I've been told that the crazy idea to mix giant lizards and equally giant american cars comes from the Mark Schultz late-eighties Xenozoic Tales comic book. I'm not a big comic fan so I can't judge on that, but this apparently absurd background works really well for a beat'em up.
The story goes like this: Earth is ravaged by pollution and general humanity careless attitude. So we build big underground cities where we seek refuge for a few centuries. When we emerge, we find out that Earth is once again dominated by dinosaurs. This has a weird '80s vibe about it, so I like.
In Cadillacs and dinosaurs we have 4 main characters to choose from, that definitely look and play very different, and also have different speed/power/skill attributes.
We are up against a Mad-max-2-looking gang that is harassing the dinosaurs, which in turn get pissed off and become violent. Our task is to get rid of the gang (big surprise here), using mainly our hands and feet, but also some assorted weaponry such as guns, rifles, bombs and rocket launchers. And the occasional Cadillac, of course.
So, the premise is quite interesting, isn't it? But what about the gameplay?
Well the game plays really smooth, collision detection is excellent and there's a decent set of moves to pick from.
Each character is well-versed in a specific area; Mustafa is faster and can jump higher than the others, earning him greater reach for his flying kicks. Hannah is good at throwing enemies around and at using knives. Mess is the slow-but-powerful wrestler archetype. Jack is, as his namesake implies, a Jack of all trades.
The levels all look and feel different enough to keep you interested. Bosses too are variegated and quite challenging and fun to fight.
On the down side, common enemies are not that charismatic. After a while they tend to look all the same. But hey, you get to fight the occasional T-rex or triceratop so can you really complain?
The game has a certain animalist vibe to it. While you can kill every human being you meet in several more ore less truculent ways, dinosaurs you can only kick for a while. After that, they get scared or something and run away. Everybody loves dinosaurs, so that's ok I suppose. Who cares about pesky human beings?
I believe that Cadillacs and Dinosaurs is my personal second most-played beat'em up of all times, after of course the unrivaled Final Fight. That's because of its original background and great gameplay. Mostly because of the gameplay, really.
I recently discovered that a sequel exists, Cadillacs and Dinosaurs: The Second Cataclysm, developed for Sega Mega CD, Sega Mega Drive and MS-Dos. But we're talking about home entertainment systems here, so why bother? Arcades are the fun.