Parkasaurus first popped up on my radar at the end of last year. This inaugural title by WashBear is meant to be a tycoon game in the vein of titles like Dinopark Tycoon and Jurassic World Evolution but with a decidedly less serious bent. I fell in love with the derpy-looking dinosaurs and looked forward to discovering if the mechanics matched the charm of its visuals.
At the time of release, Parkasaurus is a bit light on features. There is a robust Sandbox mode to play through, but there isn't yet any Campaign for players to try. It's an Early Access title and that's okay. It's important to get the foundation of the systems right before putting in serious work on the campaign. What Parkasaurus does have now is a promising foundation, but it certainly isn't without its stumbles.
Your adventure begins with the option to go through a tutorial. I took said option and learned how to build an exhibit, outfit it with the correct biome, and make it a fun place for my first Triceratops to live. After I wrapped the tutorial up, I decided to start anew with a clean slate and no help from the tutorial.
When you start a vanilla Sandbox park in Parkasaurus, you have a few thousand dollars and a massive, empty plot of land. You'll begin with a solitary dinosaur egg in your inventory to get your park going. I started off by erecting a decently-sized pen for my first Triceratops, plopping down a few paths and amenities, and opening the park. Guests began to pour in and enjoy staring at my little three-horned attraction.
The Triceratops is a herd animal and he needed a friend. Actually, he needed several friends. This is the time for players to hop into the Portal, a high-tech device that takes you... somewhere. It's still not entirely clear if you're going back in time or somewhere else in the world. In any case, you (and a team of scientists, if you have them) are going elsewhere in search of fossils. It takes some time to arrive. Once you've touched down, you'll play through a tile-reveal minigame as you try to uncover skulls and footprints for a particular class of dinosaur. When you've run out of tools, you return home and can set off another trip through the portal if you wish.
Fossils in hand, you must then head to town for some essential ingredients. Grab up a crystal of the right type, pop over to the egg shop, and crank out the dinosaur eggs that you want. Then it's simply a matter of placing them in your park and waiting for them to hatch (and eventually grow up). This gameplay loop of "hunt fossils, create dinosaur eggs, and add them to the park" is the core of Parkasaurus and it works well enough.
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As for the exhibits themselves, you'll have the choice of three different tilesets: Grass, Sand, and Mud. These each can turn into three different biomes apiece depending on terrain variation and how wet the region is. I found this mechanic interesting. It was certainly something I had never seen before and I thought it was much more creative than simply plopping down the correct kind of tile.
The biodiversity of these exhibits is also important. Simply put, you need to have enough trees, bushes, and rocks of the right type depending on the size of your exhibit. Once that's done, plop down some grass so the dinos can get a bit of privacy and you're all set. Veterinarians will fill up feeders as they've emptied, and a donation box on the footpath outside will rake in a lot of money from enthusiastic guests. Indeed, around 80% of my park's profits came from donations as opposed to ticket sales.
Of course, getting more dinosaurs isn't as easy as simply hunting for new types of fossils. Parkasaurus sports two different kinds of research trees: the Science tree and the Heart tree. Science is generated by Scientists working in a special building (of which you can only place one) or through podiums where they educate attendees (of which you can place as many as you like). Towards the end of my gameplay, I had a fully-upgraded research building and four podiums cranking out Science. I quickly filled up the tech tree and discovered that there wasn't much use for Science once that was done. (Thankfully, the Scientists are also useful in helping to dig for fossils.)
The Hearts are another matter. Every happy dinosaur in the park at the end of the day awards you a single Heart. These Hearts are used to unlock dinosaur classes, larger feeders, and (perhaps most critically) stronger fences. Most of my park's early life was spent with only four Stegosauruses and four Triceratops in the park. It worked well enough, but it took me quite a while to get the Hearts I needed and I felt like it was clear that expansion was necessary. I focused on getting the best fences as soon as I could and then worked on adding a bunch of new dinos to the park.
