Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"A Mixed Blessing from Isla Sorna"

I'm sure when we were all young we used to play with those dinosaur figures and pit the fearsome T-rex against the Stegosaurus or the Triceratops. Jurassic Park: Dinosaur Battles is one of the few games that actually translates this to a computer game. In a nutshell, the gameplay is solid, but it could have been much, much better. Part of this is due to the fact that the game is targeted towards a younger demographic (note the Knowledge Adventure logo), and part of this is due to the fact that it is a bargain bin game. If you really want a cheap game for the PC, you could give this game a whirl.

Story: 5/10
The story is slightly half-baked. The premise of the story is that a rather boastful adventurer and the group of kids he was guiding accidentally landed on the wrong island, Isla Sorna, also known as Site B if you've ever watched the Lost World. You play as a person in control of a special device allowing you to control dinosaurs. Apparently the second and third movies demonstrated the uselessness of mercenaries against dinosaurs. Along the way, in between rescuing the youngsters and finding dinosaur eggs to unlock new dinos to control, you pick up clues of a more sinister secret of the island.

Gameplay: 8/10
The gameplay is pretty unique, and it deserves a mention. Basically, your dino's fighting moves need to be activated by blocks of DNA. These blocks of DNA help increase your dino's stats, which include attack, defense, accuracy, energy, and several others. So you get full reign over your dinosaur's stats and moveset, which is pretty refreshing. Each move has upgrades, for example, the Velociraptor's simple "Swipe" may be upgraded to "Slash." Each dinosaur also has an ultimate move that deals massive damage, the Velociraptor's is "Slice and dice."

Besides customization, the other main objective is combat. In combat, you don't directly control where your dinosaur moves. Instead, the game sets several "positions" relative to the enemy you can be in. The offensive position makes your dino move close to the enemy, the neutral position makes it slowly back away, the defensive position makes it run away from the enemy, and the flanking position makes it try to run to the side of your enemy. At first, it feels very odd not being able to directly control the exact location of your dinosaur, but eventually, it feels like the best way to make a game like this. Your movements and attacks are limited by a stamina bar. Every movement or attack you make drains stamina, preventing both you and your opponent from spamming a quick attack, and necessitating a tactical approach to preserve your health and stamina while inflicting it on your opponent. Unlike most fighting games where you just need to move in close and mash a combo, Dinosaur Battles really shines in that you need a strategy to take down an opponent, and when you do perfect such a strategy you can even defeat the mighty T. Rex with a lowly Velociraptor. The computer can be pretty ruthless with their attacks, constantly putting you on the edge with stunning attacks, retreating to replenish health and stamina, then coming back to attack; all the more reason to make a strategy.

Graphics/Sound: 4/10
If only the graphics and sound were as good as the gameplay. The graphics are straight-up bad. Dinosaurs are heavily pixilated, and there's really no sense of texturing. It seems the makers tried to compensate for this with a lot of handdrawn maps and such, but it can't make up for the outdated graphics and the generic sound. Even the roars and noises the dinosaurs make are bland and uninteresting.

Replayability: 3/10
As far as playtime goes, some bosses are plain evil and will take you a dozen tries to beat. Still, this game should only take you 10-12 hours at most to beat. You can fight against any enemy you've fought against in the "Battle Simulation" mode, but this only lasts so long in the realm of replayability. If it even had some sort of co-op or multiplayer, replayability would have been much boosted. The lack of this feature makes the game basically a play-once, beat-once, give-away game.

Dinosaur Battles is definitely unique in its combat and customization systems, but its graphics, sound, and replayability take away from the gaming experience. Still, this game is good for boys from 8-12 who would like to play with dinosaurs. If you get it as a gift though, you might as well return it and use the refund to buy something else in the bargain bin.

~ Only game (as far as I know) with dinosaur battling
~ Unique combat system
~ Open customization
~ A fair variety in controllable dinosaurs
~ Good AI, especially for bosses

~ Can get repetitive
~ Bad graphics and sound
~ Very little replay value
~ Rather silly storyline

Reviewer's Score: 6/10, Originally Posted: 09/30/08

Game Release: Jurassic Park: Dinosaur Battles (US, 09/17/02)


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