What with the opening of “Jurassic World” this weekend in the US, we decided to hold off on a new “Revenge of the License” column in the hopes of catching readers who just want to read about some dinosaur games. Thus, we present a re-run of Michael’s column from last year about this hidden gem for the Sega CD. Hold on to your butts!
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Michael Crichton’s ‘earn-all-the-money’ blockbuster novel and subsequent Spielberg film have left in their wake a Triceratops-sized pile of video game tie-ins, most of which could be appropriately categorized by Ian Malcolm as “one big pile of shit.” We, being the masochists we pride ourselves on being however, donned the Ellie Sattler gloves and dug to find those undigested bits of retro awesome amongst the major turds like Trespasser and Jurassic Park III: The DNA Factor. After the foraging and washing of hands before eating anything, we were left with some obvious winners, many mediocre bits, and one that took us all happily by surprise (a welcome surprise indeed after the debacle that was last week’s entry). Ladies and gentlemen, welcome…to Jurassic Park for the Sega CD.
If you own a Sega CD you either had a horrible childhood, or you’re a collector assembling yesteryear’s large format jewel cases in your game room. But after scooping up Snatcher, both Lunar games, Shining Force CD, Popful Mail and (of course) Night Trap, where else does a retro gamer go for quality games? That grainy, 64-color, low-res video has aged in precisely the same way fine cheese does not. Which makes the Sega CD version of this game so impressive: rather than stuffing snippets of the film on to the disc in order to make a ‘Cinematic Experience’ akin to Sewer Shark, Sega avoided that temptation. They also ignored the top-down and side-scroller mechanics of the competing eight- and sixteen-bit versions. Instead Sega opted for the choice best suited to a console with access to digital-quality sound, slower load times, and hundreds of megabytes of storage space: the point-and-click adventure. The result is one of the best and lowest-cost experiences you can enjoy on the system, and one of the most respectable film-to-game translations of the day in terms of sticking to the source materials.
Jurassic Park casts you as a nameless adventurer who flies to Isla Nublar in the aftermath of the events depicted in the book. Your job is to recover unhatched eggs from the various breeding sites around the island and get them to an incubator in the visitor center. A sudden malfunction forces your helicopter into a crash-landing. You survive, but the clock is running: the events of your adventure unfold as twelve hours tick away in your status bar. Can you survive the dinosaurs and complete your mission, or will you end up as just another meat snack passing through the intestines of the first Velociraptor to catch your scent?
As noted before, Sega plays entirely to the strengths of their console. Increased storage space on the CD allows for each scene to offer a 360-degree rotating view, complete with animations. Noted paleontologist Dr. Robert Bakker features in short video clips, offering up some bite-sized bits of education between bouts of point-and-click pixel hunting and puzzle solving. The between-scene transitions make limited use of FMV, showcasing the player driving down roads, boating down a river, and so forth. Music is mostly incidental, used to good effect, and silent the rest of the time making for an unnerving walk through the Park. And the sound design is exceptional, with plenty of background noise from insects and birds up through the iconic roars and calls of the island’s new owners. Try and keep your heart steady when that first T-Rex stomps toward you as the screen starts to shake.
Despite the edutainment aspect of the info terminals, Jurassic Park is anything but a game for children. The puzzles don’t always have obvious solutions (one example: use your tazer to shoot a frog, making it jump across a stream, which puts it in hunting range of a compy, who snarfs it up and walks off to let you pass), and unlike most adventures where you can take your time, JP is unforgiving. Attacks by dinosaurs are frequent when you’re messing around in their paddocks. Figuring a way out of a given screen often requires you to perform a series of actions while under attack, so you’re not only working against the timer but also your own life bar. You can find first aid boxes scattered around the island to heal your injuries, but it can be a long hike between them so keep your wits about you and be prepared to run like hell if you need to.
Saving your game is possible so you don’t have to complete it all in one sitting, but doing so requires a trek back to the Visitor Center, and each screen transition culls a certain amount of time off your remainder. Your best bet is to explore one section at a time, return to the Visitor Center to deposit any eggs you find in the incubator unit, then save and head out on the next leg of your journey. While you’re there, you can also check in via video uplink with your team leader who keeps you apprised of any updates. These are relayed via short FMV clips, and are competently acted–a welcome change from the usual Sega CD fare.
The game’s not all rainbows and unicorns though. Controls can be too loose when trying to make one item interact with another, and especially when trying to use your stunner on a moving dinosaur. It’s easy to be just a couple pixels off from your intended target and miss or have nothing happen.
The game only offers one save slot: starting a new game erases your current progress, and forget about reloading an earlier save if you get close to the end only to discover you don’t have enough time to finish your mission. This is one point-and-click adventure that rewards, nay demands, fast-thinking over the sort of would-be Sherlock Holmes who pauses on every screen to assess the situation. And like almost all adventure games, once you know what you’re doing, you can breeze through it in an hour or two which kills the replay value substantially.
Despite these nitpicks, Jurassic Park on the Sega CD is a solid title on a system reviled for its stunning plethora of bloatware bullshit. It’s unique for adventure gamers, having never been ported to another system, and its relatively obscure status among most retro enthusiasts means it’s easy to pick up on the cheap. At the time of this writing, new copies on Amazon were selling for $20, and used ones for as little as a quarter plus shipping.
If you own a Sega CD, there’s no reason this game shouldn’t occupy a space in your library. And if you enjoyed Telltale Games’ Jurassic Park: The Game, or just like dinosaurs, your inner paleontologist will dig (pun intended) the hell out of it. Don’t let this one go extinct.
And why not enjoy this two-page ad spread while you’re at it: