Ever since our interview with The Rotting Cartridge, we’ve been itching to get our feet planted in Dinoland. With the game well into beta testing the mysterious developers were kind enough to share a build with us, and now we’re ready to divulge our early impressions of a game that feels so, so old, and yet so, so new!

Kale in Dinoland’s plot is the kind that could only have been hatched in the early 1990s: a boy named Kale and his girlfriend are trying to escape a tropical island, and darn it if a helicopter owned by the alligator-faced Mr. Dino doesn’t swoop in and snatch her away! So Kale makes a U-turn and prepares for his long trek to the island’s center to stage a rescue. We’re not sure if it’s just a beta thing, but it appears that Mr. Dino may confront Kale with existential questions after boss fights with the island’s stronger denizens — something we actually hope makes it into the final version, because a dude with an alligator head asking you how you gained self-awareness ranks among the more interesting twists we’ve seen on iOS.

Fraught with high walls, spiked platforms, and bottomless pits, Dinoland presents quite a challenge to Kale’s meager abilities: his jump is pretty short by action hero standards, and so is the reach of the limited coconuts he can lob at foes. That’s not all he’s got up his sleeve, however! This is one game where shooting everything you see onscreen is a poor strategy; Kale can ride enemies he jumps on, exerting some control over them and borrowing their abilities until he’s knocked off by another enemy. We’re already impressed with the strong advantages and disadvantages each ride has. The dog, for example, bounces around like a pogo stick so it’s difficult to avoid airborne enemies while riding one — and yet the dog can infinitely scale walls and its feet are impervious to spikes. Even the dog can’t jump a chasm, however, so it’s time to go birding if the way forward is over a bottomless pit. Each level appears to have a number of exits, so the path the player takes through Kale’s stages ultimately depends on which rides he or she sticks with. We’ve already stumbled on an old-fashioned bonus room with a slots minigame, and other surprises no doubt await dedicated explorers of Dinoland.

Come to think of it, a four-way virtual D-pad has become quite rare on iOS, and its size in Kale screenshots may give savvy platforming fans some trepidation. However, we can put your fears to rest even at this early stage — the touch sensitivity areas are so well defined that it’s clear The Rotting Cartridge has learned from every interface mistake previously made on this platform. It’s easy to understand why the virtual D-pad has become such an underestimated UI option, but if Kale is any indication, it’s making a quality comeback!

We’ve had great fun with Kale’s first and second worlds so far. The big question hanging over this one is whether it can keep up the pace and continue exploding the number of rides players have to choose from as Kale probes deeper into the island fortress. iFanzine will have an answer for you on release day, but for now you can keep an eye on The Rotting Cartridge’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, and the developer’s website, for the latest news!