It's not just me that sings "I like dinosaurs, I like dinosaurs" whenever they hear the theme music, right? Good, just checking. It's Jurassic Park!
Ocean Software's 1993 SNES version of Jurassic Park, to be precise. Nothing as popular as Jurassic Park, and especially something so popular with "the youth," was ever going to escape being turned into videogames and it wasn't long after the film was released that seemingly every console of the time had a Jurassic Park to call its own. There was even one for the 3DO, which feels appropriate given the franchise's focus on lumbering beasts who should never have been introduced into the modern world.
Given just how incredibly successful Jurassic Park was - it was the highest-grossing movie of all time until some soppy love story about two dorks on a boat claimed top spot - it's unlikely that you haven't heard about it. Still, here's a short recap: old man attempts to build his own Disneyland, but with cloned dinosaurs in place of the enchanted princesses. The ancient gods of Hubris and Comeuppance don't miss a chance like that, so the dinosaurs escape and eat some people and a generation of children decide to become paleontologists despite having been given a lifelong fear that velociraptors are hiding in their kitchens. There's a bit with a T. Rex and a cup of water that you'll recognise even if you've never seen the film because it's been parodied a million times. It's essentially Special Effects: The Movie.
Ocean were given the task of converting the movie into games for Nintendo's consoles, and I'm sure those of you familiar with Ocean's tie-in videogames will be groaning already, but hey - Ocean surely must have one decent game somewhere in their catalogue and maybe it's this one, so join me as we head into Jurassic Park.
You play as Dr. Alan Grant, a dinosaur expert with a big hat and (judging by his personality in the movie, at least) a hatred of children. Ocean decided that this wasn't enough for the hero of a videogame, so now Grant is also fully trained in the use of firearms, a master of jungle warfare and a computer expert. It's a good job too, because every other character from the movie has buggered off. They're alive, somewhere - they sometimes send you messages - but they're not on the island and they're definitely not going to help you on your quest beyond offering vague hints about where to go next.
Oh yeah, your quest. Your overall aim is to get off the island, but there are several hoops to jump through before you can leave. First things first - turn the power back on and reboot the park's computer system.
Actually, first things first - walk right a bit and meet your first dinosaurs! They're Procompsognathus, and they're guarding a giant shotgun shell. I want that ammunition.
Fortunately, you start with what is supposed to be a stun-gun but appears to actually be a highly advanced weapon that can fire superheated plasma. It vaporises the little dinosaurs instantly, which I suppose would stun you, but only mentally and for an extremely short time before your corporeal form boiled away into the atmosphere.
Jurassic Park is a top-down shooter, then, similar to something like The Chaos Engine or even, in a teeny-tiny way, to Zelda: A Link to the Past. No, scratch that last one. Jurassic Park can't stand up to being compared to a Zelda game. It's got an large-ish overworld map for you to explore but that's where the similarities end.
It's clear from early on that a large part of your gameplay experience is going to be based on wandering around. The game will give you a vague objective if you touch the special lampposts/spawn points dotted around the place, but it's frustratingly coquettish about how to accomplish these goals. Turn the power on, it says, but there's no hint as to where the generator might be so you'll be spending a good while trudging around the parts of the island you can reach, being trampled to death by triceratops.
Get run over by a triceratops and it's instant death, and the triceratops is invulnerable despite Grant having picked up a rocket launcher somewhere along the way. That's what the icons that looks like bumblebees at the bottom-right of the screen are, and while I've directed your attention to the HUD, take a good long look at the entire thing. Hideous, isn't it? Okay, Ocean, I know you wanted the player to be able to keep track of their score but was it necessary for said score to be displayed in huge yellow numbers at all times? Also, the ammo counter might seem to suggest that you have four rockets and twelve ball-bearings (they're actually bola snares) but you don't. There isn't a 1:1 correlation between the amount of ammo you can fire and how much is shown. It might have been helpful for your ammunition to be displayed as, I dunno, a number or something, but I guess Ocean had already shot their numerical wad with the enormous banana-y score counter.
