Publisher: TDK Mediactive
Developer: Vicious Cycle
Release Date: August 05, 2003
Dinosaurs may be extinct (true story!), but the Dinotopia franchise has somehow, miraculously survived a quickly cancelled television series, a number of books, and a TV miniseries. Truthfully, it’s difficult to say why Dinotopia is still around. But it is, and if last year’s mediocre Dinotopia: The Timestone Pirates for the GBA didn’t quell your lust for talking dinosaurs then Dinotopia: The Sunstone Odyssey surely will. TDK Mediactive has concocted an action adventure romp through the proverbial “lost land” that fans of the franchise (a show of hands, please) will undoubtedly want to check out. But even fans should be wary of The Sunstone Odyssey as the game falls considerably short of being, what’s the word I’m looking for, oh, yes, FUN.
Dinotopia: The Sunstone Odyssey is a story of loss. Loss not only of your attention as will be only inevitable, but the loss that two young twin boys, Drake and Jacob, suffer after a rogue T-rex attacks and kills their father. The game begins immediately after the death of the twin’s father and in an unsurprising twist of fate the brothers turn on each other. Jacob wants revenge on the dinosaurs for the death of his dad and joins an anti-dino society known as the Outsiders, while Drake chooses the highroad and vows to protect Dinotopia and all its inhabitants. You’ll play the part of Drake and your pursuit to protect the Dinotopian terra firma will bring you face to face with numerous challenges, most of which take the form of tedious fetch quests and endlessly mashing on the attack button. Believe me, it’s as fun as it sounds.
After watching a lengthy in-game cut-scene that features stilted character models who don’t even need to move their lips to talk, and completing the tutorial, the Drake delivery service begins. You’ll eventually track down one of Dinotopia’s sages and be awarded a stone mallet head to attach to your mallet, now you can attack foes! As the game progresses you’ll be given more mallet heads that considerably raise the amount of damage you inflict. There are two basic attacks that you can execute with your mallet, a standard swing attack and an uppercut jump attack. A separate magic button allows you to perform a special attack once your magic meter is adequately filled. The magic attacks are unique to the type of mallet head you are using and include such things as a vampire-type attack that allows you to retain any energy inflicted on nearby opponents, and a generic invincibility spell. You can also throw swamp rocks and hobi peppers at enemies, though these are in short supply and hardly worth worrying about anyway.
As uninspired as the combat in The Sunstone Odyssey is, beating down foes with a mallet is exponentially more exhilarating than the innumerable fetch quests that pepper the playfield. But even so, it’s hard to overlook the fact that enemies in this game are certifiably brain-dead. Opponents will haphazardly run towards you on sight and methodically dish out attacks while surrounding opponents wait patiently for their turn, occasionally throwing a swing, presumably for the sake of showmanship. This hardwired AI is applicable to most every foe you encounter and makes battles quickly dwindle to an exercise in repeatedly smashing on the attack button. Once you’ve acquired some of the more powerful mallet heads, the aforementioned technique is even more useful.
We can deal with simplistic combat and even tedious fetch quests to a certain degree, but the one thing we can’t stand is aimlessly wandering around in search of the next progression point. While the game is essentially a straightforward and linear experience, too often you’ll discover that meandering off the beaten path will grant you a one way ticket to frustration-ville. And since there are so many areas to “explore” in The Sunstone Odyssey and no maps or substantial points of reference to guide you along, a lot of the game boils down to backtracking and just plain being lost.
The visuals are a definite step up from the gameplay, though nothing to get excited about. The environments consist of plenty of repeating textures and occasionally interesting design elements, such as the fluttering of birds as you approach and ornately placed background dinosaurs. The character designs for the humans in the game are in dire need of more polygons and attention to detail, while the dinosaurs are nicely rendered and far more pleasing to the eye. The game runs at a steady clip, never dipping below its default fps and as much as you’d expect there to be a bevy of graphical glitches, there is none. The Xbox is capable of so much more than what is seen in this game and it’s a shame that the developers didn’t take the extra time to make it stand out among the other ports. But the visual presentation is solid, if a little bland.
In terms of sound, The Sunstone Odyssey lacks any distinctive qualities. The voice acting is ok, though the forced Scottish accents of the two protagonists is sure to offend. Lots of repeating dialogue can be heard from NPCs that you’ll come into contact with and when you aren’t listening to quips you’ve heard a million times before you’ll be straining to stay awake through pages of uninteresting speech provided by the game’s main personalities. Sound effects are of the blatantly generic variety, that is when there are sound effects. Often times no aural representation is included for actions. What should sound like intense wind rippling attacks sound more like, well, nothing. The music won’t be winning awards any time soon, either. Boasting a stereotypical Jurassic-Park-meets-your-local-renaissance-fair soundtrack, it’ll only be a matter of time before you reach for the mute button.
I sincerely hope that anyone who purchases Dinotopia: The Sunstone Odyssey is a diehard fan of the source material, because those going into the game looking for a dino-tastic action adventure experience will be sorely disappointed. The game’s best feature is its graphics, and the character models don’t even mouth their lips when they speak, you do the math.