Welcome back to Franchise Festival, where we explore and discuss noteworthy franchises from the last several decades of gaming history. Older entries can be found here.
This week we’ll be perusing the attractions of Jurassic Park. This is something of an odd evolution for the Franchise Festival series, since Jurassic Park is not a franchise consistently produced by a single team or studio; instead, it is an intellectual property purchased by various game development studios and used as the visual palette and universe in which their games are set. This reduces the consistency of our historical narrative, but offers an interesting alternative – we can look to the vicissitudes of the Jurassic Park license to see how trends have fluctuated over the years and how successful broad trends could be applied to a highly specific set of aesthetics, characters and themes. Year of release, as always, indicates the North American version.
Michael Crichton wrote Jurassic Park (1990) with the intention of both entertaining audiences and warning them about the dangers he perceived in genetic engineering. The plot, concerning an isolated dinosaur theme park descending into chaos as its attractions break free, was adapted into an extraordinarily successful film by Steven Spielberg and Amblin Entertainment. Themes centered around the dangers of playing God remained a core part of the script, but the primary focus was squarely on the majesty of Industrial Light and Magic’s dinosaurs. These creatures had been a critical part of Crichton’s novel, but seeing the ancient beasts depicted on screen in a manner far more advanced than audiences had seen before was monumental.
Grossing $914,000,000 in its initial theatrical run, the commercial success of Jurassic Park cannot be overstated. Many of its effects were still practical, but the lifelike quality of the film’s computer-generated imagery spurred on an entire field of special effects in cinema. The movie would eventually go on to inspire a franchise of films dedicated to the excitement of watching humans and dinosaurs interact on screen. A core part of this franchise, at had inevitably been the case since the popularity of Star Wars in the late 1970s and early 1980s, was licensing the name out for merchandise and adaptations.
Jurassic Park – Nintendo Entertainment System/Game Boy (1993)
Ocean Software, a British video game studio, was founded as Spectrum Software in 1983 and quickly made a name for itself on the home computer market. By the 1990s it had become well known as a reliable developer for arcade ports and licensed games. With this pedigree, it is unsurprising that Ocean was contracted to produce adaptations of the 1993 Steven Spielberg blockbuster; impressively, the studio opted to develop three distinct versions spread out among five pieces of hardware.
The first of these that we’ll be covering is an isometric action game published first on the Nintendo Entertainment System and then on the Game Boy. As in most of the 1993 Jurassic Park titles, the player takes the role of the film’s Dr. Alan Grant. Admittedly, he is a more or less a faceless lump of pixels in this version. The narrative is actually slightly closer to Michael Crichton’s novel than the movie, likely due to the game being in development after the book’s publication but before the film’s release.
Gameplay centers on navigating Grant around the park, collecting eggs to open locked doors and avoiding or shooting marauding dinosaurs. Standard enemies include velociraptors, naturally, but there are thrilling sequences in which Grant must escort another character, dodge Triceratops stampedes, destroy raptor nests and defeat a T-Rex to escape the island. The Game Boy version is functionally identical to the NES original, though it features a monochrome color palette due to hardware limitations; Ocean compensated, however, by including a database in which the player can view dinosaur information!
Jurassic Park – Super Nintendo Entertainment System (1993)
The Super Nintendo Entertainment System version is quite similar to the NES edition at first glance. It again has the player controlling Dr. Grant as he explores Isla Nublar, shooting at dinosaurs from an isometric overhead perspective. The key difference in this version, aside from new level layouts, is the presence of atmospheric first-person shooter sections encountered when entering interior locations.
The improved SNES hardware allows for a wider color palette and more complex dinosaur sprites as well. While exploring, the player is likely to be shocked by the apparently random appearances of a lumbering T-Rex. At the same time, the first-person sections are reminiscent of the game’s contemporary, Doom. These sequences are made possible through the use of the SNES’ unique Mode 7 visual design.
Ocean had an uncharacteristically large team working on Jurassic Park, and their efforts paid dividends on the SNES version of the game. An early test demo at the 1993 Consumer Electronics Show attracted criticism for its crude presentation, and may have inspired the superlative visual elements in the final game. Not content to focus exclusively on appearances, Ocean managed to ship the game with Dolby Surround Sound included on the cartridge. In contrast to the ramshackle qualities that tend to define licensed products, Jurassic Park ended up being something of a technical showcase for the SNES hardware.
Jurassic Park – Amiga/DOS/Commodore 64 (1993)
The final version of Jurassic Park published by Ocean is, in some ways, the most technically ambitious (if not the most suited to its hardware platform). Like the versions released on the NES, Game Boy, and SNES, it is primarily played from an isometric overhead perspective. It also features first-person shooter gameplay when the player enters interior spaces as the SNES version had; these sequences are more impressive on the PC version, of course, since it lacks the unique limitations offered by console hardware.
Interestingly, the outdoor sections are something of an evolution on their console equivalents. Rather than simply running around a space and dodging or shooting at dinosaur enemies, the player must also solve rudimentary environmental puzzles. Depth is enhanced, creating more scenarios in which Grant must ascend or descend multi-tiered areas. This, along with the imprecise shooting mechanics, caused the game to experience a less positive reception than it had on the NES, Game Boy, or SNES. Future Jurassic Park titles on the PC platform would need to adapt to the strengths of their hardware, rather than aping console trends.
Jurassic Park – SEGA Master System/Game Gear (1993)
While Ocean adopted isometric puzzle-platformer action for their Nintendo and PC Jurassic Park adaptations, SEGA developed sidescrolling versions in-house. The first of these was published on the SEGA Master System and Game Gear in 1993. It is at once more colorful than the versions that appeared on Nintendo platforms and a bit less ambitious.
Players, in the shoes of Dr. Grant, are tasked with repairing broken fences in four distinct areas of Isla Nublar chosen in the player’s desired sequence. The first of two gameplay modes sees the player defending a speeding jeep as it makes its way along bumpy roads on the way to each area. An on-screen targeting reticule can be moved around and attack surrounding dinosaurs, including a boss at the end of each jeep section; if the jeep loses all of its health, play still proceeds to the second mode of gameplay.
Once the player character has arrived at the destination, the player navigates through dangerous scenes from a side-scrolling perspective. This is fairly by-the-books 1990s platformer gameplay, enhanced slightly by the various weapons available for attacking dinosaurs and the charmingly bright color palette. At the end of each stage, Dr. Grant must take down a boss dinosaur before moving on to the next selected area. Once all four stages have been completed, the fifth and final level becomes available to play.
Jurassic Park – SEGA Genesis (1993)
Though still a side-scroller, the version of Jurassic Park developed for the SEGA Genesis by BlueSky Software is a more ambitious product. It features two campaigns: Dr. Grant and the velociraptor. The former depicts Grant moving through the island – again including areas which are germane to the novel or newly invented rather than drawn from the film – while the latter depicts a raptor attempting to make its getaway from the isolated Isla Nublar. Grant’s primary enemy is the ubiquitous T-Rex, but the raptor’s nemesis is actually Dr. Grant!
The game’s most impressive feature is its lush sprites. Humans and dinosaurs are extensively animated, being respectively based on motion-captured live performance and stop-motion model photography. Real-world paleontologist Robert Bakker was hired to offer tips on presenting lifelike dinosaur movements, while Doug TenNapel, the controversial figure behind the impressively animated Earthworm Jim games, was the title’s lead artist.
Unfortunately, the complexity of the art leads to the clumsiness that players have come to associate with overly animated sprites. Dr. Grant is especially difficult to control, and it’s easy to miss critical jumps or get locked into animation cycles while sliding down ledges. The raptor is larger than the surrounding environmental features, and this compromises the clarity needed to navigate through platforming stages. The resulting game sold well and impressed fans with its visual design but is one of the worst adaptations of Jurassic Park to revisit with the benefit of hindsight.
Jurassic Park – SEGA CD (1994)
The SEGA CD, a doomed add-on peripheral for the SEGA Genesis, received the strangest adaptation of Jurassic Park. Though it was initially conceived as a hybrid of previously published versions featuring top-down, sidescrolling and first-person gameplay, the in-house SEGA development team opted to focus their efforts on a consistently engaging first-person puzzle experience. The high budget and focus on platform strengths rather than thoughtlessly emulating competitors contributed to a game that features numerous full-motion videos; some of these even feature the aforementioned paleontologist Bakker offering his expertise on dinosaurs, which would surely have been met with joy by young enthusiasts.
Similar to the inconsistent Genesis adaptation, unfortunately, the SEGA CD version of Jurassic Park is simultaneously impressive and unenjoyable. The player, as an unnamed survivor of a helicopter crash on Isla Nublar following the events of Spielberg’s film, must navigate pre-rendered first-person environments and solve puzzles to escape the island. Unlike contemporary point-and-click adventure games, however, SEGA CD’s Jurassic Park requires that the player character also engage in split-second shooting sequences to incapacitate enemy dinosaurs. This mechanic was rather clumsy, and since the player lacks any way to permanently fell his or her opponents, the game rapidly becomes tedious to navigate.
Jurassic Park Interactive (1994)
While it missed an initial release window planned to coincide with both the release of the first Jurassic Park film and the 3DO console hardware’s debut on the market, Jurassic Park Interactive would likely have been more poorly received in 1993 than 1994. As the first title developed by Universal Interactive Studios, the game was an ambitious project that might have been successful in the hands of a more experienced team. Gameplay takes the form of five diagetic minigames explained as the work of Dennis Nedry, the villainous programmer who was chomped by a pack of dilophosauruses in the film. Completing the minigames allows the player character to call in assistance during the collapse of Jurassic Park.
Surprisingly, the game’s impressive multi-million dollar budget led to the inclusion of clips from Spielberg’s film during the opening sequence. Unfortunately, this did not permit the use of the film’s actors, so stand-ins of delightfully questionable resemblance are used for other cutscenes. The final release was largely panned due to its tedious gameplay and extensive load times, though that would not deter future developers from approaching the Jurassic Park license from a less conventional perspective.