Bitching about the HUD aside, the rest of the graphics are actually kinda nice, in a bulky and very "western" sort of way. All the dinosaurs are easily recognisable, Grant stomps around with a pleasing chunkiness and the backgrounds are detailed without being overly fussy.
Just beyond the triceratops, I wandered into a herd of dinosaurs that looked peaceful enough. Ocean seem to have gotten the wrong end of the stick when these dinosaurs were described to them as "duck-billed," because they've just given them straight-up duck heads.
Then the duckosaurs stampeded and trampled me into the ground. There has been rather a lot of death by trampling already in this game.
It's a bit bloody late for that, Timmy. Also, I'm a world-renowned dinosaur expert and you're just some kid whose grandfather got me into this mess, so suggest you keep your mouth shut.
So yeah, sometimes characters from the movie send you short messages, like this no-pressure reminder from John Hammond.
"Do what you can" of course means "deal with them all or you can't complete the game." You might also notice that these messages cover the whole playing area when they appear, which can be jolly helpful if you're in combat when they pop up. Here's a free hint - pressing L or R gets rid of them. If you decide to play this game, you'll thank me for pointing that out.
Eventually you'll stumble across a building. The buildings are where the bulk of your tasks are performed, like accessing computers and collecting ID cards. If you've never played this particular Jurassic Park game before, entering a building might take you by surprise...
...because suddenly you're playing a Doom-style first person shooter. Okay, maybe not quite like Doom because it's not advanced enough to have things like different heights and walls that aren't at ninety-degree angles to each other. It's Wolfenstein 3D with dinosaurs, then.
There's a dinosaur now! You should probably shoot it. There's a range of different weapons available: you start with the stun gun, but you can pick up rocket launchers, shotguns, tranquillizer darts and bola snares. They all work the same way, though - fire them at the dinosaur and it'll fall over. Well, maybe not fall over. The rocket launcher makes them explode, as do the bolas for some reason. Bolas, in case you didn't know, are metal balls tied together with ropes that are supposed to entangle your prey. Not so in Jurassic Park, where the bolas cause any dino they hit to blow up. Why? I have no idea. Maybe they filled in the gaps in the dinosaurs' DNA sequences with semtex.
Enemies are also noticeably less perceptive indoors.
That green thing in the background is a computer, and once you've turned the power on by bumping your face into the generator, you can use the computers by bumping your face into them.
Oh joy. This kind of situation makes up the core of the Jurassic Park gameplay experience: you make your way between buildings via the overworld, then plod through the buildings to accomplish a minor goal only to be told that to progress you have to travel to another building to perform another minor task, often being sent straight back to the building you just came from because you turned on a specific computer or, more likely, found an ID card.
This game absolutely loves ID cards. It worships them, and expects you to do the same. I think there might actually be more ID cards than dinosaurs. Apart from the children, every character from the movie has one, all of them required to progress (apart, I believe, from Ellie Sattler. She does have an ID card, but as far as I can see it doesn't actually do anything) and all of them are scattered around the various buildings of the island. I do mean every character, too, right down to Donald Gennaro, the lawyer who gets eaten by the T. Rex, and Dr. Wu. Dr. Who? Dr. Wu, the park's chief geneticist. Yeah, I had no bloody clue who he was either, but as an InGen employee it at least makes sense he would have an ID card. Why the hell was Gennaro even issued with an ID card, and more importantly why is it lying on the floor of a utility shed? I know the alternative would be digging my way through a mountain of tyrannosaurus shit to find it, but you know what? I would have preferred that.
Once you've got the power back on, you can head to the Visitor Center to reboot the computer system. At least this makes a modicum of sense - the generator's in a utility shed and the computer system is housed in the main building - but that all goes out the window with your next task.