That's the gist of the Parkasaurus. Hunt fossils, add more creatures to your park, repeat. The gameplay loop is solid enough, but the devil's in the details and Parksaurus has a number of issues that need to be corrected.
To start, I had several problems with making sense of the numbers. Dinosaurs would have a rating based on the size of their enclosure. I had doubled the size of an exhibit for the dinos, only to find that the rating jumped from 35% to 37%. I've no idea why, but something just felt off about the calculations. It certainly seemed counterintuitive.
Dinosaurs also have a need for social interaction. Herd animals need a few friends to get their bar up to 100%, but Solitary animals need to be, well, alone. Strangely, a Solitary dino will stick at 50% Social. Adding more dinosaurs (even of another type) will just lower it to 0. There is no apparent way to raise this up to 100%. Even a massive exhibit with plenty of privacy isn't enough to get this bar to budge.
Lack of information (or poorly-presented information) was a serious challenge for me. Critical facts like a dinosaur's type, ideal habitat, and habitat size were only available when you hovered over one of the adorable little creatures. I had to build a barebones pen to hatch new dinosaurs so that I could figure out what kind of permanent exhibit I needed to actually create. Once I had that information, I'd then tranquilize the little buggers, build the proper exhibit, and load them (and possibly some friends) into their new home.
This information can and should be available in multiple places (such as when you mouse over a crate or an egg), but it isn't for some strange reason. The game's "Dinopedia" reference guide is notably missing as of now. You're going to be writing stuff down or using your own notes for this version of Parkasaurus.
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Another bug took me a little while to figure out. I like to play games blind when I'm looking at them as a professional, and I didn't look up this particular problem until after I had finished my 8 1/2 hours with Parkasaurus. In essence, the park's guest count will mysteriously decline as time goes on (and some guests might not even show up at all!) The developers are aware of many of these issues and I expect a fix will get in sometime soon, but this is just one of many tiny problems with this title that left a sour taste in my mouth.
Outside of the bugs and unimplemented informational features, I wasn't fond of some of the developer's design choices. In particular, two things that annoyed me to no end were the daily food shipment and the end of the day. Every morning, a crate delivery of plants and meat arrived at your parking lot, but you have to manually click on it to open it. It can take one or more days to build a proper exhibit, and I feel that this interrupted me when I was in the zone.
Similarly, Parkasaurus uses a "days" system where it pulls you out of the game and shows you a stats screen where you have to manually click to move to the next day. I don't like this for the same reason: it messes up the flow of the experience. This can and should be a report that you can read while you carry on with whatever you're doing.
The one thing that probably bugged me the most was that Parkasaurus, as it is right now, is just too easy. I was very cautious throughout my gameplay - I've seen enough Jurassic Park films to know just how quickly things can go sideways. Guests were satisfied with just four each of two species and continued to pour into the park without caring about the overall variety or how long the exhibit had been around as they would in other games like Rollercoaster Tycoon. I think the difficulty will probably change over time and factor in more heavily to the Campaign once it's done.
This pile of tiny problems is a real shame because Parkasaurus is brilliant in so many other ways. It might seem like a silly thing, but the parking lot in the game actually works. You'll see cars pull off of the highway and park out front. The people will get out, queue for the entrance, and head into your park. This is a nice little immersive touch that even big budget titles like Planet Coaster never bothered to do. Your dinosaurs can wear silly hats because why not. The game's various bits of text feel jam-packed with fun references and clever jokes.
Parkasaurus was very clearly a labor of love. The developers are off to a rough start, but not a single one of these problems are insurmountable. I've certainly played Early Access titles that were in much worse shape. I'm hoping that the devs can shore up these tiny bugs quickly. They should get to work on building out content for a game I wholeheartedly believe has great potential.
TechRaptor previewed Parkasaurus on the PC via Steam with a code provided by WashBear.
What do you think of Parkasaurus? Do you prefer that your tycoon games take things more seriously or are you more fond of the sillier ones? Let us know in the comments below!