Retro Corner: Jurassic Park
Game: Jurassic Park (1993)
Developer: Ocean Software
Publisher: Ocean Software
Originally Released on: SNES (Various versions released across many other consoles)
Currently Available on: Currently Unavailable
Although (in general) film to game adapatations have gained a reputation for being sub-standard, we have seen in past Retro Corner articles that this certainly isn’t always the case. Games such as Blade Runner, Batman and Goldeneye were all great examples of how to successfully adapt a successful movie into a videogame. When Jurassic Park hit cinema screens in 1993, it was also developed into a series of games for almost every console and home computer system imaginable. Strangely, none of the games were simple ports of one another and gameplay varied from one to the next – some of the games even being developed and published by entirely different companies.
But probably the most well-remembered and innovative version released was the Super Nintendo one, produced by Ocean Software. Ocean had a long history of producing licensed games and weren’t exactly known for their high quality standards, but their take on Jurassic Park on the SNES was both ground-breaking and daring for the time, employing many in-game features that hadn’t really been seen before on consoles – this tied in well with the film version, which was revolutionary within the movie industry.
The game is played in a top-down view for the most part, when the player is exploring the outside areas of Jurassic Park – this view is similar to that seen in early Zelda games. Players control Dr Alan Grant (Sam Neill from the film), who must single-handedly escape from the island whilst completing certain tasks along the way. These range from finding a nest of Raptor Eggs and clearing it out, to powering up the park electricity generator and stopping a group of raptors from getting on board a ship. Other characters will send you messages via radio transmitters from time to time, and these will either give you advice and tell you what to do next, or even try to confuse you and hinder your progress, depending on whether the character is a friend or foe.
As you wander about the island you will come across many items to pick up – such as weapons and ammo – which you must use wisely, conserving ammunition and using the most effective weapon against the correct enemy. Enemies range from the small and relatively harmless (yet large in number) Compsognathus , to the spitting Dilophosaurus, herbivorous Triceratops and to the big hitters, the Velociraptors and Tyrannosaurus Rex. They, along with everything else in the game are drawn in a slightly stylised, cartoon-like manner, whilst still remaining fairly faithful to their film counterparts -especially in their animations, which are impressive. The graphics do come across as somewhat child-like, with a bright colour palette and cutesy Dinosaurs, and perhaps this does minimise the feeling of terror or panic somewhat.
But this all goes out of the window when you compare it to the indoor sections. Enter a maintenance bunker or visitors centre and the game shifts to a 3D first person perspective. At the time this was a big step for console gaming and it was in fact the first FPS-style game on the Super Nintendo. Whilst later SNES titles made use of the Super FX chip to simulate their 3D environments, such as Doom and Wolfenstein, Jurassic Park was even more impressive in that it built all of its 3D areas without the use of the extra chip. These sections were admittedly pixellated and jerky, but this was a style of play that was so out of the ordinary for the time and by employing the mode only during indoor sections, the developers did a great job of creating the feeling of claustrophobia and of being trapped in an enclosed space, whilst being stalked by dinosaurs!
The contrast between the two playing styles is what really makes the game unique and makes it stand out so much from other games of the era. Seeing the indoors view from the perspective of Dr Grant is much more effective at recreating the feel of the film. Outdoor areas sometimes seem too friendly and once you have learned where the enemies spawn at, you can quite easily navigate the terrain as there is no random generation of Dinosaurs. This does make the game somewhat easier, but to balance that out there is the fact that there is no save game system to speak of within the title. When you bear in mind that the game could take around four hours to complete from start to finish, and there are no codes or checkpoints at all, it is very much of the old-school where gamers had to play from start to finish in one sitting. You are equipped with unlimited continues throughout, so the “Game Over” screen won’t be an issue, but you obviously lose a little progress and some of your inventory when this happens, meaning that some back-tracking will be required.
In terms of sound, the title was also revolutionary, as it was one of the first games to be mastered in Dolby Pro Logic Surround Sound, which was also a big part of the film release. This does mean that the music (both from the film and original tracks) and sound effects are very effective and the mix does make you feel like you are in a jungle, surrounded by ravenous predators, as sounds come from all around. Other than the sprite graphics, that are bold and effective, the presentation lacks some bells and whistles, for instance a map would have been helpful within the game. Once again, this game is old-fashioned, as players find themselves scribbling down maps so they can re-trace their steps later to save time instead of aimless wandering. Perhaps the feeling of being lost was meant to be heightened by the lack of a map? A map system may have simplified things too much and it does make the idea of escaping more of a challenge. It does not effect gameplay negatively, whether the decision was by design or not.
So whilst the title is obviously far from perfect, there were a lot of clever ideas included and brave design choices made. To merge two very distinct game styles so flawlessly was quite an achievement – especially considering the technology of the time. The plot of the title may not closely follow the film – and most of the characters we grew to love in the Movie make nothing more than fleeting cameos – but the same atmosphere of panic and isolation from the outside world from the big-screen experience is present here. Compared to the SEGA Mega Drive version of the title, which was an action-platformer, where players could choose to control either Grant or a Raptor, this is a wild departure, but a bit of variety in the licensed games is a welcome change. The SNES one did meld more with the Nintendo image of fluffy, family-friendly titles, but behind that cartoon exterior there lies a surprisingly well-structured experience.
Jurassic Park is currently unavailable to purchase new, but can be bought second hand from sites such as eBay. Telltale Games have recently released an episodic title, Jurassic Park: The Game, check out the GodisaGeek.com review, coming soon. The God is a Geek Retro Corner is part of “Feature Friday” and will return on the first Friday of next month. You can see previous entries into the GodisaGeek Retro Corner by clicking here.