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DS  header logo

Dinosaur King

For: DS

Gotta resurrect 'em all!

Product: Dinosaur King | Publisher: Sega | Format: DS | Genre: Action, Collection, Fighting, Film/ TV tie- in | Players: 1-2 | Networking: wireless (network) | Version: Europe
 
Dinosaur King DS, thumbnail 1
Some people are happy being Burger Kings, others prefer to be Kings of the Ring and only the other day there was a song on the radio by The Kings of Leon. However, if we had our way we'd want to be the King of Dinosaurs. Just imagine sitting on an elaborate gold throne barking orders at prehistoric monsters! (Like the House of Commons Speaker, you mean? - political satire ed.)

Bearing this in mind, when our copy of Sega's encouragingly-titled Dinosaur King dropped on the doormat we ripped off the packaging with an enthusiasm normally reserved for that one day of the year when Little Saint Nick pays everyone a visit, but our hopes of establishing a kingdom for cold-blooded beasts were cruelly dashed when we eventually calmed down enough to load the game up. Disappointingly, Dinosaur King doesn't involve you donning a crown and dishing out monarchic decrees to hordes of obedient reptilian subjects; instead, what we have here is a fairly generic Pokémon clone that replaces pocket monsters with extinct lizards. Bah.

Based on a Japanese cartoon (which, like Pokémon, is based on a money-spinning collectable card game), Dinosaur King doesn't attempt to reinvent the wheel. As is the case with the numerous other Pokémon clones that we've witnessed over the years, the game sticks slavishly to a pre-determined blueprint that has remained largely unaltered for the past decade.

Wide-eyed anime-style lead characters? Check. Cute super deformed 2D sprites that walk on the spot even when they're standing still? Check. Highly addictive 'collect them all' game play mechanic that induces insane levels of obsessive behaviour in kids of all ages? Check.

The core concept is so appealing in its childish simplicity that there's little wonder that this is a hit show in Japan - the protagonists live in a world where dinosaurs can be summoned using a handgun-shaped technological marvel known as the 'DinoShot'. All you need do is locate a fossil and generate a card from it (how this wondrous alchemy occurs is never adequately explained), then insert that card into your DinoShot and bingo - you're the proud owner of a previously extinct scary lizard.

Predictably there's an evil organization that's also interested in harnessing the power of these previously deceased dinos: the malevolent Alpha Gang. This group of ne'er-do-wells swipes one of heroic D-Team's patented DinoShots, forcing the previously peace-loving palaeontology club to embark on a quest to not only save mankind, but to protect the recently reborn reptiles. Granted, it's not likely to scoop the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction any time soon but it's no more lightweight than any other title of the same ilk. And besides, to quote Tim Robbins in The Hudsucker Proxy, it's - you know - for kids.

Once you've selected which member of D-Team you wish to play as you can get things rolling. The game is divided into two key sections, the firstof which involves walking around each location grilling the residents for information and visiting the local D-Team branch to analyze fossils, trade with other players and generally manage your inventory and dino collection.

When you discover a fossil on your travels you can return to the local D-Team branch and 'restore' it. Using the touchscreen you have to fastidiously chip away at the rock to uncover the dinosaur remains underneath, occasionally taking time to blow away the dust via the DS microphone. Your rock pick only lasts for a limited time so you have to be careful about where you chip away - although you're always guaranteed to gain a new specimen, if you're careful enough to uncover the entire skeleton you'll be rewarded with a rarer breed.

The second section of the game is more about exploring your environment, tackling enemies and indulging in impromptu archaeology. It's in this portion of the game that the combat occurs, with random turn-based battles erupting every few seconds as you traipse around the world map, happily chasing your main objective as well as numerous side quests.

Those of you who are not overly familiar with the Japanese RPG genre will probably find this element of the game particularly jarring; battles are instigated completely at random and without any kind of forewarning. This has been a common trait of such titles since time immemorial and will certainly not come as overtly off-putting to hardcore Pokémon fans, but it does feel a little dated these days and when you run into your third encounter in less than a minute, you'll find yourself wondering why Japanese developers haven't found a better way of doing this kind of thing by now.

Combat is based on the playground game of rock, paper, scissors, with a specific move being tied to each option. Given the entirely random nature of the battles, Sega has included hints before each turn that essentially tell the player which move to play; this is obviously quite helpful but it sadly robs the game of any challenge.

We can understand why Sega didn't want players to become frustrated at the unpredictable nature of rock, paper, scissors but we can't help but think that a more traditional combat system (such as that seen in Pokémon) would have been a far more sensible option. As it stands, the majority of Dinosaur King's fights are insultingly easy and the only time you'll lose is when you fail to pay attention to the hints.

Granted, not every battle is accompanied by these tips and as you progress the assistance begins to dry up, but in removing such help from certain encounters Sega has only succeeded in showing how misguided the combat system really is; things veer from ridiculously easy to infuriatingly random and it's likely to annoy players rather than challenge them.

It's actually quite a shame because the rest of the game is decent, even if it does shamelessly plagiarise other classics of the genre. The visuals are clean and detailed, the 3D battle sequences move smoothly and there's enough depth to keep younger players contented for weeks on end. The online trading aspect is also intriguing, allowing players to swap items within the game itself using Nintendo's Wi-Fi Connection service.

If you count yourself as a fan of the genre and can put up with the problematic combat system then there's every chance that you might unearth (no pun intended) some worthwhile enjoyment from Dinosaur King. It also serves as a gentle introduction to a tried and tested formula, but if you've never before enjoyed the experience of 'catching 'em all' then we'd recommend that you give Pokémon a whirl before investing any cash in this.
 
Dinosaur King
Reviewer photo
Damien McFerran | 23 September 2008
Sega's latest DS effort is ebullient and eye-catching but sadly the entire experience is mired by a questionable combat mechanic and a thoroughly disappointing lack of new ideas
 
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