Reviewed: September 10, 2003
Reviewed by: Mark Smith
The world of Dinotopia has a vast history, first appearing in a series of books, then moving into TV and even spawning a 2002 GBA title. The world of Dinotopia is a unique creation where man and dinosaurs coexist in relative harmony. Now the epic franchise makes its way to next-gen consoles in Dinotopia: The Sunstone Odyssey.
A quick glance at the box (either front or back) will give the unsuspecting consumer the notion they are about to embark on a game similar to Turok, but it won’t take more than 15-30 minutes to realize that The Sunstone Odyssey is more akin to Sierra’s Mixed-Up Mother Goose than a hardcore action game.
And therein lies the core problem with Dinotopia. There is just enough violence in the game for the ESRB to rate it for Teens when in fact the ideal target audience is the 12 and under crowd. While I’m certainly not qualified to give parenting advice I can safely say there is nothing in this game that is overtly violent or any more disturbing than the last half-dozen Disney features to hit the big screen. While most teens and younger adults will probably scoff at the simplistic gameplay, cute characters, and juvenile dialog, the pre-teen crowd and their parents will have a great time interacting with the loveable cast of dinosaurs and humans and undertaking what is essentially one item quest after another.
I’ve already hinted at what most of the gameplay is like in Dinotopia. Dinotopia creates just enough of a story to carry you through the 24 levels of scavenging, all thinly veiled under the guise of an adventure game. There are some minor attempts at engaging the player with RPG-like decisions for attaching various mallet heads and power crystals to your staff weapon, but combat remains overly simplistic and tends to serve only to break up the monotony of the endless item hunts.
Combat is a mix of using your staff weapon for physical attacks or unleashing magical attacks that are directly related to any Sunstones you have installed on the staff and the type of mallet head you are using. These combinations offer some interesting challenges in figuring out the best weapon to use for certain encounters, but the combo system is still primitive and the enemy AI is virtually non-existent. You have the ability to target individual enemies but they tend to swarm around you so that a single swipe of your staff will usually hit two or three targets. A tiny crystal appears over the head of your targeted enemy indicating their current health level.
During your travels you will encounter a wide variety of characters, both human and dinosaur. They will usually invite you to partake in a quest that involves traveling to various parts of the land of Dinotopia seeking out certain items and returning them for a token reward – usually some hot peppers you can use as ranged weapons. This is adventure gaming at its most primitive, which is why anyone over the age of 12 is going to lose interest fast.
There are a few puzzles and challenges thrown into the mix but even these revolve around fetching an item. One early puzzle requires you to locate and obtain an item from a box on a ledge high in the trees. You need to manipulate a lever to raise a ramp then balance across a beam to access a counterweight platform and smash some urns to shift the weight raising a bridge to the isolated platform. Again, quite simple for anyone over 12, but the younger kids will find this type of puzzle most engaging.
Some of the puzzles are a bit more challenging such as the quest that has you seeking out six emblems scattered about the level. Once you find them all you report back to the lady who gave you the quest and she will quiz you on these emblems asking questions that you might never have considered such as, “what was the shape of the emblem with the picture of the mushroom?”
To mix things up the game does allow you to explore parts of the world while soaring high above on the back of a Skybax or stomp your way through the level on the back of an armored Strutter – think dino-tank. These diversions help to break up the repetitive fighting and item gathering that make up the majority of Dinotopia.
At first I was put off by the rather simple graphics in Dinotopia, but the more I played the more I came to enjoy the elegant design and style that gave the game a watercolor painting feel. The designers weren’t going for ultra-realism or CG purity, but rather a living comic book feel and they pulled it off perfectly.
All of the levels feature wonderful painted backgrounds and foreground objects constructed from modest polygon models and detailed in simple but elegant textures that match the watercolor style of the environment.
The characters are simple in design and offer only minimal animation. You’ll definitely see a lot of repetition in the human models whereas the dinosaurs all look incredibly unique and technically more stylish.
Dinotopia ran flawlessly at consistently smooth framerates during all the levels regardless of how many enemies were on the screen or whether I was fighting against a painted background or an animated waterfall cascading down a cliff. Even the aerial segments sailed by silky smooth.
The music in Dinotopia is quite stylish and perfectly suited to the genre. It has a fantasy flair to it, almost a medieval quality, with wind and string instruments providing a soothing soundtrack. There are noted tempo and instrument changes during combat that provide just the right emotional enhancement.
Sound effects are a bit sparse. You have all of the expected environmental sounds like chirping birds, roaring waterfalls, creaking doors, and the repetitive sounds of clashing combat. The magical attacks offer a bit of supernatural variety but for the most part the sound package is fairly uninspired.
Speech is prevalent in Dinotopia. Everyone talks including the dinosaurs and the voices do their best to match the creature or individual delivering the dialog. Big dinosaurs have gruff voices and humans sport accents ranging from thick British to Mike Meyers over-the-top Scottish. I had to laugh at some of the accents, they are truly bad, but in the spirit of a “kids game” it is all perfectly acceptable and rather endearing.
An adult can probably finish Dinotopia in a few evenings, perhaps about 10 hours total. Kids will enjoy this game for weeks and months to come. The mix and match of the staff weapon offers some unique alternatives to gameplay but there is no real reason to actually replay the entire game after you finish it.
Normally this is a game I would recommend as a rental but since TDK is selling Dinotopia for only $19 I can’t think of a single reason that any parent wouldn’t want to get this for their kids. It will entertain and delight them longer than many other games priced twice as much.
Despite what you read elsewhere, Dinotopia: The Sunstone Odyssey is a great game if you are part of the target audience. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many 10-12 year old reviewers out there to give this game the credit it deserves, and I can see how the Teen rating and the deceptive box art might lure Turok fans into an unsuspecting and disappointing purchase.
Suffice to say, if you know anything about the Dinotopia saga then you already have a good idea of the source material used for this game. The Sunstone Odyssey is heavy on exploration and item quests and even makes a valiant attempt at some RPG-like combat, but most of all it’s a wonderful adventure that takes place in a fantasy setting that will delight the younger kids and their parents making this the perfect family game.