Stop the raptors getting into the Visitor Center, commands Ian Malcolm from whatever distant otherrealm he now inhabits. Actually, since he was played by Jeff Goldblum it was probably more along the lines of "Aah, Grant, stop the umm, raptors, umm, from getting into the ahh, hmm, Visitor Center." Thank you, Ocean Software, for sparing us from that.
The Raptor Pen seems like a good place to investigate if you're having raptor-related troubles, and indeed that is where you need to head if you want to keep the Visitor Center safe.
The interior areas are all bland, repetitive environments that use a very small set of wall textures and contain almost no landmarks, making navigation a real pain in the backside, but the Raptor Pen does have one of the few nice touches I remember from the indoor bits: you can see the jungle environment in the center of the building. It's just a flat image, it's not animated or anything, but given that every other square inch of the building is made of the same drab, grey walls that'd make a veteran submarine crew feel cold and claustrophobic it's a welcome touch.
Anyway, the problem is that the raptors are getting into the Visitor Center via a tunnel that leads from the Raptor Pen to the Visitor Center's basement. This tunnel needs to be blocked up. If only there was a flimsy wooden crate nearby...
Thank the heavens! This will do the job nicely - as a dinosaurologist, Dr. Grant knows only too well that the greatest weakness of any carnivorous therapod is the humble packing container. You wanna just push that crate in front of the tunnel there, champ?
Done and done. This wooden crate will surely resist all efforts by the highly intelligent and powerfully muscled velociraptors to gain entrance to the Visitor Center. Dr. Grant, you're a genius!
Is sarcasm poisoning something that can happen? Because I'm feeling a bit light-headed. Maybe it's just the my brain trying to make sense of the wooden crate stopping the dinosaurs.
I feel a bit better now that I'm outside, negotiating the mountains and collecting dinosaur eggs. There are eighteen eggs scattered around the map, and you have to collect them all before you can complete the game. I think. I'm not sure what happens if you reach the end of the game without picking up all the eggs, and while I'm sorry for not giving you the full rundown on the egg situation there was no way in hell I was getting to the end without having all the eggs in my possession. I'm only halfway through the game and it already feels like I've been here far too long, a feeling that reaches a peak in the next section - the ship.
The ship can fuck right off, frankly. It's big, it's decorated entirely in one shade of brown I like to call "Satan's Diarrhoea" and it's so jam-packed with dinosaurs you'll think P&O are running a buy-one-get-one-free offer on all tickets for extinct reptiles. Your mission is to destroy all the dinosaurs on board. Yup, just kill 'em all. There's even a counter that tells you how many you have left to slaughter. Just take a second to consider what this must feel like for Dr. Grant. Here is a man who has dedicated his life to the study of dinosaurs, spending years rubbing fossils with a shaving brush in the remotest, most god-forsaken corners of the planet, until one day he comes face-to-face with the creatures he has built his life around. Then someone nudges him in the direction of a shotgun and says "there better not be any of these left alive when I get back." I know Grant is pragmatic enough to realise that the dinosaurs can't be allowed to reach the mainland, but that's still got to hurt.
Hunting down the dinosaurs isn't the problem. The problem is that you can't just go about it in a straightforward fashion, because Ocean have decided that this game was a good chance to release Backtracking: The Video Game under the cover of it being a Jurassic Park title. You walk over to the ship from the Visitor Center. You proceed through the first level of the ship, terminating any dinosaurs you see with extreme prejudice. Along the way you'll find a locked door and Dr. Wu's ID card. Dr. Wu's card does not open that door. It opens a door in the Visitor Center, so off you pop, all the way back through the dino-infested mountains to the Center where you can use Wu's card to open a door and increase your security clearance level.
