Reading the text on the back of the game's box, you'd think Dino Master was poised to become the next Pokémon or Yu-Gi-Oh! You play through puzzle-based levels to collect fossils, which can later be put together to bring dinosaurs back to life. Those dinosaurs, then, can be pitted against other dinosaurs in the game's battle mode. It sure sounds like an awesome concept. Unfortunately, you only have to play the game for a few minutes to realize that it is totally the opposite of awesome. The controls are sluggish and unreliable, the battle mode is nothing more than a glorified rock-paper-scissors, and the graphical quality throughout ranges from outdated to downright ugly.
Dino Master consists of three interwoven play modes, called fossil hunt, laboratory, and battle. Of the three modes, fossil hunt is the most involved. Each of the more than 30 dig sites is a play area roughly two screens tall and two screens wide. To dig up the fossils and items that are shown, you use the stylus to drag an paleontologist around the play area. The paleontologist leaves behind colored lines as he moves. When you create a square or a rectangle, the area inside the shape is claimed and the items inside are automatically dug up. It works very much like the classic puzzle game, Qix, right down to the fluttering enemies that are constantly chasing the sprite, or, in this game's case, the goofy male paleontologist.
Once you try to steer the paleontologist out of the way of the first enemy you see, you'll notice right off that there's a problem with the controls. It's bad enough that he moves at a snail's pace and that you have to constantly drag the stylus to keep him moving. What's worse, though, is that the game will often point him in the direction opposite to where you've tapped, or just outright ignore your tapping. The fossil hunt mode is tough enough to play early on when there are only one or two enemies visible. On later levels, it's downright unplayable, thanks to the broken controls.
The other two play modes don't suffer from any control-related issues, but that's mainly because they're so limited that the controls don't really come into play. When you put together dinosaurs in the laboratory mode, all you can do is look at a two-dimensional drawing of the creature, check out some basic battle stats, and upgrade the dino's special techniques using the items you've already collected. As for the battle mode, it's a joke. Much like in a Pokémon battle, the enemy dino is shown on the upper screen and your dino is shown on the lower screen. Each dinosaur has multiple weak points. Using the stylus, you select the weak point on the other dinosaur that you will attack, and select the weak point on your own dinosaur that your will defend. Then, the pictures of the two dinosaurs shake a bit and damage is deducted. If you correctly guessed which spot to protect, you won't take any damage that turn. It's all based on luck. You can't even choose to make different attacks. Any special skills that you bought from the laboratory will happen automatically, and they usually won't have a significant influence on the outcome.
An equally minimal amount of effort was put into the game's overall presentation. On the whole, Dino Master looks and sounds like an early generation Game Boy Advance game. There are times, even, where the graphics and audio dip into 8-bit Game Boy Color territory. That's pretty shameful, considering that this is a Nintendo DS game released in the year 2006. Audio consists of some weakly synthesized music, a collection of thudding sound effects, and a couple of low-volume dinosaur roars. Graphical quality varies depending on the mode you play.
In the fossil hunt mode, most of the upper screen's real estate is taken up by a simple green and blue grid representing a status display of sorts. The lower screen shows a top-down view of the dig area. Backgrounds are colored in washed-out shades of green, blue, and brown, eerily reminiscent of the color schemes used by role-playing games on the old Game Boy Color. Richer colors are used to fill in the various fossils and enemies, although they're generally tiny and don't exhibit more than two frames of animation, when they animate at all. In the laboratory and battle modes, the screens are filled by large images of dinosaurs, which would be fine, if only the images weren't all cute drawings painted with a limited color palette. To make matters more unfortunate, dinos in the battle mode don't actually move or attack. Instead, their images just slide across the screen and shake in response to the commands you make.
They had a good idea with Dino Master. Unfortunately, the development team didn't manage to bring that idea to life in a fun manner, or even a playable one. There are plenty of puzzles to complete and roughly 100 dinosaurs to collect, and the battle mode even supports the requisite two-player linkup. None of those things matters, though, because the game as a whole is underdeveloped, broken, and ugly.