Game Design Series – Jurassic Park (NES)

To prepare myself for my future game developer career I decided to play through some gaming classics for various Nintendo (GameBoy, NES) and SEGA (Saturn, Dreamcast, Genesis) consoles and analyze them thoroughly. The truth is that many amazing gameplay elements were invented way back in the 70-90s and haven’t appeared since. It’s a real shame, because frankly speaking they were groundbreaking. In my analyses I will try to focus on game difficulty, graphics, interesting gameplay aspects and the overall appeal of the game. First off is Jurassic Park for the Nintendo Entertainment System.

Official Title: Jurassic Park
Release Year: 1993
Developer: Ocean Software

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Game main menu – super scary!

Synopsis
The game follows the plot from the movie by Steven Spielberg and the techno-thriller by Michael Crichton (entirely different feel than the movie). You are PhD Alan Grant and your task is to escape from the now wild Jurassic Park located on Isla Nublar. Along the way you have to save Tim and Lex (grandchildren of Prof. Hammond) from being eaten alive by the legendary predator T-Rex or trampled by a stampede of triceratops’.

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Alan Grant in front of the Park gate

Graphics
Jurassic Park features an isometric view produced by sprites drawn at an angle from various sides. Interestingly, the collision box of some of them was defined only by the sprite’s base, allowing the game’s protagonist or his enemies to vanish behind obstacles. The color palette is crisp, though consists primarily of gray, red and different shades of green. It definitely looks better than early NES games. Projectiles are animated and so are the various dinosaurs infesting the Park. The main menu screen, featuring a viciously looking T-Rex en face with dripping saliva is worth an extra mention. Unfortunately, the impressive visuals would occasionally tax the NES hardware causing graphical glitches and oddities.

Gameplay
In order to successfully escape from the Park, Alan needs to complete various tasks, ranging from saving Tim and Lex to unlocking computer terminals. A major part of the game is collecting turquoise-gray dinosaur eggs in order to reveal key cards, and collecting different types of ammo to combat the vicious dinos. There are several species of dinosaurs, each with a different behavior pattern. Compsognathus individuals are small and easy to kill as they always trot in a straight line towards Grant. Velociraptors are much faster and can actually outrun the player when charging. They also do much more damage on contact. Somewhat sadly all of the dinos drop only basic ammunition (swamp green). Bolas rounds (red), penetrating rounds (gray) and upgraded rounds (green) need to be collected from the ground in designated spots. An interesting aspect of the game are mystery boxes with a question mark on top. They provide extra lives, health packs or contain deadly booby traps. What I appreciate the most is the fact that the game does not follow the standard “stage(s) + boss fight” pattern. In fact, there are only 2 real boss fights against the T-Rex. The gameplay is well-balanced with a mix of regular collection stages, boss fights, puzzles and dynamic rescue missions. In total 6 levels with clear briefing screens explaining the tasks in each level.

Difficulty
Jurassic Park is one of those NES games which seem hard at first, but as the player memorizes enemy attack patterns, locations of health packs, etc. it becomes increasingly easier. In addition, it is not as overwhelming as, for instance Castlevania or Ninja Gaiden. Jurassic Park is definitely a beatable title, though admittedly the T-Rex levels can be quite annoying.

Closing Remarks
While the core of the game (collecting eggs and shooting dinos) is fairly standard among NES titles, the addition of rescue missions and unusual boss fights feels refreshing. I believe that even platformers would profit from such gameplay mix-ins. Actually, they’re often fun regardless of the genre.

Sources

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