Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Stuff I Grew Up With/Video Game Corner: Jurassic Park (1993)

Since I loved the movie so much, it was only natural that I soon found myself playing the video game (at least, this particular game, since there were many, many others, with varying types of gameplay, made for other systems like the original NES and the Sega Genesis). This item was released only a few months after the movie and I played it as soon as I saw it on the shelf at my local video rental store. Although it was far from the greatest gaming experience I'd ever had (which wasn't saying much since I was only six then), I still liked it enough that I eventually asked for and got it as a present from my mom the following Easter. However, this ended up being one of the games that I owned as a kid that I never beat... a fact that remains the same to this very day. When I originally wrote this review, I attempted to complete the game in order to make the review more solid but I simply couldn't and I've since sold my copy and don't ever plan to try to complete this game. I'll get to why I was unable to beat the game presently but, as for my initial summation, the best way I can describe it is as a nice-looking, fairly fun game that, unfortunately, has some serious flaws that really damage its replay value and, as a consequence, stop it from being more fondly remembered than it is.

You play as Dr. Alan Grant, who has either been left behind on Isla Nublar by everyone else or was just dropped off there and left to fend for himself (I think the instruction booklet did explain things but I lost it years ago, so I can't confirm). Whatever the situation, you're stuck in Jurassic Park and you have to accomplish a series of objectives in order to escape, which consist of tasks such as turning on the generator, rebooting the park's computer system, keeping Velociraptors from getting into the visitor's center, and so on. Another main goal besides trying to find a way to escape is to collect 18 raptor eggs that are scattered across the island in order to keep it from being overrun. Your enemies, of course, are various dinosaurs and other creatures that often come out of nowhere and attack. I think it goes without saying that different dinosaurs cause different degrees of damage but, fortunately, you're given five lives and two continues after you run out of said lives (although, something other than the difficulty of the enemies is more likely to cause you to fail). The game switches between two different perspectives: an overhead style outside, and a first person one which has a 3-D look to it whenever you enter a building. That aspect made it fairly distinctive back in the day and those first-person mode is still quite impressive and even a little nerve-wracking now.

As I said, dinosaurs and other creatures are the main hazards. There are large, poisonous flies that buzz around you in certain spots but you can kill them easily with any of your weapons because they always pause for a brief second after buzzing forward. Compies, which are these little, yellow dinosaurs, are little pests that tend to swarm you and bite continuously. They're annoying but very weak and you can take out an entire herd with your cattle prod. Galliminus don't actually attack you but if you get close, they'll stampede. They're not that much harder to kill than the Compies, though. Pachycephalosaurs, or head-butters, are one of the most annoying enemies because once they zero in on you, they won't stop chasing and trying to ram you until you cross somewhere they can't follow, and they take a couple of shots to kill, even with a shotgun, with their quick movements making it hard to get a fix on them, especially if you run into a big herd of them (these dinosaurs and the Compies didn't appear in a movie until the sequel, The Lost World, but thanks to this game, I already knew of them going into that movie). Dilophosaurs, of course, spit globs of poison at you that not only hurt you but also mess up your controls for a few seconds, which can result in you dying if other dinosaurs show up. As they were in the movie, Velociraptors are the absolute worst because they're everywhere, they're very quick and severely damage you, and they take three shots to kill with a normal shotgun, so it's best to use a stronger weapon on them if you happen to have one. There are vertical alleys of jungle where, once you enter, a Triceratops will start chasing you and you must take cover. If you get squashed, you'll lose a life no matter how much health you have left. The T-Rex only shows up a couple of times and when you run into him, you're screwed unless you run like crazy. As a cool as he was in the movie, it's best to avoid him at all costs because none of your weapons hurt him, although the animation of him eating you is fun to watch, so you might want to offer yourself up to him at least once just so you can see it. Besides the dinosaurs, you have to be careful of other hazards like electric fences and grates on the ground (you can see your bones like in a cartoon if you get electrocuted by one and if one kills you, you actually explode!), tangles of vines on the ground that hurt you for some reason (I guess they're poisonous), and walking into water means instant death.

You have a fair amount of different weapons at your disposal here, with your default one being a cattle prod that comes in handing when dealing with weak enemies like Compies and those big, venomous flies (you also have to use it to operate the switches to doors in the fences and other obstacles). Gas grenades can knock dinosaurs out but I hardly ever used them because they always got back up after a few seconds and the same goes for the tranquilizer gun, although it apparently can slow down the T-Rex (I never tried it because, like I said, it's best to avoid him as much as possible). The shotgun can take down Pachycephalosaurs and Dilophosaurs with two bullets but, like I said, it takes three for the raptors so it's best to shoot them with something stronger. Said stronger weapons are rockets and bolas that are by far the best weapons in the entire game because they can kill just about anything in one hit, with the bolas taking down everything in their path until they hit a wall. You also have to make use of nerve gas to destroy a raptor nest in a moment of the game that I never made it to. In addition to the weapons, there are helpful items such as health kits, food, which also replinishes your health, 1-ups (they're very rare, though), ID cards that you have to collect to open various rooms in the buildings, and batteries for your night vision goggles, which are essential when you come across dark rooms in the buildings.

