Dinosaur King Review - 25/09/2008

On the surface Dinosaur King appears to be a game targeted at children and exclusively to fans of the show. Luckily for all involved, and to the credit of the developers, this isn't necessarily the case.

The name Dinosaur King will bring up thoughts of an overly child targeted game to those over the age of 10. For the people under this age though, the anime that the game is based on will be the most obvious thought, to the surprise of those unacquainted with the show. This fact alone will probably put many people off the game; with TV show based games usually being sub par. Dinosaur King may well be an exception to the rule though, as it holds its own against the stiff competition of RPGs on the DS. And while it may not reinvent the genre, it surpasses its expectations considerably. Get your Dinoshot ready, as we find out whether Dinosaur King is worthy of a purchase.

The gameplay in Dinosaur King takes cues from the most popular handheld series on the market, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Comparisons to Pokemon are bound to come with a game that sees a young boy battling his way to protect the world from an oppressive force, all the while levelling up his collection of pocketsize creatures which form his party. The concept isn’t all that takes inspiration from the series too, as the gameplay out of battle feels very much like Pokemon. There are some differences to take note of though; such as the rock paper scissors battle system, or the graphical style of the game. But in all honesty, Dinosaur King is a Pokemon clone; and a very good one at that.

The graphical style actually works really well.

In Dinosaur King, instead of the aforementioned pocket monsters helping you out in battle, you use dinosaurs that have been revived from their fossils; Jurassic Park style. Save for the starter Dinosaurs, a Triceratops or a Carnotaurus depending on which character you pick at the start, all dinosaurs must be revived from fossils, through a palaeontology fossil scrubbing minigame no less. Once you’ve done this, up to three dinos can be stored in your handy Dinoshot at a time, which you can then use in battle against other dinosaurs on the field, or used by other Dinoshot owners. Fossils can be found either at select plot points, or by using the Radar and Drill you receive early on, meaning that you’ll always have new creatures to try out. Being able to warp to the D-Site (your unit’s base of operations) at any time helps a lot when you find a new fossil, or when your dinos are running low on steam. This basic structure continues for nearly the whole game, which means that it can get tiresome after a while. But the game throws in enough interesting dinosaurs and abilities to master that most will likely enjoy the basic structure it has.

Next to the latest Pokemon games, the on foot sections of Dinosaur King look surprisingly dated. Rather than the faux isometric view in Pokemon, the developers have gone for a 2D approach to this part of the game. For a 2D game though, the sprite design here is very well done, reminiscent of the Square SNES RPGs, such as Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy IV. The colours are bright, making the game look just like the Anime itself. On the other hand, the sprite designs don’t continue into the battles, rather, the battles are in full 3D. This shouldn’t work, but Dinosaur King pulls it off superbly. Each Dinosaur looks different to the next, with small details being made apparent after an hour or two with the game. The abilities may look very similar to each other, but seeing a 25-foot dinosaur thrown into the air is just as enjoyable every time you see it. The battles would be the highlight of the whole game if it weren’t for one small problem, a problem that stops Dinosaur King from reaching the dizzying heights of Pokemon.

You don't have to be a fan of the TV series to like the game, but it obviously helps.

Rock Paper Scissors is something that you would expect to be a minigame in a game like Dinosaur King. Instead, the developer have decided that the ancient who goes first decider is the perfect way to do RPG battles, which is definitely a bad decision on their part. Each turn consists of a rock paper scissors duel; with the winner being able to attack with the ability that goes with your chosen guess. A tie results in both dinosaurs attacking for equal damage, which only makes the battle go on even longer than it needs to. Before every turn, the person you are battling will say a line that is supposed to give you a hint about which choice they have made. Early on in the game, this boils down to telling you whether they like or don’t like critical moves - each dino has a specific symbol that they attack with double damage with - while later on, the cryptic statements make it impossible to pick the right move every time. This makes the start of the game much too easy, with the opposite happening later on. Not even the addition of a fourth secret elemental move can fix this broken battle system, which pales in comparison to the excellent system found in Pokemon.

It feels as if the developers have tried to make the game much more accessible for the young audience it's targeted at, which has backfired on them, making the game much less enjoyable than it would have been otherwise. A real shame when the rest of the game is taken into consideration.

It's not all fighting.

Dinosaur King is not a bad game; it far surpasses the expectations of anyone who would have seen the kiddie box art, and would be a contender for Pokemon’s crown as king of the collect 'em up if it wasn’t for a single bad design choice. The battle system lets the whole game down, reducing the score below considerably, which is a real shame. On the other hand, if you can look past this, then you have a game that is sure to fill the gap between Pokemon titles, which is all you can really ask for from a game like this on DS. Fans of the show will find this hugely enjoyable, and for people who aren’t, this is still a good choice as an alternative to Nintendo’s game. Completed Pokemon Diamond? Completed Spectrobes? Then you’re sure to find some enjoyment from Dinosaur King, despite its problems. It may be kiddie, but isn’t Pokemon?

- Sam Atkins


A good alternative to Pokemon


Great 3D dinosaur battles

Interesting fossil reviving sections

Lives up to the Anime


Rock Paper Scissors = Bad choice