Once you've done that, traipse all the way back to the SS Dickabout and proceed down to level 2 and through the doors unlocked by your higher security clearance. Then you have to find a separate elevator to the one you just used in order to reach the lower decks and murder all the dinosaurs down there. Don't worry, you'll be in the mood to murder something by the time you reach this point. Eventually you'll clear out all the dinosaurs and have to walk back through the empty, confusingly laid-out ship to return to the world map. Oh, and you have to come back to the third level of the ship later. To call this whole rigmarole brain-meltingly, soul-sappingly tedious would be to greatly underestimate what an absolute ball-ache this section is. If there was an option to make Grant turn his shotgun on himself, I would have taken it.
It wouldn't be so bad it the gameplay was any fun, but I'm sure those of you who grew up playing Ocean games won't be surprised to find out that the gameplay is, in fact, not fun.
Firstly, the indoor sections. It's undoubtedly an impressive technical feat to cram a 3D shooter into a SNES cart. I'm not arguing against that as an accomplishment - but then again, it would be technically impressive if you used a laser to etch the entirety of Stephen King's latest bestseller onto a single grain of rice, but that doesn't mean it'd be the preferred method of experiencing the text. In short, the SNES can handle the FPS areas, but it'd can't handle them well.
The buildings are samey and uninteresting, which would be bad enough even if they weren't a chore to navigate. You can't strafe, turning around on the spot takes an age and to get through a doorway you have to line yourself up with it pretty much perfectly or you'll slide around on the doorframe like a pisshead trying to get into his house after a particular heavy session down the Nag's Head. Your woeful movement options aren't perhaps the handicap they could have been, however, because the dinosaurs aren't all that interested in coming to get you. You only ever fight two kinds of dinosaurs indoors - raptors and the spitting Dilophosaurus - and to be brutally honest they are so monumentally thick that the next time you hear someone pose the question "what killed the dinosaurs?" you'll want to reply "an inability to detect threats unless said threats are rubbing up against them and waving a gun."
Look at them, just standing there. Your bullets / rockets / exploding bola snares have unlimited range, so most of the 3D combat involves picking off the dinosaurs from a safe distance. Sometimes dinosaurs will be placed next to doors or around blind corners to catch you off guard, but on the whole they are almost entirely non-threatening.
Things get flipped when you're wandering around outside - now the dinosaurs are much more of a threat, constantly chipping away at your health and proving oddly difficult to hit. On the whole I'd have to say that the top-down gameplay is preferable to the 3D stuff, but it's still not great. For example, Grant can jump. This is useful for hopping over the occasional canal or thorny vine.
There's a thorny vine now. They're dotted around the overworld, and they're utterly pointless. Grant's jumping abilities are developed enough to clear them with ease and they're never bunched together to form a maze, or a jumping puzzle, or anything remotely interesting. They're just... there, every now and then, requiring so little effort to bypass that you'll wonder why the developers even included them in the game at all. My current theory is that they're there to force you to pay attention while you aimlessly wander the park, looking for the next ill-defined objective, to punish you if you lose concentration and walk into a briar patch.
Oh yeah, my objectives. I'm getting towards the end now, and your final major task is to enter the raptor nest, find the egg chamber and drop a canister of nerve gas. That seems awfully dangerous, can't I just push some crates in front of the exits?
I entered the raptor next through a forest clearing, but for some reason the interior is a giant stone maze adorned with Jurassic Park logos, so fair play to the raptors from sprucing the place up a little.
And now they're all going to die. I wonder if there are any other theme parks that have a supply of nerve gas on hand? The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, maybe. Those kids can get unruly if they're sorted into a house they don't like.
With the raptors re-extinctioned, Jurassic Park is almost over. All that's left to do is plod through the ship again and use the computer there to call for a helicopter off the island, but before I do that there are a few more things about the game I'd like to mention. While I've complained a lot, there are a few things that I genuinely enjoyed about the game. For one thing, incompetent embryo thief and park computer expert Dennis Nedry likes to send you messages.
