It’s hard to articulate the effect that Jurassic Park – the film – had on cinema when it arrived in 1993. Though CGI special effects had been utilised in a number of prior films – most notably in The Abyss, with its amazing sentient water ‘creature’ in 1989, then another James Cameron film in 1991: Terminator 2, with what were, at the time, mindblowing T-1000 liquid metal effects, it hadn’t been properly employed to recreate actual living creatures.
There’s a key thing to realise with Jurassic Park that many subsequent filmmakers didn’t take on board though – the CGI was used sparingly, with far more practical effects work being deployed than you may realise; the CGI was reserved for moments where the animatronic puppetry just wasn’t going to work for the shots used. It was a revelation, however, and utterly changed the tools available to all movie makers. Audiences flocked – like herds of Gallimimus – to see the film, over and over again. They couldn’t get enough. Though (brief, terrifying prologue aside) it had a deliberately slow beginning – in order to sell us the science and make us fully believe in the recreated dinosaurs – once it got going, the movie didn’t let up. The non-stop danger and action, with a multitude of dinosaurs threatening our heroes both on foot and in amazing vehicle chase scenes, would surely be fantastic source material for a video game.
Ocean Software were a beloved video games publisher and developer in the 80s and 90s. They had a reputation for grabbing massive movie licences, but despite the fact that movie licenced games were often derided, for the most part Ocean’s were pretty good- and in a few cases, exceptional. It was Ocean that nabbed the rights for Jurassic Park on the SNES; would they do it justice?
Mostly yes, is the short answer. Jurassic Park was actually a very ambitious game in its day, with two very different styles of game mashed up – most of the game saw you trying to escape the park, cast as Alan Grant (played in the movie by Sam Neill); with the game utilising a top-down view, not unlike Zelda. The visuals were lovely and remain great looking to this day, with some wonderful pixel art of the characters, scenery and, of course, the dinosaurs themselves.
Gain access to a building, however, and everything changes. The view switches to first person and – though technically impressive at the time, especially on the SNES – I’m sorry to say that these sections have not aged as gracefully as the exterior gameplay.
Though that’s the case, the production values remain high throughout – and you can’t fault the ambition of the designers. The music and sound effects were uniformly excellent throughout and though the visuals have aged badly in the first person sections, they remain tense and are a decent enough break from the core gameplay.
There’s an absolutely huge oversight in the game, however. The game world is pretty big, with lots of secrets to find and ID cards, used to access buildings and terminals, to locate; despite this – and the gruelling nature of staying alive – there’s no option to save. No passwords, no checkpoints once you use up your five lives and two continues; you go all the way back to the beginning of the game when you restart. The whole game has to be completed in one sitting – it’s horrendously challenging.
That said, I did manage to complete it once, back in the mid-90s. Using a helpful guide in a SNES magazine to locate the few ID cards I just couldn’t find, I did managed to play through the entire game in a single sitting – and it’s here that we come to the other major weakness of the game: the ending.
SNES Jurassic Park is infamous for having one of the worst endings in the history of video games. It’s a massive kick in the teeth after the endurance test you’ve had to put yourself through to complete the game. When you trigger the ending, there’s an incredibly brief cinematic which switches to a first person viewpoint. You’re supposed to think that you’re lifting off in a helicopter and escaping the island, except it’s an awkward Mode 7 (the method the SNES used to rotate massive sprites, which could be utilised in gameplay too, for – at the time – dramatically advanced visuals) fly by of a flat, green ‘island’ with a massive Jurassic Park logo in the centre. It’s embarrassingly bad; my guess is that the difficulty was ramped up (and the save not included) to ensure that few people would even see the ending. Who knows? If anyone does know the story behind this, I’d be intrigued to find out. It could well be that they ran out of time in order to meet a specific release date, which is an issue often experienced with licenced games.
In any case, up until that point – and despite the testing nature of getting through the game without a save to fall back on – the game is very enjoyable, with the exterior sections in particular – featuring excellent T-Rex attacks (tip: run!) and multiple weapon types to find – being a great use of the licence, if a little sedate in comparison to the relentless action you may be expecting after seeing the film.
With a little more time in development, the SNES Jurassic Park game could have been an absolute masterpiece. As it is, it’s a great game with a few weaknesses; being absolutely obsessed with Jurassic Park when the game originally came out, I couldn’t get enough of it – but it’s much easier to see those weaknesses with the benefit of hindsight, particularly the way in which the first-person sections really do push the hardware a little too far (though this was undeniably impressive at the time, particularly with no hardware acceleration). That said, I’m happy to have experienced it at a new, exciting time when it felt like so many things were changing, pop culture wise.
And it’s amazing to me that I’ve been able to write about it, 26 years later. To quote Jeff Goldblum’s iconic chaotician character, Ian Malcolm: life finds a way.
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