Jurassic Park – Arcade (1994)
The Jurassic Park arcade game is bonkers. On the one hand, it is a stark contrast to the contemporary 3DO Jurassic Park game in that it’s as conventional a release as possible – gameplay consists entirely of four on-rails first-person shooter levels as the player character rides through Jurassic Park in a jeep. On the other hand, it features a near-constant assault by massive and incongruously placed dinosaurs from its opening moments to its conclusion. The first enemy encountered is the T-Rex, for heaven’s sake. From there, the characters blast through a shooting gallery of velociraptors and dilophosauruses, engage a stampede of triceratops head-on, explore a volcano using a wooden bridge, and actually drive up the back of a brachiosaurus. I would strongly encourage readers to visit a video capture of the game, since no still shot could do it justice.
Jurassic Park: Rampage Edition (1994)
After the success of the Jurassic Park film and its associated interactive tie-ins, the flow of new content seemed inevitable. The first of these interstitial games, released between the first and second movies in the franchise, came out in 1994. It is BlueSky Software’s direct sequel to the events of the SEGA Genesis Jurassic Park game, and many assets have been reused. Despite this apparent recycling of content, a new black border has been added to character sprites and human enemies are now present in the Grant campaign.
The player again has the opportunity to play as either Dr. Grant, whose helicopter crashed while leaving the island after the credits rolled on his previous adventure, or a velociraptor. The game is mechanically similar to its predecessor, though more lethal weapons have been added to Grant’s arsenal; humorously, the taser weapon now disintegrates dinosaurs rather than stunning them. One suspects that oversight from Spielberg and the Jurassic Park movie staff was not as tight on this project.
New levels are presented, including areas which had featured in the Jurassic Park novel but were absent from the film. The level designs are actually a bit more impressive here than they had been in the earlier Genesis game, including a vertically-oriented aviary and a sprawling horizontal savanna. While not an especially ambitious game, Jurassic Park: Rampage Edition successfully sated fan demand for dinosaur action in the years between Jurassic Park and The Lost World.
Jurassic Park Part 2: The Chaos Continues (1995)
The second game created as a placeholder as the world awaited a new story from Spielberg and Crichton was developed by Ocean for the SNES. They took a very different iteration route than BlueSky, opting to throw their previous isometric action puzzle formula out the window in favor of a side-scrolling run-and-gun along the lines of Contra. The visuals are entirely new, and slightly reminiscent of the Jurassic Park title released on the Game Gear and SEGA Master System.
The plot and gameplay mechanics are rather interesting. The player takes on the role of Dr. Grant, and a second player can join in as accompanying soldier Michael Wolfskin. Both are on Isla Nublar representing John Hammond’s corporation InGen and attempting to prevent rival corporation BioSyn from taking over the island. Non-lethal weapons are supposed to be used on most hostile dinosaurs to prevent an in-game population counter from decreasing, while lethal weapons may be used without consequence on velociraptors, the T-Rex, and even BioSyn troops. If the island’s dinosaur population reaches zero, the player loses the game.
Overall, critics were impressed with the gameplay if understandably disappointed that it lost a bit of the unique identity from earlier Ocean Jurassic Park titles. A Game Boy adaptation was released shortly thereafter, though it lacks the peculiar plot complications introduced by BioSyn. Instead, it’s a straightforward side-scrolling platformer featuring a rather humorously proportioned Dr. Grant.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park – SEGA Saturn/PlayStation (1997)
Following the release of The Lost World: Jurassic Park at movie theaters in 1997, a new slew of video game adaptations were produced. Some of these were rather ambitious affairs, while others were comparatively thoughtless licensed titles. Happily, the console version developed by DreamWorks Interactive and Appaloosa Interactive falls into the former category. The development team had put in a significant amount of effort, using Industrial Light and Magic’s film models as a basis for their dinosaur designs and emulating dinosaur movement patterns from the source material. Their efforts were rewarded by a game that would not only be a short-term commercial success, but would also go on to be added to Sony’s PlayStation Greatest Hits line one year later.
Only loosely based on the film of the same name, The Lost World: Jurassic Park lets the player take on the role of five different characters as he or she proceeds through a variety of environments. The player begins at the bottom of the food chain as a compsognathus before moving on to a human soldier, velociraptor, T-rex, and the film’s scientist Sarah Harding in that order. Each character plays rather differently, as the compy sneaks around, the human soldier uses firearms and platforming tools, the velociraptor engages in melee combat and the T-rex stomps through hordes of small foes; Harding, referred to in-game as “human prey,” is largely relegated to solving puzzles and outrunning dinosaurs.
Upon release, reception was mixed. The presentation was praised, as earlier series titles had been, and the variety of dinosaurs was compelling. Spielberg’s input into the translation of his work from the big screen to the (interactive) small screen was again a source of acclaim. Critics took exception to the game’s loose controls and high difficulty, however, along with the mystifying lack of a save feature. Promotional art emphasizing that the player took on the role of T-rex also came under fire, since the T-rex sequences only take up a small portion of the game’s total playtime. Some of these issues would be resolved in a later re-release, while others would remain permanently affixed to this intriguing 32-bit title.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park – SEGA Genesis (1997)
The version of The Lost World developed by Appaloosa Interactive for the SEGA Genesis is even more surprising than the character-swapping polygonal platformer on the PlayStation and SEGA Saturn. This title was released very late in the Genesis’ life cycle, and the evolution of 16-bit graphics over time is apparent in the final product. Visuals are sprite-based rather than polygonal, but extraordinarily detailed and colorful.
Much of the gameplay involves shooting at human and dinosaur enemies from an isometric perspective quite similar to the Ocean Jurassic Park games published on the NES, Game Boy, SNES and Amiga/DOS. Movement and aiming are possible along more axes than the four on Nintendo’s hardware, though, giving the player an impression of more freedom. Even vehicles can be commandeered to travel over land or through waterways. Boss sequences offer alternate gameplay mechanics, including a first-person dinosaur chase through the jungle on a motorcycle and a semi-over-the-shoulder shooter segment in which the player character travels down rapids on a raft. All of this is displayed using some of the best graphics produced on the SEGA Genesis.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park – Game Boy (1997)
Several portable games were also published to coincide with the theatrical run of The Lost World: Jurassic Park. None are exceptional, unfortunately. The first of these is a bland platformer in the style of a watered-down Prince of Persia. As an unnamed character, the player must battle slippery controls and challenging hitboxes to explore eight monochromatic levels set on Isla Sorna.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park – Game Gear (1997)
The second portable release associated with The Lost World: Jurassic Park is similarly unimpressive. Developed by Aspect, it seems to be inspired primarily by the Game Gear’s earlier Jurassic Park game and features gameplay in which the player navigates through side-scrolling environments using a combination of jumping and shooting. Sadly, the odd vehicle sequences are replaced here by world map navigation in the style of Super Mario World. Interestingly, the player character’s health is identified using the color of their shirt: as hits are sustained, the shirt color moves from green to yellow to red. Character animation or appearance reflecting health, rather than conveying this information through an on-screen HUD, was relatively scarce in the 1990s and is an uncharacteristically innovative choice for this otherwise derivative licensed game.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park – game.com (1997)
Finally, The Lost World: Jurassic Park managed to receive an adaptation on Tiger’s much-maligned game.com portable console. It manages to be the most charming of these three portable titles, if the least playable. Vehicle sequences are similar in appearance to Outrun (1986), while sidescrolling portions allow the player character (either Sarah Harding or Roland Tembo, both from the film) to battle or avoid dinosaurs in platforming stages. Both characters are tasked with recovering dinosaur eggs, though they are nominally in opposition to one another’s goals.
The primary issues center, surprisingly, on presentation. The soundtrack varies between unmemorable and grating, which stands in stark contrast to earlier series entries’ impressive music and sound effects. The visual design, on the other hand, has a similar problem to that encountered by players of Mega Man 7 (1995) – the character sprites are simply too large. Detail is as rich as could be achieved on the monochromatic platform, but this comes at the expense of player perspective; it is very difficult to see what hazards lie ahead or dodge enemy attacks. The game.com version of The Lost World: Jurassic Park is the most interesting of this film’s portable tie-ins, but it remains unengaging when compared to preceding console and portable Jurassic Park titles.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park Arcade (1997)
In the arcade market, The Lost World: Jurassic Park proved to be an improvement on the earlier film’s adaptation. While the first game had been an absolutely intense romp through four challenging stages, the second title is appreciably more cinematic in presentation despite still being an on-rails shooter. Dinosaurs are now fully polygonal textured models rather than flat sprites and breathing room between encounters offers a more playable experience. It is possible to make it through the game without breaking the bank if the player has enough skill, unlike the maddeningly lopsided dinosaur attacks in 1993’s arcade expedition to Isla Nublar.
Additionally, the game features a number of thrilling action sequences that paradoxically hinge on its slower pace. Humans encountered during dinosaur attacks must be protected through the player’s judicious aim, and offer rewards if the player is able to ward off their attackers. Bosses, meanwhile, are a departure for the franchise more generally: players must defeat a massive deinosuchus while navigating a lake and are confronted at the game’s conclusion by a carnotaurus that can actually use chameleon-like powers to blend into the surrounding interior scenery. For better or for worse, a later special edition of the arcade cabinet replaced the final boss with a T-rex rampaging through downtown San Diego and included other changes to bring the game more in line with its source material. Hydraulic movements to the player’s seat were also added, likely to the consternation of motion sickness sufferers everywhere.
Chaos Island: The Lost World (1997)
This final adaptation of The Lost World: Jurassic Park may have seemed the strangest upon its release in 1997, but it would actually be something of a prescient turning point in the franchise’s history. Imitating popular styles of the time, as earlier Jurassic Park adaptations had done, developer DreamWorks Interactive opted to make its PC tie-in a real-time strategy game. Players make their way through twelve missions using characters from the film, who must establish a camp in each stage. Once a camp has been established, dinosaurs under the control of the player can be bred if the player’s human characters collect relevant eggs from hostile dinosaurs’ nests.
