It's curious that dinosaurs - the obsession of boys worldwide and perfect video game fodder - have yet to establish themselves firmly in the gaming canon. While a few underwhelming titles have sought to rocket the prehistoric beasts into the spotlight, SEGA hopes that its cutesy Dinosaur King game will buck the disappointment trend. Touch-enabled dinosaur digging and simple head-to-head battles occupied our hands-on during SEGA Gamers' Day.
Dinosaur King follows preteen boys Max and Rex as they embark on a quest to stop the nefarious Dr. Z from bringing a host of deadly dinosaurs back from extinction. The doctor's plan has the lethal leviathans overrunning the planet in a bid to take over the world. Naturally, only a pair of pre-pubescent tykes can save mankind from everlasting tyranny.
Mixing exploration, combat, and a spot of role-playing, Dinosaur King bears a striking resemblance to Nintendo's Pokémon series. Instead of imagined creatures and superpowers, however, you're playing with prehistoric animals and hypothesized natural abilities, but the gist of the game is the same. Dinosaurs duke it out in easy-to-learn battles on behalf of their owners, earning valuable experience for boosting their attributes in the process.
Taking three dinosaurs with you into a fight, your goal is to defeat your opponent's slate before your third and final dinosaur hits the dust. Battles play out via a rock-paper-scissors system.
Whilst directing a battle between a dilophosaurus and tyrannosaurus, for example, selecting "rock" smartly trumped our opponent's "scissor." After a few successful rounds, the dilophosaurus neared defeat; however, it didn't go down without a last ditch effort to harm our star predator. In a departure from paleontological theory, the dilophosaur hissed and spat venom. Nonetheless, one rock-paper-scissors round later it was down for the count.
Convincing portrayals of the dinosaurs flood the top screen during combat, which differ dramatically from their bright, cel-shaded counterparts on the touch-screen. It's interesting to see the dinosaurs displayed realistically, although it clashes with the kid-friendly style of the rest of the game.
Through the course of a single player campaign, you seek out dinosaurs for your triassic fighting force by uncovering fossils. Approximately 70 different species are promised, all based on palaeontological finds. As you uncover new specimens, you can peruse the encyclopedia for detailed information on where the creature was discovered, approximate height, mass, and so on.
Finding fossils means a bit of old-fashioned excavation. Using the stylus as a pick, you chip away rock to reveal the outline of a fossil. Once you've cleared away most of the rock, you use the microphone to blow away small particles of dust. If you've ever purchased one of those imaginative cement fossil kits from a science store, then you'll instantly recognize the parallels here. The kits are immensely popular in Japan right now, which was one of the key factors motivating SEGA to develop a touch-enabled game based on the concept.
Multiplayer comes in the form of local wireless head-to-head battles and item-trading via Nintendo wi-fi Connection. Not the most compelling set of connected features, but at least local battles with a buddy ought to be entertaining. The real draw to Dinosaur King definitely lies in the fully-featured single player story, which could be quite the distraction for kids heading back to school given the game's September release.