Although the terrain in the rocky areas and the twists and turns in the dense jungle can be difficult to navigate through, the outside is pretty in my opinion; inside, however, the game gets rather tricky and aggravating. For one, the controls become very stiff and it sometimes feels like you're caught on something even when there's nothing there. You often run into Velociraptors and Dilophosaurs inside and while the latter will just stand there and won't spit at you until you get too close, raptors tend to pace back and forth and when you hit them with a bullet, they charge at you. Your cattle-prod's range is very limited in this perspective, although you'd only use it as a last resort considering the enemies you run into in these areas. Oh, and remember those night vision goggles? Like I said up above, you must have them in order to go into a dark room because if you don't, you'll get torn apart by raptors inside and start back outside the building to try again. Even more annoying is that, when you find a battery for the goggles inside a building, they will only work in that particular building; when you go into another building, you have to find another battery in there before you can go into its dark rooms. You often have to deal with computer interfaces in these levels in order to turn on power generators and the like and if you don't know what to punch in, you will be absolutely lost when you're faced with these screens. Worst of all, walking around inside is disorienting, to say the least, and it's very easy to get lost because, not only are there are a lot of doors in any given building, they often have elevators that lead to more floors that you also have to search every nook and cranny of. You have to keep a mental checklist of all the different floors you've been to, otherwise you will get turned completely around. Any dinosaurs that you've killed can act as markers to let you know where you've been, as is the case outside, but only so many rooms have them, so you can't solely depend on them. They may look cool for the time but that novelty of these indoor levels wear off pretty quickly when you get turned around and start pulling your hair out (I do smile at the cheesy elevator music that you hear while actually riding them, though).

Going back to the outside area, as simple as they are when compared to navigating the inside of the buildings, you run into one of the game's most annoying features here. There are communication posts scattered throughout the park that allow you to communicate with other characters from the film and they tell you what you must do, which is helpful (the clarity of the voices when the characters either, "Grant," or "Alan," is quite surprising), but there will also be many other times where you'll just be walking around, nowhere one of these posts, when a tip suddenly comes up. This can get irritating very quickly because, first of all, these dialogue boxes take up about half the screen and while they are see-through and only last a few seconds, it's still annoying to have to put up with them as much as you do. Second, the same tip often shows up again and again, which isn't at all helpful after you've read six times. And, third, some of the info is just plain wrong. Tim tells you not to shoot the Galliminus because they'll stampede but they'll do that anyway even if you just get close to them, and you learn very quickly not to listen to anything Dennis Nedry tells you. If you've seen the movie, you know that he's a lying, scheming asshole, and he's no different in the game. He'll tell you stuff that are just blatant lies, such as that raptors won't attack unless you shoot them or to touch a fence to get a free life, in order to trip you up (of course, only a very gullible, naive person would fall for any of those tricks). And just to add insult to injury, sometimes a dialogue box from him comes up that just says, SUCKER! Dick.

All of these minor gripes aside, the game does have a number of good qualities. The graphics are very well designed, especially the dinosaurs, and they're nice and colorful. The music and sound effects are also very well done (at the start of the game, there's a voice that says, "Welcome to Jurassic Park," that also sounds unusually clear for a game on the Super NES), with this being one of the first games to be recorded in Dolby Stereo. Different areas of the park have different music themes and they all sound very cool, although they're rather hard to describe, like the main one that you hear when you first start the game that begins with some drum-like beats before going into a rhythmic sound with a hint of menace to it, and another piece that has a distinctively solemn-type of sound to it. The music that plays inside the buildings is the most memorable because of downright creepy it is. It's a very menacing little theme that starts quietly and only grows louder and more threatening as you proceed, all the while making you feel very tense. I was surprised at how, even today, that music made me feel uneasy about what I was doing, with the layout of the levels, the first-person perspective, and the controls making me all the more nervous. In fact, the game even starts out with very threatening music that builds to a very loud pitch as the screen pushes into a map of Isla Nublar with the Jurassic Park logo in the center of it. The various snarls, roars, and hisses of the dinosaurs sound good and convincing enough, although the raptors' snarling can get really annoying and you often hear them in the buildings even when they're not in the same room with you, which can make you rather jumpy. When you run into the T-Rex, his roar is very startling and often, you're too shocked by it to move and you end up getting eaten. The T-Rex in this game did scare me when I was little and, as I said, he still has the power to make me jump when he suddenly shows up.

At this point, you're probably thinking, "This sounds like a pretty good, if flawed, little game." Well, it would be, if it weren't for one big problem that is completely inexcusable: there's no save feature. That's right, you have to complete this game in one sitting, and it's a pretty long game with a lot of backtracking at that. I, for one, cannot sit in a chair for two to three hours doing nothing but mashing buttons. I get tired after a while and want to go do something else but if I want to beat the game, I have to press on. Whoever decided to not put in a save feature must have thought that gamers have no lives whatsoever, and the game's age is not an excuse because games did have save options back then. As I said at the beginning, I tried to beat the game in order to make this review more complete but I eventually got bored and frustrated and just gave up. I made it to the part where you have to kill all of the raptors inside this ship and I managed to kill all but one that was probably hiding in some obscure room that I couldn't find unless I wandered around for hours and at that point, I finally just said the hell with it and turned the game off. I've heard that the ending to the game is pitiful (as they tended to be back then) anyway, which only fueled my decision not to waste my time trying to beat this in one sitting.

So, yeah, Jurassic Park for the Super NES, while maybe not a classic, had the potential to be a good game for the system but the developers had to completely botch that with an unreasonable method of beating it. While I did have fun playing it when I was a kid, I decided not to pursue trying to beat it since I wouldn't have really accomplished anything anyway and I've since sold the game. Besides, there are tons of Jurassic Park games for various consoles, so it's not like this one is special. Before the sequel to the movie came out, there was another Super NES game called Jurassic Park Part 2: The Chaos Continues, which I remember enjoying more than this because of its varied levels and types of gameplay. That's a game that I hope to find one day in order to play it again. Anyway, to sum up this particular game: fun for the most part and I'll always have good childhood memories of playing it but the absence of a save feature is inexcusable.

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