Unfortunately, the issues common to licensed tie-in games are at their worst in Chaos Island. Actors from the films were contracted to contribute voice lines to their characters and Jeff Goldblum even offers an introduction to each stage; these came under criticism, however, as the in-game remarks are repetitive to the point of annoyance and the video capture displayed between missions is quite compressed. Overhead visuals during the stages compare unfavorably to contemporary real-time strategy games, and are disappointing to players who had already experienced Command and Conquer: Red Alert (1996) or Warcraft II (1995). Finally, the mechanics lack genre staples like hotkeys, making navigation and control less convenient than they should be. Future Jurassic Park games would pick up on what a real-time strategy title in the franchise might have been, rather than what the first one was.
Again between film releases, the Jurassic Park video game franchise would move on to more experimental entries. The first of the two games published between The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Jurassic Park III is one of the most ambitious titles in the series, and also one of its most notorious failures.
Trespasser was developed by DreamWorks Interactive, and the team included multiple former members of Looking Glass Studio. These programmers had formerly worked on projects like Ultima Underworld (1992) and Thief (1998), so expectations for an innovative title were understandably high. True to their pedigree, the team did indeed set out to revolutionize not only the Jurassic Park license, but also the wider medium. Their ambition would bear fruit eventually, but things were quite dire in the short term.
Like many of its predecessors, the game is set on a dinosaur-infested island and features a protagonist, Anna, trying to escape after her plane crashes into the nearby sea. Anna is controlled from a first-person perspective, and interacts with the world through a combination of physics-oriented puzzle solving and clumsy gunplay. To avoid the feeling of controlling a free-floating firearm as was the case in all contemporary shooters, the developers included Anna’s upper torso and gave the player control over her entire right arm rather than just the ability to point her gun; this has the unintentionally awkward effect of making Anna’s viewable body consist exclusively of two breasts and an arm.
The physics and dinosaur AI are intended to be the main attraction. Dinosaurs are made up of multiple “boxes,” so to speak, which can individually interact with the surrounding landscape; actual boxes are also ubiquitous, and were supposed to be the key mechanism with which the player would build bridges, stairs and the like. The AI was programmed first to behave independently, as dinosaurs would move around the open-world environment and interact with one another based on complex algorithms. Neither of these plans worked correctly, however, due to a combination of poor management, insufficient planning at the start of the development process, and ambition that outstripped the reach of the available hardware. It was only through radical reworking late in development, and the removal of many broken systems, that the game was completed at all. The reason that shooting feels so loose and unresponsive, for example, is because it was hastily added to compensate for the removal of numerous physics puzzles.
Trespasser was sadly released in an only semi-finished state. It had gone through several delays already and, according to an informative post-mortem report by one of its designers named Richard Wyckoff, the team knew that it was either going to hit shelves incomplete or be abandoned by its publisher. They had gotten input from Steven Spielberg, recorded voiceovers by Minnie Driver and the films’ Richard Attenborough, paid a large amount of money for the license, and spent over a year building a genuinely cutting-edge physics engine, so abandoning the project was not an option. Rather than being the massive holiday-season blockbuster that it was intended to be, the game was uniformly panned by critics as an unplayable mess.
This is not the end of the Trespasser story, however. It sold poorly and was a critical disaster, but it would be highly influential over the following decade. Gabe Newell credited Trespasser as the inspiration for the Havok physics engine in Half Life 2 (2004); Havok would go on to become the industry standard for complex, adaptive physics during the 2000s and early 2010s. At the same time, the game’s open world and emergent gameplay would also inspire the creators of Far Cry 2 (2008), which would itself prove influential during the rise of open-world systems-based titles like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in the late 2010s. In the world of supplementary content, Research Indicates helped popularize the Let’s Play format with its coverage of the game on YouTube in 2011. DreamWorks Interactive may have been thoroughly disappointed by its failed masterpiece, but an entire generation of games would never have existed without it.
Warpath: Jurassic Park (1999)
If Trespasser is an ambitious project that fell short of its goals, Warpath is a derivative game that succeeds in being exactly what its developers intended. As a first for the license, Dreamworks Interactive produced an arcade-style fighting game in the style of 1994’s Primal Rage. Unlike the sprite-based mythological duels of Primal Rage, however, the dinosaurs in Warpath are depicted as beautifully textured polygonal models drawn from the Jurassic Park films.
Humorously, they have the ability to throw and sweep opponents off their feet, as well as devouring nearby compies and humans to improve their health. The game would be criticized for the blandness of its arenas, the odd lack of size disparity between different species, and the simplicity of its gameplay, but would be praised for its detailed visual design and inventive character roster.
Jurassic Park III: Dino Defender (2001)
With the release of the largely forgettable Jurassic Park III came the reliable push for licensed tie-ins. Unfortunately, these would largely follow the trend of diminishing returns from the games associated with The Lost World: Jurassic Park.
