I've said this before, but I have a genuine appreciation for a good licensed game. Adapting just the right parts of a property in order to express the same ideas in a new way can create some amazing work and invite players into worlds they've always dreamed of visiting. Of course, you need some hardware backing you up if you're going to visit those worlds, and Nintendo's Game Boy isn't going to be everyone's first choice. Still, licenses are sold and games have to be made, which led to the creation of Jurassic Park, the first interactive adaption of Steven Speilberg's 1993 blockbuster.
Existing as a mostly faithful portable rendition of Ocean's NES adaption, Jurassic Park for Game Boy sees players take the role of Dr. Alan Grant inside a powered-down, dinosaur-filled theme park. Armed with what looks like a bazooka on the Game Boy's tiny screen, your mission is to activate the security system, rescue the children of the mad scientist who built the park, and then escape without being trampled or eaten. All in a day's work for an archeologist I'm sure.
Gameplay-wise, Jurassic Park is what you'd expect from a top down shooter being controlled by a single D-pad and two face buttons. You'll be wasting bullets left and right because enemy dinosaurs will be snaking their way into corner angles that are tough to line up. Even when you do line them up, each enemy takes several shots to defeat, making combat a tedious chore. Thankfully, all of this isn't actually a problem once you realize that the game is more about collecting eggs than defeating foes, and I played through most of the game safely avoiding smaller foes and only really dealing with the larger minibosses scattered around the levels.
Since the goal of the game is collecting, one might hope that the movement and map design of the game worked better than the combat. Sadly, I can't really report that this is the case. Eggs seem strewn about at random, with some bunched together and some cast out onto far off rooftops on the far corners of the map. Some are even hidden behind natural cover, as trees and fences block your top-down view of the action in Escher-esque ways that make very little sense if you stop to think about them. After a bit of trial and error with each level, you'll memorize the locations of the eggs and move on, frustrated by just how many times you'll have to redo the game's early bits to keep progressing.
Of course, repetition is to be expected in a retro game, but the bottom line is that this top-down gameplay just isn't special enough in 2016 to warrant the repeated playthroughs you would need to go through in order to progress. This goes double for the game's boss encounters, which take the already fiddly controls and demand complete mastery in order to avoid losing your precious lives to them. In a way, the boss fights feel like a relic of arcade-style design, with overpowered foes and unfair mechanics meant to ease the player into slipping another quarter into the slot. Even the regular levels aren't spared from this type of thinking, as there are mystery box pickups that either heal you or explode in your face strewn across each stage alongside the eggs. Since this game is obviously not begging for change, all of these cheap deaths simply feel unfair and annoying rather than adding to the game's challenge.
Presentation is actually one of the areas where Jurassic Park shines brightest. I'm a sucker for a good chiptune soundtrack, and Jurassic Park provides catchy tunes for scoring your trek across the abandoned theme park. There is no chip rendition of the classic movie theme, but what is here is memorable enough to stick with you even after you forget the standard gameplay of the title. The graphics are fine for what they are, and the Game Boy was obviously never a graphical powerhouse, so you know what type of black and white and shades of green you're getting into.
Overall, the Game Boy rendition of Jurassic Park is notable today solely because of that license and the fact that it arrived before any other. Its gameplay is simplistic to a fault, with mechanics that were unfit for the controls that were available to developers at the time. Its arcade leanings do the game no favors, leading to moments of "Nintendo-hard" that are not worth suffering through. Outside of nostalgia for the license or this particular product, it's hard to think of a reason to return to this particular vision of Isla Nublar.
Jurassic Park was reviewed on a Game Boy emulator after purchasing a physical copy of the game online. The game was selected for review by a $50 patron via our Patreon campaign. Screenshots courtesy of World of Longplays.
As is typical of licensed games of the time, Jurassic Park is a serviceable dinosaur themed top-down shooter that revels in frustrating design and doesn't feature anything to make it stand out from countless other retro titles.
- Great Soundtrack
- Accurate Port of the NES Version
- Dinosaurs In General
- Arcade Design Leads to Frustration
- Controls Feel Loose and Unwieldy
- Visuals Show Their Age