“Welcome to Jurassic Park.” When Steven Spielberg and Universal Pictures brought Michael Crichton’s sci-fi novel about a live dinosaur theme-park to the silver screen, movie-goers were treated to an exciting world where the science of man was wielded against nature’s greatest predator with tragic results. In addition to tackling relevant themes such as man playing god, the film achieved a new standard of special affects by blending ground-breaking CGI technologies with animatronic puppetry. It was only natural for this tense and exciting environment to be brought to the medium of video games.
As did its NES adaptation, Jurassic Park for the SNES centers on Alan Grant, the paleontologist who is one of the principal characters from the film. Grant is seeking to escape Jurassic Park, where the island’s live displays now live unencumbered. Equipped originally with naught but a cattle prod, Grant must survive the free-ranging dinos while completing nine objectives before he can escape via helicopter. To aid him in his quest, Grant can find projectile weapons and follow the advice of his friends who chip in at regular intervals.
While structured like an action RPG, Jurassic Park differs from the standard conventions in several ways. Rather than encountering NPCs face-to-face to gain hints, items or information, dialogue boxes appear at the top of the screen to offer Grant advice on what to do next. There is no level-up system, only extra lives, medical kits and food which increase Grant’s health meter. A significant drawback is the lack of an inventory screen. There are eight ID cards Grant must locate and use to gain access to different areas of the island, and it is easy to forget which ones you have maintained versus the ones you need to get. There is also no in-level map, which becomes an issue since each building has between two and five floors, and each door in a respective level looks exactly the same.
Much of the fun in Jurassic Park comes from fending off the dinos, of which there are plenty in each level and on the main island screen. Other than the cattle prod, which is only useful for clearing the smallest critters and opening gates, there are five heavier weapons Grant can use. The most effective is the rocket, which obliterates an enemy in one shot. The shotgun takes several hits to fell a creature, and same goes for a tranquilizer. The bolas weapon is the most powerful since it takes out an infinite number of enemies before hitting a wall or going off-screen. The gas grenade can also take out multiple enemies, but as with the tranquilizer shots the dinos will awaken after a period of time. In-level, raptors do not re-spawn, which makes it easier to not run out of ammo as well as track which rooms you have already been to.
The pacing of Jurassic Park is pleasurable thanks to the fact that once in-level, the game shifts to a first-person shooter. In this regard, much is borrowed from Doom and Wolfenstein 3D, in which the player can look to the left and right, but not up or down. The graphics are much choppier once in-level, and it becomes more necessary for the player to proceed with caution in such an enclosed space. Thankfully, the navigability is such that the player can maneuver Dr. Grant easily to line up for a fair shot. Once in-level, there is also the opportunity to use the SNES mouse on the computer Dr. Grant will come across. Add all of these facets, and we have a nice variety of experience in one cartridge.
There are several music tracks in Jurassic Park that range from serviceable to excellent. The sound effects, which mostly relate to dinosaur samples and weapon blasts, add to the tension. Some of the tracks are particularly spooky. My favorite is from the hill areas, called “Triceratops Trot.” Overall I enjoy the coloration and pixels of the game, although in the main island level the camera seems to be zoomed in a bit more than necessary. The crowded effect definitely adds to the drama, and until you’ve memorized where the beasts reside, it feels as if dinos are lurking at ever corner.
I think what Jurassic Park is missing most is a lack of character cast. While you do get to hear from the film characters via the dialogue boxes, this doesn’t replace the gratification one gets from helping an NPC face-to-face. Dr. Grant has to come to terms early on that he won’t be encountering any flesh-and-blood humans until his task list is complete and the helicopter scoops him away to safety. Another minor issue I have with this game is the adaptation of Dr. Grant’s character from film to game. Why is this paleontologist packing heat and destroying dinosaurs? Obviously he does this as a means of survival, but since much of the game’s pleasure derives from knocking off the prehistoric reptiles, an irony is created that doesn’t settle well with me.
All told, Ocean Software’s adaptation of Jurassic Park to the Super Nintendo is lacking a few elements to elevate it to a superior action RPG. It’s satisfying enough to peruse the island that Spielberg brought to life and prove yourself at the top of the food chain, but the species of dinos encountered are few and there are even fewer methods for offing them. All the back-tracking Dr. Grant must do to locate his friend’s ID cards gives the experience a muted, labyrinthine feeling. Still, it’s fun to watch yourself get eaten by a T-Rex, or to bomb the Dilophosaurus before it sticks you with its poisonous wad. If you were enthralled by the original Jurassic film as much as I was, you just may want to check out this game that offers at least some reminiscence.
Three out of Five Stars
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