The first of the Jurassic Park III adaptations is Knowledge Adventure’s Dino Defender, a PC game that shares little with its source material aside from the presence of similarly-imagined dinosaurs. It is a side-scrolling puzzle-platformer in which the screen is unable to scroll; the player must instead move from screen to screen avoiding dinosaurs, clambering up ledges and finding keys to unlock doors while capturing dinosaurs. Backgrounds are pre-rendered yet bland, while dinosaurs and the player character are poorly animated polygons. The player character, in fact, is not a character from the film at all, but rather an anonymous person in a bio-mechanical suit. The game was praised upon release for its cerebral approach to the license, but it has been largely forgotten over time.
Jurassic Park III: Danger Zone (2001)
The second Jurassic Park III tie-in released by Knowledge Adventure for the Windows platform in 2001, Danger Zone is a rather surprising entry in this franchise’s twenty-five year history. Much of its early content is lifted directly from the same year’s Dino Defender, while the rest of the game consists of a digital board game. Whatever else might be said about it, it’s at least a bit of fun when played with friends.
Jurassic Park III: The DNA Factor (2001)
Konami published a trio of Jurassic Park III Game Boy Advance titles, two of which were developed in-house. The first of these two is a 2.5D side-scrolling platformer called The DNA Factor. The player chooses to play as a man or a woman whose plane crashes on The Lost World: Jurassic Park’s Isla Sorna. He or she then attempts to secure dinosaur DNA across a variety of game environments in which the player character can switch between a path close to the screen and a path in the background to avoid threats.
Each stage also features a puzzle section at the end, changing up gameplay a bit. Oddly, the ending features the incineration of the island’s dinosaur population and the selected main character musing that perhaps dinosaurs weren’t meant to coexist with the modern world. As readers may suspect, given this rather striking ludonarrative dissonance, the game was panned upon release for its nonsensical story and poor controls.
Jurassic Park III: Park Builder (2001)
The second of Konami’s two GBA Jurassic Park III adaptations is much more successful. In contrast to the platform’s emphasis on side-scrolling titles, Park Builder is a real-time strategy simulation game in the style of RollerCoaster Tycoon (1999) or Zoo Tycoon (2001). Colorful graphics depict an overhead perspective of the player’s own Jurassic Park design, in which he or she can install various attractions and creatures to please visitors. The strategy element comes down to managing funding, security and thrilling exhibits. Unfortunately, the GBA’s limited screen space makes it challenging to discern details, and this type of game is always tricky to play without a mouse. At the same time, the length of any given session is rather short. Consequently, the game was seen as a step in the right direction even as it fell short of its potential.
Jurassic Park III: Island Attack (2001)
The third licensed title published by Konami on the GBA in 2001 was actually developed by Mobile21. It is more closely related to the events of Jurassic Park III than the other two Konami GBA games, and is also the least inventive in its approach to gameplay. Island Attack is primarily an action game played from an overhead isometric perspective, and looks similar to the 1997 adaptation of The Lost World: Jurassic Park on the SEGA Genesis. Unfortunately, it lacks that game’s engaging vehicle sequences and instead alternates from its overhead view only for poorly designed sidescrolling platform sections. The visuals of the GBA are also too muddy to sustain the required level of detail when the perspective is placed so far away from the player character, resulting in a game that is as challenging to look at as it is to play.
Scan Command: Jurassic Park (2001)
On the other hand, the third time was the charm for Knowledge Adventure. Taking a cue from a peculiar sub-genre that had been popular in Japan but never penetrated international markets, Scan Command centers on a peripheral used to scan barcodes and import their data into the game to enhance the player character’s attributes. Barcodes can be pulled from any product, and the stat benefits have no direct relation to the scanned item. The game itself features the player controlling one of several available dinosaurs doing battle with opponents in a combat system based on the evergreen rock-paper-scissors mechanic.
While the gameplay is somewhat shallow, Scan Command was praised for its innovative approach to augmented reality gaming. In keeping with the studio’s earlier willingness to reuse previously released content in ostensibly new works, Knowledge Adventure published a version of Scan Command on PC in 2002 which stripped out the barcode scanner and added overhead exploration sequences; this update was titled Dinosaur Battles, and was quickly forgotten without the earlier version’s key gimmick.
Jurassic Park III – Arcade (2002)
In addition to the three titles it published on the GBA in 2001, Konami released an arcade tie-in for Jurassic Park III in North America early the following year. Gameplay is similar to the two earlier arcade adaptations of Jurassic Park films, but a number of interesting new features from have been integrated from the Japanese light gun shooter Police 911 (2000). In particular, motion sensors allow the player to dodge dinosaur attacks by moving their bodies, and more 4D elements built into the seat heighten immersion in the game world. Players take the roles of two soldiers deployed to rescue survivors following the events of Jurassic Park III, and encounter many of the dinosaurs and environments from that film. Unfortunately, the most popular international version of the arcade cabinet is one that lacks the seats and innovative 4D features.
Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis (2003)
The final Jurassic Park game released during the 2000s is arguably the best of the series up to that point. It builds on the real-time strategy and park building components of earlier tie-ins Chaos Island (1997) and Park Builder (2001), but manages to find its own unique voice as well.
