heads, and they could breathe gas like Alan Partridge after a scotch egg – and there was some dodgy lore excuse for their inclusion. But I don’t buy it. They were dinosaurs, and Thief was absolutely the last place I expected to see them.
Thief, a dark game. Burricks are in this video, towards the end.
Horizon: Zero Dawn
I do one of those yearning sighs when I think of Horizon – that was a beautiful game, wasn’t it? I wish I lived there. All that fresh air, all that wilderness, those costumes… Sigh.
The whole game was about dinosaurs, really, robot dinosaurs – mecha-diplodocuses, robo-rexes, cyber-raptors. But one dinosaur really stood out to me: the Tallneck. It was probably supposed to be brachiosaurus, the one with the very long neck which shoots upwards to the sky, making it very tall, and developer Guerrilla spied a gameplay opportunity for it. It hacked the Tallnecks, which corrupted their nearby area, and challenged you to climb up and reset them. This involved leaping around like a gymnast during an asymmetric bar routine but more importantly, it took you to the top, to enjoy the breathtaking view. I suppose if you’re going to go big – going to go dinosaur – you might as well flaunt it.
Lara Croft is famous for blasting away at the local wildlife, but in the very first Tomb Raider she set the bar quite high for herself by finding an otherwise extinct form of life and violently re-extinctifying it. Even now, there’s something impressive about Core Design’s T.rex. At the beginning of a hardware generation it suggested great things lay ahead as games embraced three dimensions. As with all Tomb Raider enemies, the T.rex wasn’t a huge amount of fun to actually blast away at, but that’s not the point really.
Also, the T.rex makes a cameo in Tomb Raider 2, I think. And you kill it again. Croft really is history’s greatest monster.
It was scary back then, OK!
Yoshi is a dinosaur, even though with that nose and that belly he actually looks like Snoopy doing Halloween as a crocodile. Mario’s buddy has been thrilling players since Super Mario World, where he even had his own house. His finest moment is probably Yoshi’s Island, though, where that wonderfully strained and fluttery jump proved he had just as much charisma as the plumber himself.
Incidentally, in the Super Mario Bros movie, Yoshi is literally a dinosaur. That’s what I’ve been told, anyway. I haven’t seen it because it looks bobbins.
I remember the first time I saw Yoshi. It was on a TV screen in a Curry’s or a Dixon’s electronics shop in the UK, which was demonstrating the new SNES. I’d played the NES Marios and nearly lost my potatoes when the egg cracked and Yoshi came out – and Mario hopped on!
John Woo’s Stranglehold
John Woo’s Stranglehold went to every length to make you look good as you ploughed through endless waves of baddies. That meant slow-mo, doves, Mexican stand-offs, and slow-mo Mexican stand-offs with doves. The adventures of Inspector Tequila were arguably never better, though, than in the museum level where you got to run up the spine of a dinosaur and/or shoot it to powdery shrapnel.
There is something magical about a dinosaur in a museum. They’re like a huge, ancient Glockenspiel waiting for you to run a mallet across them. (Just me?) This may explain why Stranglehold’s Dinosaur vandalism has a weirdly musical feel to it. Pour one out for me, Inspector.
What a game.