Jurassic Park: Childhood Trauma In a Cartridge


It’s hard to find anyone that takes licensed titles seriously these days. With a couple of noteworthy exceptions (Spider Man 2, Goldeneye 007), they’re almost always poorly made cash-ins accompanying some movie or television show. Nevertheless, during the late 80s and early 90s there seemed to be a lot of quality licensed titles coming out for the NES, Super Nintendo, and Sega Genesis. Back then, graphics and technology were simple enough that even a small team could churn out a good game in under a year. My cousin, my brother, and I were particular fans of Alladin, The Lion King, Road Runner’s Death Valley Rampage, Animaniacs, and Tiny Toon Adventures, all of which we played on the old SNES we kept at our grandmother’s house.

One of the things these games had in common is that they were all stupid hard. Despite the hours we pumped into each of them, we never came close to beating any single one of them. Jurassic Park was no exception. A few years ago I spotted the game in a bargain bin at GameStop and took it home for $5, convinced that I could finish it now that I was older. I was wrong. What I know now is that we would have never beaten as children. We would not have beaten it as children because I could not beat it as an adult. The game is difficult. Period.

Jurassic Park is an overworld adventure/first-person shooter hybrid that’s split into two distinct parts. First, there’s the outdoor exploration sections, where you control your character, Dr. Grant, from a top-down isometric view. This part is actually done exceptionally well – the graphics are smooth and the controls are excellent. There’s a heavy emphasis on both exploration and combat. You can pick up a handful of weapons (actually, about five really) that you can use to fight the various dinosaurs you’ll encounter, which will range from tiny compys to deadly velociraptors that will ambush you from the trees. The combat is balanced but offers a decent level of challenge, especially when you’re caught off-guard by enemies. There’s zero interaction with any other characters from the movie, although a message may occasionally appear from one of them giving you some helpful (or not so helpful) information.

Well, at least they got something from the movie right.

Well, at least they got something from the movie right…

The game transfers to a first-person mode when entering indoor areas. Here the game suffers a lot. First, you’re perspective is limited to a scaled-down window meant to resemble goggles, and I suppose they did this to cut down on performance issues the SNES had in dealing with the faux-3D. Likewise, your character’s movement is slow and choppy. It feels like the game refreshes your screen about every half a second. This might have otherwise made combat frustrating to deal with, but for the most part the enemies simply stand there until you’re nose-to-nose with them, so they’re easy to pick off from a distance. Those that do engage you are fairly easy to kill, since most of your weapons kill every dinosaur in a single hit. I’m not really sure why they chose to include these first person sections over the pleasant isometric ones, but I guess that’s what they thought kids were going crazy for back in the early 90’s – the “explosive” 3D action with “realistic” 3D graphics.

My god, its so realistic! It actually looks like there's a real dinosaur doing the Thriller dance in front me!

My god, its so realistic! It actually looks like there’s a real dinosaur doing the Thriller dance in front me!

Unfortunately, the game is confusing as all hell. I had absolutely no idea what the designers even wanted me do when I first started the game. Your character is dropped at the entrance to the park with a couple of directions to start walking in and not much in the way of instructions. At first I thought I needed to collect all the velociraptor eggs hidden around the map. Later I discovered I had a set of objectives I needed to accomplish (collecting the eggs being one of them), though there was never any indication of what I needed to do or where should go next. Progressing through the game, I later found out, involves finding security cards hidden across the map so you can access new areas, or finding specific computer terminals to carry out your objectives.

I’m baffled that children in 1993 were expected to finish this game without online strategy guides. There is a lot of backtracking involved in this game, even when you do know where to go in the first place. Running into locked doors simply tells you that you’re missing a keycard and offers you no clues on where to find it. The keycard is likely to be found on the opposite side of the map in the basement of another building, and just as likely to be locked behind another door. Additionally, of the dozen or so terminals throughout each building, there was always only one capable of completing each specific objective. This meant that the only practical solution was to perform every action on every terminal until you found the one that would do the job for you, a tedious process of elimination that would require an hours to complete. The entire island is essentially a giant maze with lots of frustrating dead ends. Andrew would categorize it as “a game to sell the Nintendo Hotline.”

What caused the dinosaurs to go extinct? ME.

What caused the dinosaurs to go extinct? ME.

In retrospect, Jurassic Park is the type of game that could have severely benefited from three modern gaming amenities: save files, an objective tracker, and an in-game map. Hell, these weren’t even “modern” in 1993 – A Link to the Past had all three two years prior (we actually beat that one as kids, what a surprise!). I don’t own the game manual, so I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt and presume that you could find a paper map in there. But there’s no excuse for the lack of save files. Instead, they give you four lives to beat the entire game. Losing means reseting your progress, and the game is around four hours long when you actually know what you’re already doing. Given your lack of objectives or hints, though, you’ll likely meander the map checking every room, door, and computer terminal for clues on how to progress until you eventually give up and check “Nintendo Power” for the solution. Or, if you don’t have your copy of” Nintendo Power” from November 1993 lying around, checking GameFAQs for a walkthrough.

Not surprisingly, the game held up a lot better when I implemented three of my own changes:

  1. I used save states to keep a save file.
  2. I looked up a guide on GameFAQs.
  3. I did a Google search for the overworld map.

The gameplay was still challenging, but the pace became much more bearable. There was still a lot of backtracking that needed to be done, but the game went by quickly enough that I could still enjoy the combat and exploration. So in the end, I still found myself having a good time with Jurassic Park. Nevertheless, requiring save-states and a guide is a big crutch to lean on just to make a game playable. Unless you’ve got a good reason to go back and play it, Jurassic Park doesn’t live up the quality of the other licensed titles you can find on the SNES or Genesis. I consider it skippable at best.

Oh, but there’s one more thing I forgot to mention. Jurassic Park is notorious for having one of the most disappointing endings of all time. Supposing you didn’t cave and use a walkthrough like the rest of us cowards, your 18 or so hours of trial and error gameplay was rewarded with a single slide of text stating that you had escaped the island. I hope it was worth it.

Fuck you too, Jurassic Park

Fuck you too, Jurassic Park.

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One Response to Jurassic Park: Childhood Trauma In a Cartridge

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