Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Friday at the Movies: Jurassic Park (Sega CD)

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Console: Sega-CD/Mega-CD
Released: 1993
Developer: Universal Pictures/Amblin Entertainment
Publisher: Sega
Instruction Manual: Helpful – Link
Difficulty: Easy
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: $1.02 (used), $10.39 (new) (pricecharting.com
Other Releases: No
Digital Release? No

When the movie Jurassic Park came out in 1993, it was an absolute phenomenon.  People who had never read the book were picking it up in droves, and from what I could tell through conversation at that time almost no one actually read it.  Dinosaur craze returned in full force as Michael Crichton’s novel about a genetic research company cloning dinosaurs on a Costa Rican island brought out the kid in everyone.  Not only that, Spielberg’s film adaptation utilized cutting edge computer generated image technology along with stop motion and creature expert Stan Winston to create lifelike dinosaurs onscreen that amazed everyone.  Jurassic Park was not only ideal for the medium it was on, the premise was tailor-made for marketing companies to merchandise the hell out of it.  Back then development cycles were short and coordinating a solid game release along with a movie wasn’t so far-fetched, and honestly most home ports of the game were as diverse as it came across platforms and all pretty decent.  My personal favorite has to be the Sega CD port, which merged details from both the movie and the book to create, of all things, a point-and-click adventure set on the island.  The opportunity of exploring the vacant island and interacting with the dinosaurs was a great opportunity, but I didn’t come to appreciate it until I was much older due to the lack of action in the game.

Set shortly after the abandonment of the island in the movie, you’re tasked with returning to Jurassic Park after the tragedy that befell its visitors and recover dinosaur eggs for rebuilding.  Since the eggs are lost and you are unaware of Dennis Nedry’s specimen can, your only option is to sneak into the nest of the 12 given dinosaur species, recover an egg, and return it to the incubator at the visitor’s center.  While locations remain in a controlled environment (you’re forced into fast travel movies that drop you into the screens you explore), there is an awful lot of freedom to roam about.  What I found most iconic is the ability to explore areas like visitor center laboratory and even special access to Dr. Wu’s office, the tyrannosaur paddock and seeing the after effects of the attack on the SUVs that Tim, Lex, and Grant were in, and even a tense trip down the island river (which is never featured in the movie but a crucial part of the book’s plot) as dilophosaurs spit venom at you.  While this sounds gripping and almost too high brow for 1993, you must remember that this game is a true adventure game not unlike the LucasArts and Sierra titles, which means action is few and far between.  Even in the sequences where you do engage dinosaurs, the answer is always some sort of puzzle that usually has you dying quite a few times before figuring out the secret.  I think most people who go into this game are imagining something that is a bit more interactive than it is, but if you approach it with an adventure game mindset it weaves an intriguing story.

Graphically the game is a bit poor, forced into graphics that are predominantly accomplished through the Genesis and benefits very little except for a few moments of 3D rendered cutscenes and actual MPEG video.  I didn’t have any large issue with the cartoon style graphics and it felt no less menacing when confronted with a charging triceratops, fending off an aggravated T-Rex, or having a pack of velociraptors surround you.  The game gives you a real-time twelve-hour game clock, which is more than enough time to complete the game – once I knew what to do I could tackle this title in about 4-5 hours – but for first time adventurers I can see this as a daunting task, especially because puzzle solutions aren’t always logical.  Parts of this game also feel pieced together, like the random side views on the river and highly rendered locations in the lab, which are best explained in this article I found from one of the devs.  It tells the tale of a wide spectrum idea that includes 3D rendered models, various camera viewing angles, and lots of content that about 3/4 of the design doc were stripped for this more streamlined process.  Probably a good idea considering this title would be lost in the world of half-completed for certain had the concept not been wrangled back in to something that’s a bit more established.  Each dinosaur has habits and behaviors that I can confirm (see above referenced article) were programmed into the game and rely on certain knowledge to overcome the “puzzle” of getting an egg.  While there isn’t much video, the one place you’ll see it is pretty cool in my eyes: they hired well-known paleontologist Dr. Robert Bakker to speak in a museum-like short educational video for each species.  These short vids revealed information on the dinosaurs’ behavior and helped you figure them out, although I must admit I still had to look up how to overcome these guys.  I forget which magazine it was, but I’m pretty sure it was Player’s Guide, had a complete 3-page walkthrough that was essential in my eventual completion of the game.  I suggest everyone play this game with a guide handy.

In a genre, time, and film that screams action, Sega decided to utilize CD technology and create a mildly educational adventure game about a lone scientist on an abandoned island of dinosaurs.  It’s a Sega CD game based on a movie in a niche genre and yet I’m sure there were executives who wondered why it didn’t sell.  As for me, it stands as one of the top titles you must pick up if starting a Sega CD collection and thanks to a low price tag, it won’t break your bank as well.

Written by Fred Rojas

November 16, 2012 at 4:35 pm

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