You play as Hashimoto, a nerdy guy who is turned into a dinosaur-like creature by the Emperor of Space and Time, Salamander. In order to undo this curse, Hashimoto, now known as Hashimoto Zaurus, must travel through time, from the prehistoric era to the 50th century AD, in order to gather the swords of the Ten Kings and use them against Salamander.
The gameplay of Pocket Zaurus consists of platforming sections, with Hashimoto Zaurus (called "Pocket Zaurus" in the game, PZ for short), facing off against enemies using boomerangs as his primary means of attack. In some sections, Hashimoto can pilot his time-traveling ship, the Time Capsule, in a side-scrolling shooting format. Occasionally, the game will ask the player some quiz questions, which include game-related knowledge, history, science, and more. These quiz questions award the player bonus points.
Pocket Zaurus was never released outside of Japan. In May 2015, the game received an English fan translation with all of the level name signs translated into English and given the name Pocket Zaurus: The Swords of the Ten Kings.
This game is based on Bandai's Pocketzaurus line of stationery product toys that are in the shape of dinosaurs, which is created by Shinji Hashimoto, who worked at Bandai at the time this game was made, and also whom Hashimoto Zaurus in the game is based. Some of these toys appear as enemies in one of the stages of the game. The Pocketzaurus toy line was released in France as Diplodos, along with a short-lived Animesque series made in 1988 in conjunction with Bandai and Saban International Paris on the French television network, France 3. Wikipedia has an article on the Diplodos animated series here.
This game provides examples of:
- All There in the Manual: The game never explains why Salamander attacked Hashimoto in the first place. In the game manual, it is explained that Hashimoto is a historian and scientist who happened upon a book titled The Legend of Salamander, which had some missing pages for some reason. He poured his time and resources into researching this book until one day, Salamander attacked him and turned him into a dinosaur. Being a scientist, Hashimoto uses his invention, the Time Capsule, to help him travel through time.
- Anti-Frustration Features: When you lose your last life, the game asks you if you want to fight against Salamander. While you cannot win against him unless you have all five swords, this option allows you to practice the fight against him and to determine where each of the swords need to be placed around his castle.
- Author Avatar: Hashimoto Zaurus is based on Shinji Hashimoto, who was a young employee of Bandai at the time this game was made. Real-life Hashimoto is also the creator of the Pocketzaurus toy line which this game is loosely based upon.
- Baleful Polymorph: Poor Hashimoto was turned into a dinosaur-like creature by Salamander. Unlike other victims, Hashimoto was able to retain his personality and sense of self, which allow him to embark on his journey.
- Battle Boomerang: Hashimoto's primary means of attack. He can throw faster boomerangs when he picks up the Super Shield powerup.
- Big Bad: Salamander, the Emperor of Space and Time
- Boss Banter: Some of the bosses talk to you as you are fighting them. Most notably, the Tutankam fight has the three sarcophagi arguing with each other over whether to squee over Hashimoto's Baleful Polymorph situation or just focus on attacking him already.
- Cool Ship: The Time Capsule, which Hashimoto uses to travel through time. It also doubles as an attack craft, with a straight-firing Punch primary attack and dropped Bomb secondary attack. The Bomb attack is needed to destroy certain enemies and to defeat the giant crocodile midboss, Mega Zaurus.
- Everything Is Better With Dinosaurs: Hashimoto is transformed into a dinosaur creature by the Big Bad. The first stage in the game has dinosaur enemies. The Future City stage has robotic dinosaur enemies that are based on the Pocketzaurus toys.
- MacGuffin: The titular Swords of the Ten Kings, though you only collect five of them in the game.
- Never Smile at a Crocodile: Mega Zaurus, a colossal crocodile who serves as the midboss of the Dinosaur Island stage and whose weak point, his smoke-shooting nostril, is vulnerable only to the Time Capsule's Bomb attack.
- Personal Mook: Salamander has five Commanders (Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Theta, and Cyprus), one in each of the game's stages. Fights with them are entirely optional. However, defeating them gives you a controller input code that you can enter at the end of the stage's end boss fight. These codes give you hints on what to do during the final boss battle in order to win.
- Poison Mushroom: Throughout the game, items are stored in containers called Bottlanodons, which are real-life toys in the Pocketzaurus toy line that are pteranodons that function as drinking bottles. Some Bottlanodons contain an enemy called a Drakkura, a flying imp that chases you until you kill it or it collides with a wall. If you get into the habit of picking up Bottlanodon drops as soon as they transform, you'll receive a cheap hit.
- Product Placement: Some of the quiz questions pertain to properties handled by Bandai, whether they be toys or other video games. One quiz question asks you what Master Roshi's favorite thing is (Bandai distributes Dragon Ball toys worldwide) and another references Family Trainer, another one of their Famicom games. Getting the latter quiz question right even shamelessly plugs the game, telling you to go out and buy it now!
- The Future City stage has enemies that are all actual toys from the Pocketzaurus line.
- Punny Name: The boss of the Enchanted Land stage is named "Burial" in the English fan translation. In the original Japanese version, his name is ベリアル (beriaru), which is the Japanese pronunciation of Belial, a Hebrew term that came to personify the devil in Jewish and Christian texts. This may look like a "Blind Idiot" Translation at first, but since the boss looks like a cartoonish mortician, complete with top hat, the English name doubles as a pun to a mortician's job (a funeral director who buries people) and the Belial name.
- Smart Bomb: The Flash Attack, which deals three boomerangs' worth of damage to all enemies on-screen. Hashimoto can carry up to three at once.
- Super Mode: The Super Shield powerup transforms Hashimoto into Super Zaurus. He gains a futuristic armor, faster boomerang attacks, and complete health restoration. He loses this mode if his health falls critically low.
- Time Travel: You travel to different eras in order to find the swords of the Ten Kings.
- Unwinnable by Mistake: In the final boss fight against Salamander, there is one sword you must save for last. If you pick this sword up accidentally, you cannot place it in its proper location, and the game will not let you drop a sword you are carrying, nor will it allow you to pick up another sword. This results in an unwinnable situation where dying is the only way out.
- Unexpected Shmup Level: Whenever you board the Time Capsule, the action shifts to an automatic-scrolling shooter format.
- Video Game Settings: Being a game with Time Travel as its focus, there are widely varied environments.
- Prehistoria: Dinosaur Island (100 million BC): Has dinosaur enemies, sharks, and a colossal crocodile named Megazaurus.
- The Lost Woods / Big Boo's Haunt: Enchanted Land (1700 AD): The first section has various Youkai creatures as enemies, while the second section has Halloween-inspired enemies found in Western mythology, such as Jack O'lanterns and a skeleton miniboss.
- Shifting Sand Land: Egypt (2600 BC): Lots of pyramids as background elements and a maze inside a sphinx. King Tut appears as this stage's boss.
- The Future: Future City (5000 AD): Enemies found here are all from the Pocketzaurus toy line. One enemy that is a stapler toy even fires staples at you as projectiles.
- The Time of Myths: The Age of the Gods (10000BC): Ancient Greek-style ruins with unicorns, spear-throwing imps, and dragons.
- Final Boss, New Dimension: You encounter the Big Bad in front of his own castle.