Jurassic Park is one of those really weird licensing situations. On one hand, the movie really isn’t for children, while on the other hand, marketers were extremely quick to rush out all sorts of toys and action figures for it. It’s sort of like Star Wars, especially when you consider the sheer marketing power of the franchise. The only difference is that Star Wars can be infinitely be expanded to the full extent of one’s imagination whereas Jurassic Park had exactly one story to tell, which has since been contrived into a few too many.
So, obviously, there were video games, and there will always be video games based on Jurassic Park because it will always smell like money. I’ve played more of them than I care to admit, but today we’re looking at Ocean’s first effort on the SNES because it’s the one that I’m most familiar with from childhood. Keep in mind that basically every game that carried the Jurassic Park name was almost entirely different because that’s how games worked back in the early ’90s
WELCOME TO JURASSIC PARK
So, if you don’t know the story of Jurassic Park, it essentially boils down to a rich guy paying a lot of smart people to clone dinosaurs back from extinction so he can build a giant zoo to show them off. He invites a bunch of other smart people to inspect the park before it’s open to the public, but Newman from Seinfeld sabotages the electric grid and the dinosaurs escape. The game sort of picks up sometime after that, putting you in the role of archeologist Alan Grant, who has to tie up some loose ends before everyone can escape.
Despite the abundance of games, there’s not a lot you can really take from the movie that works in a game, so developers really had to get creative with their approaches. In this instance, phones around the island give you tasks to perform, like restarting the generators and booting the computer system back up, which are similar to plot points in the movie, but not quite. Still, it’s not like any of the early licensed games stuck to the narrative, so whatever.
The gameplay is divided into two modes. The first is the overworld, where you traverse the park from an awkward top-down perspective. The other is a first-person mode that happens whenever you enter a building, which is rather ambitious for a game from 1993. Wolfenstein 3D had just happened the previous year, and as I mentioned in my Zero Tolerance review, the 16-bit consoles weren’t very well suited to the new-fangled ray-casted first-person shooters. It’s pretty obvious that one of the team’s programmers just loved to tinker, since there are a lot of unnecessary but cool tricks that the games pull off, like the completely impractical fractal designs that you can choose in the game’s computers.
However, that doesn’t mean the first-person areas are very good. Your view is confined to a goggle-like border that kind of looks like you’re looking out of swimming goggles. There are exactly two enemy types: raptors and dilophosaurs, with the raptors roaming around and attacking close range, while the dilophosaurs stay planted and spit at you. That’s a lot of gameplay you’re asking two distinct enemies to cover. The framerate in these sections is like a slideshow, with it occasionally tanking for essentially no reason.
That’s not to say they’re straight up bad. If there’s one thing the first-person sections do well, it’s with the atmosphere. A lot of the areas are dark, dingy sheds where dinosaurs can be heard in the next rooms. The buildings themselves are abstract mazes with not a lot of distinction between them, which is kind of expected given the time period. Occasionally it surprises you with a different wall texture, and wow, aren’t our expectations low?
Above ground is a different story. Essentially, you spend most of your time figuring out how to get to your next task. Sometimes you have to open a gate, other times you have to navigate a mountain, then navigate that same mountain again, then again. It’s not very efficient in its world design, is what I’m saying, with its requirements of having you traipse back and forth from the same location so you can open a previously locked door with your keycard, so you can get another keycard.
The dinosaurs on the overworld are at least more diverse, but the only real threats are raptors that leap from the trees, triceratops that burst out of obvious locations and try to insta-kill you, and a couple T-rexes that pop out when you least expect it and eat you in one bite. If you’re going to die, it’s likely to happen in the overworld, simply because the dinosaurs that roam the facilities are pretty ineffectual.
There are also raptor eggs to collect, which I’m not sure is entirely necessary to win the game, but I did it anyway. There are random letters littering the ground in weird places as well, which were for some long forgotten contest and are just little mysteries now.
THAT IS ONE BIG PILE OF OKAY
Really, though, Jurassic Park isn’t a bad game. At the very least, it’s ambitious, and its design is fairly unique, especially given the time period it was released. The gameplay isn’t bad, though it is fairly shallow. I imagine technical limitations are the cause of some of its deficiencies, but I don’t exactly mean that as a compliment.
If there’s one major complaint I have is that there’s no save or password system. I don’t recall how long it took me to complete the game, but it was hours, and the gameplay doesn’t really hold up after you’ve been sitting in front of it for the entire runtime. There’s some variety to its locales, but not enough to make sitting with it for so long really tolerable. If you could save, walk away, and continue later, it would have been a real boon, but it’s not really an option here.
So, what I’m saying is, you can do worse when it comes to licensed games. You can even do worse when it comes to games based on Jurassic Park. But you can also do better in both those categories.
This review was conducted on an original SNES with a cartridge copy of the game. It was purchased by the author.