Here’s a question that has plagued paleontologists for quite some time now: did T. rex have feathers or not? We know now that many well-known dinosaurs likely did have feathers, which makes a lot of sense since birds are their direct descendants. Tyrannosaurus rex, everyone’s favourite pop culture killing machine, is an altogether more grey proposition. We may never know whether T. rex sported fetching feathers or sleek scales, but after playing a few hours of Rio Rex on Poki, we’re not sure we ever want to be close enough to one to find out.
Rio Rex comes to us from GameTornado, vaunted Flash developers whose works have appeared on mobile platform Android and popular PC digital distribution system Steam (or will have done by the time this review finds its way to your blinkers). Rio Rex is the latest in a long line of Rex titles, which usually star the titular terrible lizard raging its way through a city and killing everyone unkind or stupid enough to stand in its way.
Happily, Rio Rex is no exception to that rule. The game takes place in – you guessed it – the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro, which, by virtue of not yet having been destroyed by a T. rex, is the perfect place for a T. rex to visit. Our hapless hero doesn’t do so by choice, though; Rex is being transported through the city via crane, and decides that enough is enough, as a T. rex is wont to do. Rex summarily bites through the restraints keeping him captive, brutally murders his tormentor (the crane driver), and sets about carving a bloody warpath of rage and terror.
What this means in practical terms is a sort of run-and-gun tribute that looks a bit like Metal Slug, but with a giant scary dinosaur for a protagonist, which is a feature that would improve most games tenfold, so we’ll happily accept it here. There are 16 stages in Rio Rex, each of which is very, very linear; Rex must move from one side of the stage to the other, chomping everything in the way and racking up a high score as it goes.
Points can be accumulated in Rio Rex through several means, most of which involve making stuff that is intact not intact any more. Eating humans, destroying objects and consuming “biological material” in certain levels (eugh) all contribute to your overall point score, while a bonus is awarded at the end of each stage depending on how long it took Rex to stomp through. This isn’t particularly clearly communicated, as there’s no timer in the game showing how long a stage has been going for, but there’s no penalty for taking too long either, so this isn’t really a biggie.
There is, however, a penalty for missing objectives. If Rex manages to miss a human or destructible objective during a stage, a message will appear at the end which simply states “go back and eat them all”, or something to this effect. There’s an arrow on-screen which shows Rex where to find the remaining hapless victims, which is a nice little anti-frustration feature, but it is a bit jarring to be caught up in a bloodlust frenzy and to be hammered back to reality quite so abruptly.
This wouldn’t be a problem if the pacing of the game wasn’t otherwise pretty great. True to its run-and-gun roots, Rio Rex is a high-octane, fast-paced thrill ride which rewards a combination of careful play and all-out carnage. There’s something innately satisfying about chewing up victims and watching them contribute to your score meter, especially when Rex obtains a power-up which enables the dangerous dino to breathe fire. (Quick note: unlike the feathers thing, this isn’t a question paleontologists struggle with. T. rex could definitely breathe fire. It’s in books and everything.)
This lightning-fast pacing, combined with the sheer visceral thrill of wrecking everything in one’s way as a T. rex, renders Rio Rex a real joy to play. The game can feel a bit repetitive at times, because objectives aren’t particularly varied and stages are usually pretty samey, but the central gameplay loop is rewarding and fun enough that this isn’t a problem. Put simply, it’s just great fun to stomp through Rio de Janeiro as a rampaging T. rex with murder in its heart. Who knew?
It should be said, though, that this isn’t a game for the faint of heart, in a couple of ways. First, if you’re averse to blood and violence, you might want to steer clear. Rio Rex isn’t ashamed of its gory nature, and while there’s nothing overtly shocking here, blood does pour from every human orifice like water, so if that ain’t your bag then don’t say we didn’t warn you. Also, although Rio Rex’s difficulty curve is pretty well-tuned, it does ramp up quite quickly (T. rex was the glass cannon of the dinosaur world), so be prepared for a surprising amount of challenge.
Those who do persevere will find Rio Rex to be an unassuming blast. It doesn’t overstay its welcome and it isn’t pretentious; it knows people just love watching dinosaurs break stuff, and sometimes, that’s enough.