There is something you should probably know about me. I’m a grown man, who just had a dinosaur themed birthday party. There were dino party games, decorations, and an entire selection of dino inspired snacks. I adore the Jurassic Park and Jurassic World series, but I am equally in love with programs geared for younger viewers, like Dinosaur Train, Dino Dana, or The Land Before Time movies. Growing up, I watched the Jim Henson sitcom Dinosaurs with something approaching religious regularity. I still giggle if someone says, “Not the Mama!”
The point is, I’m not exactly adept at maintaining my journalistic integrity and objectivity when it comes to the subject of “terrible lizards.” Case in point: the 1993 NES title ‘Color A Dinosaur.’ By all critical accounts, the game is one of the worst ever made. A 1997 article in the magazine ‘Nintendo Power’ lists it as one of the 10 worst video games ever created and even goes so far as to describe it as, “Mario Paint without anything fun in it.” The article goes on to say, “ “even the producer of the game (Seth, wherever you are) would roll his eyes when reminded of this prehistoric patsy.” Tommy Tallarico, who wrote the music for the game, referred to it as, “one of the worst games I’ve ever worked on,” after seeing it listed on eBay for $1500. He made sure to add, “QUICK!! GET IT BEFORE SOMEONE ELSE DOES!!”
Somehow, this general disdain for the game has only served to endear it to me. It’s the same reason I can watch films like ‘Manos: The Hands of Fate’ or ‘The Killer Shrews’ and think, “That wasn’t so bad.” It’s the sort of mindset that allows me to think, “Tommy Wiseau needs to win an Oscar.” It’s not that the game is good. It barely even qualifies as a game. It’s just that “worst” is such a subjective term and there’s a certain beauty to creating something unplayable, unwatchable or unreadable, which I don’t think is lauded enough.
So, what was Color A Dinosaur? Well, it’s all there in the name. The game was designed as a video game gateway drug for kids ages 3-6. In it, you…colored a dinosaur. That’s it. Jay Obernolte designed the game, apparently doing most of the work from home.
Tommy Tallarico composed the score and, by necessity, did the work in under 24 hours. Tallarico had never composed for the NES before. Facing an insane deadline, and not being familiar with the needs of the system, Tallarico ended up using a conversion system called “Tommy T’s Play Me Sound Editor” (co-created with Stephen Clarke Wilson) to convert midi files to ascii, which worked with the NES. Tallarico met his deadline, but the soundtrack doesn’t exactly rival Earthworm Jim in the pantheon of Tallarico’s brilliant compositions.
Further complicating matters for the game was the limited color palette available on the NES. You could choose between various shades of pink and blue, or choose from one of several patterns like dots or stripes. Players could choose from sixteen different dinosaur designs, which had a cute, cartoonish feel to them.
Perhaps the weirdest fact about the game, is that it came with its own coloring book, which featured the exact same 16 images that you could color in the game. It was part of the game’s instruction manual. So, you could color the pictures and then put the game in your console to…color the exact same pictures. All while questioning why you didn’t just buy the coloring book.
With such an accomplishment under his belt, designer Jay Obernolte eventually found his way into the world of politics. In 2010, he was elected to the City Council of Big Bear City in California, and served as Mayor. Four years later, he was elected to the California State Assembly representing the 33rd district.
That, dear readers, is the bizarre saga of Color a Dinosaur, another unusual exhibit here in the Cabinet of Curiosities.
Until next time I remain,
Just Another Geek In the Geek Kingdom