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Dinotopia: The Timestone Pirates

Score: 55%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: TDK Mediactive
Developer: RFK Interactive
Media: Cart/1
Players: 1
Genre: Platformer

Graphics & Sound:

TDK Mediactive impressed me with Lady Sia, a smooth cel-shaded platformer that I was reminded of immediately when I fired up their latest game for GBA, Dinotopia. Not surprisingly, RFK Interactive did development for both games. Based on the license for what was originally a book and is now a television/movie feature, Dinotopia the game draws on some very imaginative material. The graphics resemble Lady Sia to a large degree, but there is more density and realism, more like the dense environments of Pitfall for GBA. The world of Dinotopia incorporates dinosaurs in every role from vehicle to obstacle to environmental element. Many times you'll have to use them to progress in a level and they are depicted in various sizes, shapes and colors. At least one level lets you ride or fly a dinosaur, and an underwater level with a submersible vehicle also makes for some nice visuals. The look of Dinotopia, a rich landscape that mixes fantasy and technology, is recreated nicely for GBA. RFK did a good job keeping clean design at all times, so it's rarely a problem discerning your next move in a level.

Gameplay:

Dinotopia the game puts you in the role of savior after pirates steal a bunch of eggs from the Tyrannosaur nesting area. Playing as adventurer and treasure hunter Clayton, you'll need to gather the Tyrannosaur eggs from around Dinotopia and return them to the nest. And if playing around in a Tyrannosaur nest sounds dangerous, believe me it is.

The game plays in a very linear fashion, level to level. Each level contains an egg, and at the end of several levels you have the chance to visit the nest and drop off your eggs before you tackle the next set of challenges. Clayton uses a standard set of platforming tools, including a grapple effect in some places, and one unique aspect of his character is the weapon he uses. The Sunstone Prod looks like a mace or club, but situated on the business end is a slot for a Sunstone. 3 different stones can be gathered in Dinotopia, each giving the weapon a different effect. The Flash stone creates a blinding effect, the Laser stone shoots a beam of light at enemies and the Quake stone shocks all the enemies on screen at once. Essentially, this is a weapon power-up and a good one. It's a shame there isn't more variety in the gameplay from level to level, but the ability to ride vehicles and dinosaurs offers some good fun. I will say that Dinotopia is plagued by the same control problems we noticed in Lady Sia, namely the twitchy movement, poor jumping ability and hard-to-judge distances or edges. Sure, there are plenty of frustrating moments in certain levels due to control issues, but there are health power-ups Clayton will find that help him regain any lost health points and extra-life tokens also.

The end goal in every stage is to transport the egg to the end of each level, so fighting isn't always the answer. Clayton can sneak past enemies or find hidden, alternate routes that avoid contact with enemies completely. The levels are large, and not terribly varied in how they play, so the realistic replay value for Dinotopia is low. But, playing through as a fan of the books or the new movie will be a pleasure for most.


Difficulty:

The biggest flaw that Dinotopia has is lack of any checkpoint system in levels. Limited health power-ups mean that Clayton doesn't have much opportunity at all to refresh health lost to enemies, and limits on the Sunstone power-up usage means that these are mostly one-time weapons. And, getting close to enemies usually means you'll lose at least part of your health to a random blow. Enemies too often seem to be able to wade through your weapon attacks and hit you, and the whole A.I. balance in battle feels too random. Sunstone attacks help get you through areas where you have to defeat an enemy from far away, especially those who use projectile weapons. Combine all the shortcomings with very large levels, and you create instant frustration bred by slogging through 80 percent of the level only to die and go back. to. the. beginning. Sucky, for sure. This really may end up being a deal-buster for many gamers, but if you can take a berserker approach and muscle your way through the more awkward levels, you'll find Dinotopia is more good than bad.

Game Mechanics:

As mentioned, Dinotopia seems to have inherited the weakest control elements of Lady Sia. Jumping is difficult to gauge, and worse still are the areas where jumps have to be judged without seeing the destination platform, as in places where you find a hidden route and have do a leap of faith through trees or around obstacles. Really, the worst thing is having to judge timing and realizing that you're adjusting for lag in the controls and a generally sticky feeling in the engine. Fighting close-up has a similar feel, stodgy, slow and unpredictable. If you're wondering how this equates to a Platformer that is anywhere close to playable, all I can say is that the controls are usually good enough. Enemy AI isn't exactly advanced, so you have plenty of opportunity to sneak up and nail the bad guys. For times when you find it impossible to avoid getting dinged because of weird control issues, Dinotopia can be very frustrating. But, I found that the mechanics involved in piloting vehicles and flying the Skybax or riding the Hadrosaur were very passable. These levels feel like old-school arcade goodness, and the variety of having these along with standard platforming is probably what redeems poor control issues in Dinotopia. Cycling through power-ups is made easy and intuitive with the R shoulder button, and an on-screen meter lets you know how much of the reusable Sunstone weapons you have left.

License games will always have some direct following by virtue of the fans who want every piece of product spawned by the book, movie or comic, etc. And, in some cases, license games deserve to stand on their own as quality productions, not just as something that was whipped together to satisfy fans and support the franchise. Dinotopia the game feels strongly derivative of RFK Interactive's last game, Lady Sia, but it does a nice job representing the world of Dinotopia. What is doesn't do is create a truly great Platformer. In fact, the frustration with poor controls and lack of any checkpoint system may lead you to put this one down completely. But, there is some quality gameplay here if you can overlook the flaws. And, fans of Dinotopia will no doubt be pleased.


-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

Nintendo GameBoy Advance Defender Nintendo GameBoy Advance Driver 2 Advance

 
Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated