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RELEASE DATE (NA): 1992 GENRE: Platformer
// review by SoyBomb

Its bark is as banal as its bite.

It's a bird! It's a plane! No! It's a dog in a cape who thinks he can handle difficult situations!

Yes, it's Wonder Dog on Sega CD. Not to be confused with the canine caped crusader from Super Friends, this is just a random dog who considers himself to be heroic. Wonder Dog starts itself on the planet K-9, which is being invaded by the nasty and malicious Pit Bully empire. As a last resort, the great scientist Dr. Kibble (incoming sigh) infuses his own son with an untested, unqualified, un-FDA-approved concoction that will turn him into a superhero. The son then escapes K-9 in a very, VERY phallically-shaped spacecraft and crash lands on Earth, where he immediately befriends a young boy who closely resembles Carrot Top but without the sad aftertaste of prop humour. The boy's father takes him away, but that little setback won't stop our hero from donning his Wonder Suit and transforming into...WONDER DOG! His mission is clear: find the boy — and while he's at it, save K-9 from destruction. Unfortunately, developer Core Design (later known for their Tomb Raider series, introducing the trope-ish "pointy heroine" to the gaming scene) dropped the ball on this one: if you play through to the end, you never see the boy again. In fact, the ending isn't even related to the introduction much, other than it has Wonder Dog in it. There's "Core Design" for you.

It's at this point that you can basically hang your head and hope to the heavens this isn't just another bland anthropomorphization scheme to lure children to a video game. Luckily, it's on Sega CD, and you can't lure ANYONE to that.

Wonder Dog is your standard Sega Genesis platformer, enhanced only by one of the jazziest CD-quality soundtracks ever to grace the otherwise underwhelming Sega CD. The major problem comes from the fact that Wonder Dog really isn't all that wonderful — he's nothing more than a run-of-the-mill pooch. (Actually, I should rephrase that; puppy mills are awful, after all.) Oh, granted, he can charge up and toss stars in an irritating upward arc that misses half of your targets, but then again, what dog CAN'T do that? I have an Irish setter than not only fires off flashing stars at prowlers, he also sings alto in a barbershop quartet and makes a mean chicken tetrazzini. Other than that, he's a helpless pup with a dollar store Superman costume that accidentally stitched a "W" on it instead of an "S". But this dog has one other ability under his belt: digging. He won't find bones, but if the ground is obviously (or not so much) discoloured, Wonder Dog can dig underground and find new paths to freedom. It's not an option; it's required to complete the game. But he doesn't really dig with his paws. Instead, he just spins downward as though he's Exxon trying to ruin the planet. Bizarre.

It must be said: Wonder Dog is a slippery son-of-a-gun. If his star shots couldn't hit the broad side of a barn, he could at least slide face first into one. The controls of this game take a little effort to get used to. I guess I should have seen more movies starring dogs as a young lad; if I remember correctly (and I don't), no canines in Beethoven's 2nd made any immediate stops. This is a reality of Earth physics, but every level in any video game shouldn't feel like an ice stage. Once you become accustomed to that smooth iceberg sensation, the game becomes more tolerable, but it's a bit of a mental shift, especially after playing Super Mario games for so long. You know, games programmed well...

Now then, you've found this review via Random.access, correct? You've definitely come to the right place, not just because the site is adequately great, but also because this game is QUITE random indeed. One minute you're in a woodsy forest filled with trees and dogs walking upright in flannel lumberjack shirts, the next you're in the warped universe of Dogsville where the buildings seem of poor tilted design, and another you're on a cheese planet surrounded by the holeyist of cheddar logs. Wonder Dog is one of those games where it feels as though the designers just sat down with a doodle pad for an hour, sketched as many random ideas as they could, and then said, "Okay, now put all of these in one game. And let's call it 'Wonder Dog' because we don't want people to buy it." Also, bonus areas are hidden in the most inconspicuous of places, particularly by flying through the ceiling or floor, even when it doesn't look like you can. That's "Core Design" for you.

But a mass outbreak of creativity isn't necessarily a bad thing, as long as it's part of a fun game. Luckily, Wonder Dog, although having some rather difficult situations (mostly based on tough-to-hit bosses and strange invisible platforms I'm apparently supposed to see with my x-ray vision), isn't a terrible game. It's just not that great, either.

There's no "stop and lick yourself" function. Oh wait, that's Wonder Cat.

This game reeks of cartoon wonder. Everything DOES look like it fell out of a low-budget animated series, complete with utter wackiness. I especially enjoy the boss illustrations; they're all very unique indeed, including a beer-bellied man in a mesh shirt smoking a cigar and brandishing his buttocks due to low-hanging pants. If that's not the definition of "Core Design", I don't know what is. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this game is the music, which, as I mentioned earlier, is the only part of this package that makes the game worthy of being imprinted on a disc. Parts of this soundtrack could easily have been composed by Michael Jackson during his downtime; other tunes dipsy-doodle between corny synthpop and even a bit of low-impact reggae. The sound effects are also eccentric. Whenever an enemy gets hurt, it sounds like Homer Simpson saying "D'oh!" Come on, 20th Century Fox, lay a lawsuit on a game from 1992! I'm sure you want to recoup some of your losses from that last Fantastic Four movie.

Wonder Dog is a standard but competent platformer with enough quirkiness to make me raise an eyebrow at it. I'd recommend it more as a curiosity than a must-have, but as far as lame anthropomorphic video games go, this one's less cringeworthy than others. But let me be perfectly clear: dogs aren't superheroes, and we really should accept this fact.

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