Published on Xbox, PlayStation 2 and Windows PC by Vivendi, Blue Tongue Software’s Operation Genesis allows players to build their own version of the Jurassic Park facility from the ground up. Twenty-five dinosaur species are available, and attractions are managed down to the finest detail. Players must account for visitors’ needs while also ensuring that the park is safe. Even tracks through dinosaur environments, on which park visitors can drive jeeps as in the first film, are available to build!
The dinosaurs are the primary focus, and they too are richly detailed in both appearance and behavior. Pack dinosaurs need multiple comrades in their enclosures, carnivores need frequent feedings, and even illnesses need to be fough lest the dinosaur population decline. Breakouts are possible and permit the player to directly engage by controlling the helicopter dispatched to incapacitate marauding beasts.
Operation Genesis is challenging to play from a modern perspective due simply to evolutions in interface and visual design over the following decade (along with technical compatibility issues on PC), but it remains a classic in the Jurassic Park video game franchise. Critics praised it upon release, yet its brilliant open-ended approach to creating the player’s own Jurassic Park would take fifteen years to be iterated upon.
Jurassic Park – Mobile (2010)
After a seemingly never-ending supply of Jurassic Park licensed games from 1993 to 2003, the well seems to have dried up in the 2000s. Perhaps this is due to the film franchise’s absence from theaters, or perhaps players were able to find compelling dinosaur games being made without the Jurassic Park intellectual property. Turok (2008) and Jurassic: The Hunted (2009) were moderately successful first person shooters released on all major home consoles, while the Fossil Fighters franchise pulled in younger players on handheld devices.
An as-yet untapped market, however, was the audience that had formed on mobile devices during the first decade of the new century. Gameloft sought to capture these players’ attention with an isometric action game featuring the protagonists of the first two Jurassic Park movies. This game is similar in presentation to 1997’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park – SEGA Genesis and 2001’s Jurassic Park: Island Attack. Pulling from the former in particular, it features exciting sequences in which the player character must escape from a T-Rex using a jeep. Sadly, the game made little impact and is difficult to research only eight years after its release.
Jurassic Park: The Game (2011)
Jurassic Park: The Game, released on all home consoles and Windows PC in 2011, would prove to be a fascinating new take on the franchise’s traditions. Developed by Telltale Games, it eschews standard mechanics in favorite of slow-paced navigation and intense quick-time events (QTEs); these sequences require the player to input buttons displayed onscreen to execute actions and avoid becoming a dinosaur’s dinner.
Telltale would go to establish this as their studio’s signature style, hewing more closely to puzzles or branching narrative choices depending upon the license with which they were working, but it was still novel at the time of its application to the Jurassic Park IP. The game is split into several episodes, as it was distributed over a period of time on iOS like many of Telltale’s games are. The home consoles version was published on a single disc, on the other hand, and the episodes serve primarily to enhance suspense.
The player alternates between several roles over the course of the game’s narrative, including Jurassic Park’s chief veterinarian and a smuggler named Lima. The plot concerns the events of the original film and how they affected previously unseen characters in or around the park. As is the case with most Jurassic Park games, the primary objective is escape from the island. More interesting here are the interactions between a wide cast of characters with very different backgrounds and personalities, as well as nail-biting encounters with assorted dinosaur species; an episode in which the player character must escape a tylosaurus while navigating the island’s waterways is especially intense. Interestingly, the narrative includes a variety of scenarios never touched on by earlier Jurassic Park entries, including the effect of dinosaur poison on humans and what became of the natives who had lived on Isla Nublar prior to John Hammond setting up his amusement park.
Sadly, the game was rather poorly received. In spite of its new additions to the Jurassic Park universe, the actual plot struck many of the same notes as earlier Jurassic Park films had done. One of the reasons that licensed games emphasize mechanics over narrative is the difficulty in offering a unique story within the constraints of an established property, and that seems to have held Telltale back. Additionally, as would become a common source of complaint in the studio’s later releases, gameplay simplicity and awkward controls led to critics’ dissatisfaction with the interactive experience. It seems that Telltale had created a conservative game that suggested more ambition than the studio was able to realize during development.
Jurassic Park Builder / Jurassic World: The Game (2012 / 2015)
In keeping with game design trends of the 2010s, it was only a matter of time before a freemium Jurassic Park Title was released. Jurassic Park Builder and its later repackaging, Jurassic World: The Game, are both cosmetically similar to the GBA’s Jurassic Park III: Park Builder (2001). Owing to the processing power of the iOS and Android mobile platforms, though, dinosaur species are now rendered as polygonal models on a 2D landscape.
The game is mechanically reminiscent of its park builder antecedents in the Jurassic Park franchise as well, though there is one critical difference. While earlier park builder titles had featured resource gathering and management components, these have been dramatically steepened in the mobile game. Players have the opportunity to speed up production or increase their dinosaur food supplies by paying real-world currency, breaking game progression in the way that virtually all pay-to-win mechanics do.
