That’s where Dino-Riki’s unabiding cruelty comes into frame. Monsters and projectiles and instantly lethal hazards swarm Riki at every turn, and his limited methods of counterattack involve jumping, tossing things, and yelping comically when he’s struck. The game has only three actual stage themes, but they repeat several times before reaching a final, buglike boss. Then it all starts over again from the first stage.
Adventures of Dino-Riki has no ending. It doesn’t even grant the player, who’s surely spent hours upon hours memorizing the behavior of caroming pterodactyls and sinking lily pads, some concluding graphic of Dino-Riki triumphant. The North America version of Karnov and its “Congratulations” screen often go down as the biggest disgrace in NES endings, but at least Karnov cared enough to acknowledge you.
Hudson crafted Adventures of Dino-Riki in 1987, when the NES had plenty of arcade-like offerings that didn’t need endings. Yet Dino-Riki has just enough cartoonish aplomb to invite denouement, even if it were just some seven-second finale with Riki and the cover illustration's apparently nameless red-haired cavewoman (or the Japanese wrestler who occasionally takes Riki's place). This was an oversight in 1987, but it became out-and-out fraud when Dino-Riki came to North America in 1989. By then, even simple shooters like Thundercade and Captain Skyhawk rewarded you.
Glancing over the Japanese version of Adventures of Dino-Riki reveals no storyline there; it wasn’t a case of The Krion Conquest, where the North American publisher clipped out the ending and nearly all cutscenes. Riki is plotless wherever he goes. We’re simply told that he’s a cave-kid fighting dinosaurs and Precambrian monstrosities in a bid to prove himself their evolutionary superior.
This brings me to the most interesting thing about Adventures of Dino-Riki. The first stage sends him across swamps and plains, but the second one shows us a panorama of ruins: broken stone columns, weathered earthenware pots, and a primitive temple entrance (that leads to a cave with a dinosaur inside). It’s the sort of backdrop you’ll see in shooters and action games across the NES library.
But questions emerge here. Riki is a caveboy, and the game is presumably set in some Pleistocene-Mesozoic mishmash without even a Flintstones level of technology. So what’s with the ruins? Is Riki treading through the remnants of Atlantis, Mu, or some lost dino-human civilization like the Reptite Empire of Chrono Trigger? Is Adventures of Dino-Riki borrowing that old science-fiction standby of a cave-tribe vista that actually takes place thousands of years after the fall of human civilization? Is Riki the last human alive, braving a gamut of fire-breathing lizards and sharp-winged bats until at last he falls, and his race with him?
These subtle hints failed to fascinate NES owners, and Hudson realized that Adventure Island was a much more popular take on a primitively clad hero bashing monsters—and it had an ending, besides. Riki never went beyond his grueling little NES debut, and even by 1989 he was stuck in the past. Or the future.