Sunday, August 23, 2009

Jurassic Park-Genesis-BlueSky Software

Kids love dinosaurs. It's almost an undeniable fact. There's something about the that is absolutely fascinating, something that causes the mind to latch on and run wild. Perhaps, it's because that period in time was so fantastical and yet so real. Regardless, kids loved them. I loved them. So, it's not surprising that during several of my trips to the rental store as a child, I'd come home with BlueSky Software's 1993 Genesis version of Jurassic Park. And I loved this game when I was younger. I would play it all the time. So is this a game worth reanimating, or should it just stay buried.

Graphically, the game is hard to judge. Everything about the game looks grainy and fairly ugly, but as a result it also looks grittier and more realistic. Likewise, the main character and enemies look good. Grant, though lankier than his film counterpart, looks impressively realistic, and for the most part animates very nicely. The raptor, as well as the other dinosaurs, also look impressively real for a genesis game. That's because Grant's actions and movements were based on recordings of one of the developers movements, which was then digitized, while the dinosaurs were created using stop motion photography.

Unfortunately, although the models look very good, there is a bit of a disconnect between them and the background. At times, this disconnect can be extremely helpfully as it makes the enemies stand out against the business of the background. On the other hand, it never really looks like the characters and backgrounds exist in the same world. This is especially noticeable when the T-Rex shows up. Luckily, the graphics are pleasing and do a good job of creating a feeling of danger.

It's just too bad that the gameplay is really only capable of capturing the feeling of the latter. The game is broken up into two distinct and very different modes of play. When the player reaches the menu screen, they are given the option of selecting to either play as Dr. Grant as he flees the T-Rex Menace or as the Raptor, who for some reason has decided that Grant has to die.

As Grant is the default character, we will begin by discussing his game. Grants game is a survival platformer. By this, I mean that most of his game is based around scavenging for health and items. The player is given three lives with which to beat the level, and checkpoints are often few and far between, with many levels having none at all. Death at any point in a level, means redoing the whole section.

This difficulty, combined with the fact that Grant takes damage from almost anything, forces players to remain on the lookout for health items and other useful defensive weapons. I call them defensive, because Grant doesn't collect pistols and shotguns in his quest to escape the island. No, he collects tranquilizer darts, flash bangs, and sleep gas grenades. The only damaging weapons that Grant gets are a set of explosive grenades and a rocket launcher, both of which, though extremely powerful, are fairly rare. As a result, the game maintains this feeling that one is escaping, rather than fighting back. This feeling gives Grant's game an extremely interesting motif.

The Raptor, on the other hand, plays out more like a standard platformer. Where as Grant must scavenge for weapons in order to survive, the raptor is in itself a weapon. With the ability to bite, kick, and stomp its enemies to death, the raptor has little to fear from a lone enemy. Unfortunately, the majority of the raptors five levels will put it in situations where it must either fight multiple enemies or large numbers of enemies. Luckily, there are bits of meat and small dinosaurs around that can be eaten to refill the raptor's health. The raptor is also much more mobile than Grant, capable of preforming a lunging bite or a high jump, if the situation calls for it.

Despite the inherent differences in the game, Grant and the Raptor often move through the same areas, which makes the two modes feel interconnected. Despite this, Grant has more levels than the Raptor. These levels generally play out slightly different than the shared ones, such as the waterfall level. Grant's third level has him descending a waterfall via boat. This level is one of the more frustrating in the game as it's the first to really feel like trial and error is the only solution. Yet, even when Grant and the raptor move through the same stages, the differences in how they are controlled and the slight differences in how the levels are laid out, causes the stages to feel fresh and new.

Unfortunately, the game has some flaws. The first being that the game is difficult. The first time the player will pick up on this is when he or she is exploring the caves at the end of the first level. Until the player knows were to go, it is almost impossible to get to the end without dying. That's because the caves require the player to go down toward the exit, but also toward the instant death water. At first it is not difficult to make it down safely, as the screen will shift when down on the d-pad is pressed. However, once the player nears the bottom, it stops doing that, which means the final drop must be done blind.

The controls are also stiff and a lot of jumps require the player to be very precise in order to grab ledges or to climb ladders and rope. This problem is much worse as the raptor, because it is a larger and much clunkier character. Finding the appropriate spot to jump from so that not only does the raptor not hit something and stop dead but also to grab the exact spot required for its stubby arms to catch can quite hallenging.

Perhaps the biggest problem the game faces, though, is something that doesn't really become apparent until the player is already a ways into the game. That problem is the extreme trial and error based later levels. More often than not, in those levels, enemies will attack you as soon as or before they are even on the screen. The first time through a level is often a slow death by degrees as the player is pelted by range attacks and falling traps that they didn't even know were there at first.

There is, however, one concession that the game makes for its difficulty: passwords. While it is not new for a games to have passwords as a way to keep one's progress, this game takes it a step beyond. Not only does the game remember the password a player put in before starting a game, it will also auto-input the password for the last level the player made it to. As a result, the game sort of has infinite continues. It's just that one has to select password to continue.

Musically, the game is well served by a soundtrack that helps to create the feelings of tension and danger that the game seems to be trying to create. However, they're not songs that will stick with someone long after he or she have finished playing. The sound effects in the game are quite good. The convincing grunts and screams from Grant and the roars from the dinosaurs are all quite good.

In the end, the game is no where near as good as I remember, and that's a real shame because the game feels like a collection of great ideas that were just poorly implemented. It's not a horrible game by any stretch of the imagination, but it is frustrating. However, if you're a fan of the movie or just want to stomp on people as a raptor, you'll probably end up having an enjoyable visit to the park.

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