A slightly updated version of Jurassic Park Builder was published in 2015 to coincide with the release of Jurassic World. In addition to the characters from the first two Jurassic Park films who had appeared in Jurassic Park Builder, Jurassic World: The Game features Claire and Owen from its source material. Despite the two games’ shamelessly exploitative design elements, fans are likely to enjoy their rosters of more than ninety unique dinosaur species, the largest number of dinosaurs to have appeared in a Jurassic Park title by a significant margin.
Jurassic Park Arcade (2015)
Against all odds, the developer Raw Thrills released a new Jurassic Park arcade game in 2015. Dwindling arcade game sales and the disappearance of arcades more generally were not enough to halt development on this project. It was likely intended to promote that year’s Jurassic World, but strangely only features environments and scenarios based on the original trilogy of films.
With regards to its gameplay, this title is another light gun on-rails shooter in the style of earlier Jurassic Park arcade adaptations. Most of the motion elements from the Jurassic Park III cabinet were abandoned, with the exception of a moving seat in later editions of Jurassic Park Arcade. Happily, the team working on the game was quite ambitious and strove to integrate classic Jurassic Park setpieces and creatures (including three massive bosses) with more realistic feathered depictions of dinosaurs based on recent scientific findings. This resulted in a well-received new entry in the already strong catalog of the films’ arcade adaptations.
Jurassic World Evolution (2018)
Another three year drought followed the somewhat limited set of licensed games promoting Jurassic World. No odd interstitial titles speculated how the series might evolve, as had occurred in the gaps separating earlier films. Instead, fans needed to wait for the next major promotional push that accompanies each entry in the series’ cinematic library.
Jurassic World Evolution, published in support of the 2018 film Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, is entirely unrelated to that film aside from some minor voiceover cameos. Rather, it takes its inspiration from the long-time cult classic video game Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis. Fifteen years had gone by without a new entry in the franchise’s park management simulation style aside from the predatory Jurassic Park Builder and Jurassic World: The Game. Fans had developed mods to get the venerable 2003 title working on modern PCs, but it had slowly become inaccessible outside of the most devoted circles.
Most fans found Jurassic World Evolution a worthy successor to Operation Genesis. Certain elements have been simplified or streamlined, but the opportunities for developing a grand vision from overhead and then exploring it at ground level are thoroughly enhanced by updated visuals. It lacks some of the oomph of contemporary action games, but instead offers a rich imagining of what running a dinosaur theme park might be like.
I was tempted to include The Lost World: Jurassic Park’s R-Zone edition in the main body of the article, but I could find virtually no information about it. Given that Tiger’s R-Zone is closer in design to the handheld game toys of the early 1990s than it is to software played on a dedicated video game console, though, perhaps the title should not be considered part of the same media format as the games discussed above. In any case, it seems to have been a cartridge which players could plug into a device and interact with by lighting up the various pre-defined red sections of the screen. The accompanying R-Zone cyberpunk-style headset, meanwhile, is one of the most 1990s things you can imagine.
A variety of promotional quasi-games were also produced under the Jurassic Park license. These include a piece of painting software called Jurassic Park: Paint and Activity Center (1994) on PC, a browser game called Jurassic Park – The Ride Online Adventure (1996), and a limited-release GBA edutainment minigame collection sold only at Japanese gift shops called Jurassic Park Institute Tour: Dinosaur Rescue (2003). A hybrid DVD/board game called Jurassic Park Explorer was also published in 2007. Jurassic World Alive is one of most recent additions to the library, and is a 2018 augmented reality mobile title heavily influenced by the successful Pokemon GO (2016).
With regard to crossovers, Jurassic Park has made appearances in two other game settings. The first is a game developed by Japanese studio Nai’a Digital Works (a relative rarity for this franchise) and published by Kemco on the GameCube in 2001. Titled Universal Studios Theme Park Adventures, the game involves various minigames based around attractions at the Universal Island’s Theme Park; the Jurassic Park portion involves firing a mounted weapon at dinosaurs from the back of a jeep.
The other major Jurassic Park crossover is a tie-in with the Lego franchise from 2015. Lego Jurassic World, in deviating from the scope suggested by its name, retells the events of all four Jurassic Park films using character models and settings drawn from Lego toy sets. This seems like an odd IP to adapt to a Lego aesthetic, given the series’ violence intended for older children and teenagers, but the heaviest subject matter has been consistently reworked to be funny rather than scary. The game received mixed reviews, largely centering on praise for engaging art design and criticism for the uninspired level design as well as tiredness of the repetitive Lego series’ gameplay mechanics.
I hope you haven’t fallen asleep during this rather exhaustive exploration of the Jurassic Park video game franchise. It’s hard to find such a comprehensive overview elsewhere online, so I’m hoping this will suffice for interested fans who stumble upon it.
As for you readers, what’s your favorite Jurassic Park game? How about your least favorite? Do you like the arcade action, or the side-scrollers? Maybe you’re a fan of the strategy games? Any way you slice it, this series has something for everybody. Let’s discuss in the comments below!