Release Date: September 23, 2008
Going into Dinosaur King, I didn't know that it's based on an animated children's show, so I'm feeling a bit old as I write this review. After doing a little research into the show, it appears that the game is an accurate representation of the cartoon, and it should appeal to fans of the series.
How does Dinosaur King stack up to the rest of the uninitiated players who are looking to pick up this title? It's a pretty decent Pokémon-style clone, and there's a certain inner child appeal to collecting dinosaur cards and using them to battle it out against the AI or a real-life opponent. Bundle that with the simple battle design, which basically boils down to a familiar rock-paper-scissors format, and it makes for a fun, if not quite fulfilling, experience on the DS.
As with the TV series, the Dinosaur King game follows the adventures of Max and Rex and features the villainous Dr. Z, who wants to use the unique ability to bring ancient dinosaurs back to life so that he can take over the world. In the game, dinosaurs are collected in a format similar to titles like Pokémon and Digimon, but instead of simply going out into the wild and bringing them back home, you collect fossils, which are used to re-create the giant lizards that have been extinct for millions of years.
When you encounter a new fossil, the touch-screen comes into play by letting you clear away the dirt and debris surrounding the fossil; you even blow into the microphone to clear away the dust that's left after you've picked away the dirt. Your virtual pick only has a certain amount of durability to it, so you don't want to waste time clearing away sections that don't surround the fossil. Once the pick breaks, the fossil mini-game is over, and depending on how well you've done at uncovering the remains, you'll gain a dinosaur with certain stats that will usually differ from the dinosaur that another player might have found in the same area. The fossil mini-game is a nice way of ensuring that no two dinosaurs are exactly alike, changing around available hit points, defense stats and offensive skills. This makes the player-versus-player battles a bit more interesting, since you know that your Triceratops won't be exactly like your buddy's dino.
While the combat is pretty simple on the surface, it's also surprisingly addictive. Dinosaur King takes the rock-paper-scissors formula to heart, going as far as actually displaying the three icons on the touch-screen during battle. By selecting a certain icon with the stylus, you'll unleash an attack against your opponent's dinosaur, and depending on the icon they selected, you'll either clash against each other, miss, or take a devastating hit. You can assign special moves to particular icons, so every time you hit "scissors," you'll end up pulling off a more powerful attack than if you'd chosen "rock." Each dinosaur has a certain affinity as well, which will show an attack icon with a starburst symbol around it, signifying that you'll want to pull off that attack more often for more damage.
Of course, on the flip side of things, these special attack icons are also an easy tell for when you get involved in battles against the AI. It tends to give away its moves with small audio or text cues that often clue you in about which attack to expect, so you can counter it. This makes much of the game a cakewalk, since the majority of Dinosaur King is spent in battles against various opponent dinosaurs and battlers.
Graphically, the game isn't too impressive, with the overworld and map/town sections being represented as standard 2-D sprite work that's very reminiscent of the Pokémon style, while the battles use some decent 3-D dinosaur representations. Neither view represents the best we've seen on the DS in terms of visual quality, but it's still a decent effort on the developer's part. While the game is based on an existing license, it's nice to see that the effort was spent on making it not look entirely generic.
The soundtrack for Dinosaur King isn't very memorable, though, and I couldn't really bring a single tune to mind after playing the game. Since I'm not very familiar with the cartoon, I couldn't tell you if any of the show music has been brought to the game, but at the very least, the title screen sequence is taken from the TV show. Still, it really didn't do anything for me, and there's not much in the way of voice acting that needs to be noted.
Also, while I did enjoy the idea of collecting fossils and uncovering them to add more beasts to your collection, moving through the story and going from town to town ? or to different locations ? starts to wear thin after a while. Most of this comes from an overall disinterest in the story, which I thought was pretty bland and typical of your Saturday morning cartoons. I'd imagine that fans will get more out of it than I did, but if you're not already invested in the show, don't think that Dinosaur King is going to do much for you story-wise. Since the game is definitely an RPG at heart, the story and gameplay are a bit slow and plodding, and there's not much to keep you interested without an engaging story. Combine that with the simple battle system and ease of general enemies, and Dinosaur King will most likely disappoint more than engage you.
Dinosaur King manages to do some interesting things within the genre, but it's not quite enough to propel it to the top of the growing RPG heap on the DS. It's an interesting take on the Pokémon formula, but it can hardly contend for the top spot, and it's really only going to appeal to the fans of the show, leaving a lot to be desired when it comes to gameplay and story. If you're looking to scratch that RPG itch on the DS, you can definitely do better than Dinosaur King, but if you've exhausted all of the typical options, then it might be worth a rental.
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