Messages designed to get you killed. Nedry has changed from a greedy traitor to flat-out psychopath, trying to have Grant die a horrible death by feeding him inaccurate information like "raptors won't attack unless you shoot them" and "go on, touch the electric fence, it'll be fun."
Immature, yes, but these messages make me laugh whenever they pop up, probably because I imagine that there were kids out there who read these messages and believed that touching the electric fence really would give you a free life; and so off they went, face-first, into the nearest charged-up barrier. That's a thought to warm the cockles of my cold, dark heart.
I've already mentioned that I like the graphics, but even better is the game's soundtrack. I particularly like the "Ocean" theme that plays when you get near the ship.
Soothing and sinister all at once, this is probably the best piece in a soundtrack of surprising quality. Even as I say that, however, there are problems with the music. Each area has it's own accompanying theme, which is all well and good until you notice that a lot of the areas are very close to each other and you'll be moving through many different zones at a fair old pace... and each time you change zones, the new music takes a while to start up, so you end up only ever hearing brief snatches of each tune as you move from the jungle to the mountains to the sea. A minor flaw, really, but it's a shame when the music is probably the best thing about the game.
Oh, and there's a Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Of course there's a T. Rex. The velociraptors may have been the break-out stars of Jurassic Park, but it was the T. Rex that everyone came to see in the first place, and here he is on your Super Nintendo. There are two of them, (I think,) each patrolling a certain part of the map, and if you get too close they'll run out of the jungle and eat you.
Like so. They're completely invulnerable, except to tranquillizer darts which slow them down a little, but really you should just avoid the Rex altogether and it's possible to complete the game without ever seeing one. Imagine that, if you'd played all the way through a Jurassic Park game and not seen a single T. Rex. Well you've seen it now, and it's little more than an easily-avoidable environmental hazard. I'm... not sure that's better.
Okay, I've had enough of this. Time to end the game, which is now just a simple matter of getting to the helipad and enjoying the dramatic and fulfilling ending.
That's the ending, huh? Yup, I definitely feel fulfilled. Ful-filled with hate. Aside from this one screen, the ending consists of the Mode 7 shot of the island that you're shown in the intro and the credits, which you can also see in the intro. Ninety percent of Jurassic Park's ending sequence is taken directly from screens shown to you before you've even started the game. I should have left Grant in the raptor nest with the nerve gas.
Maybe I have been a little harsh on Jurassic Park. I know there are people out there who think it's a good game, and while I certainly wouldn't go that far I will concede that it is at least a relatively competent game. One of its biggest failings is a lack of focus - neither of the two gameplay styles are much cop, but there's a foundation there that could have been built into something much more enjoyable had Ocean decided to focus on one style or the other. This feels especially true of the outdoor sections: a good game could have been borne from those areas with a little more variety, particularly if it had ditched the overworld concept and had discrete stages.
I'm not saying that overworlds are a bad thing in general, but the specific one in Jurassic Park is, like the buildings, awkwardly laid-out and confusing. Any amateur cartographers out there should definitely give this game a swing, because to get anywhere you'll need to make more maps than Magellan. Once you do know what you're doing, and in what order, and where all the ID cards and eggs are located, then the game should only take a couple of hours to beat. It's a good job too, because - and this is the final blow to any chances of me enjoying Jurassic Park - you can't save your game. No passwords, no battery back-up, no nothing. Do it all in one go, or don't do it at all. You have infinite continues, so if you're willing to leave your SNES on until you get it done then I suppose you have a chance to witness the extravagant ending sequence for yourself, but I would strongly advise against it.
So maybe I'm being unfairly critical, but I can't bloody stand this game. Hey, no-one ever said you were going to get balanced, unbiased reportage here at VGJunk. Sure, it's got dinosaurs, decent graphics, a good soundtrack and some fairly impressive 3D gameplay but all of that is buried beneath the unremitting tide of pointless and frustrating design decisions. Suddenly that 3DO version of Jurassic Park is sounding like a much more tempting prospect.