Spoiler Warning for Jurassic Park Rampage Edition… I guess… This post is part of my ongoing quest to explore Jurassic Park games.
A few weeks ago I embarked on the 16-bit Sega take of ‘Jurassic Park’ for Sega Mega Drive… and if you didn’t read that one then at least give it a quick Bristol flyover as I’m going to be referencing it quite a bit... My overwhelming opinion was that it is ‘ok’. It does the job. It is technically a 16-bit Jurassic Park videogame that does the minimum to meet that standard and stave off being referred to as a ‘bad game’. But nothing about it really stood out, either as a game, or as an homage to the most Jurassic of Parks.
Jurassic Park: Rampage Edition is a direct sequel to that game, and one that I have technically played in the past thanks to a Blockbuster rental on some otherwise uneventful weekend in the 90’s. I was always a little confused as a kid by the ‘Rampage Edition’ subtitle. It didn’t seem to be clear if it was a new game, or just an amped up version of the original. Having picked up it up on eBay I was kind of amazed how much of it came flooding back to me once I put the cartridge in. Yes, this is a new game which, despite superficial graphical and genre similarities, one that is quite different from the original Mega Drive outing. I’m not saying that the developers, BlueSky, have time travel technology, but it seems a little too convenient that I write a piece about the JP game and there just happens to exist a sequel that addresses all the negatives.
Devoid of exposition, JP:RE immediately hits you with a a grinning raptor, blood dripping from her teeth, in one of the more memorable title screens of the Mega Drive library. Once again, the player can choose to don the khaki boots of Alan Grant, or reptilian form of a particularly proactive raptor, and once again I chose to start with Dr. Grant before being presented with a map screen to pick which of the first 3 stages I wanted to tackle.
At this point, I should say that I picked up the cartridge only, so without any other guidance from the game, and without the manual to help me out, I had to piece together the ‘plot’ from context. This is made trickier by being able to choose which order to undertake the first few levels, but here goes:
As Dr. Grant is escaping the island by ship, Ingen forces… and possibly the army… are moving in to recover dinos/secure the island. They attack the ship that Dr. Grant is on, presumably because it is infested with dinos and palaeontologists. For some reason the ship sinks (possibly the attack, possibly the storm… it’s not clear) and Grant is rescued by a passing pterosaur. Now he has to escape the aviary, work his way north through the island ahead of the invading forces, find a small boat, and escape to another ship by river.
The upshot is that, where the original game was content to only throw a few scattered dinosaurs at Dr. Grant, in Rampage Edition there are dinos, Ingen security, and the army. And whilst none of them seem to care about the other groups’ presence, they all seem to want to murder our long suffering protagonist. I would love to have been in the meeting where someone stood up and proclaimed that the JP game sequel ‘needs more action, so Alan Grant should fight a literal army as well as dinosaurs’. Presumably this was met with blank stares by anyone in the room who had actually seen the film but, whilst I would love to carry on mocking how incongruous this decision was, I can’t help but admit that it does make the game more exciting.
Luckily, to cope with JP:RE now feeling closer to a run-n-gun game rather than a platformer, the gameplay has been streamlined and polished. Alan’s jumping and movement is much more responsive with more balanced air control and no long ‘turning around’ animations. The ledge grab has been removed but so has fall damage, so the two kind of cancel each other out. His weapons loadout has been expanded and includes the flamethrower and stun gun, both of which have some pretty goofy hit animations. Level design has also been improved with fewer leaps of faith, more focus on platforming, and an emphasis on exploration. It all feels like a breath of fresh air with challenge coming from the content rather than the poor design.
It’s not all great news though. At only five stages it is a short game which you could probably complete in half an hour once you know what you’re doing. Levels do contain collectable eggs and embryos for that authentic ‘rescue the dinosaurs’ feel, but there’s no real reason to do this other than for a high score… and no logical reason why Alan Grant would want to escape the island with armfuls of dinosaur eggs.
The better news however is that they are all memorable experiences, each with their own unique moments. I’m not about to write a walkthrough, but just off the top of my head: Surviving the ship attack in a thunderstorm, being carried back to the pterosaur nest high up in the trees, manning an (improved) motor boat through Raptor Rapids as night falls, Riding a triceratops as it destroys an ancient temple…
…. and the absolute pinnacle of the game, Alan Grant, riding a gallimimus taking down an attack helicopter with a tranquilliser gun…
Without the safety net of saves or a password system, the whole game feels like a frantic panicky dash to the end. I was pretty ‘meh‘ about the concept of needing to restart every time I ran out of lives, but in hindsight it kept the game interesting and serves to ramp up the tension.
After watching the end credits play, I did tentatively start a new game as the raptor, but full disclosure, I didn’t play it a huge heck of an amount of it. Whereas in the original ol’ raptorface was a big step up in terms of control, here she felt bulky and unwieldy with a jumping-spinning-Sonic-style-thing that I just couldn’t quite get on with. Once again it is a neat touch to have the raptor option, although you’re essentially playing through reworked versions of the same levels, but without guns to shoot back at the soldiers. In a plot point taken from the movie, but completely misunderstood, Miss Raptor can eat lysine to go in to ‘Rampage Mode‘… which gives everything a red filter and makes you stronger or something…. again, I don’t have a manual…
Despite the length, I had a good time with Rampage Edition. Without the constraints of the original story, the designers took liberties with the content to address the issues of its predecessor. It’s certainly not one of the greatest games on the system, and doesn’t break any revolutionary ground, but what’s there is fun and generally well put together.
As always though, the final question remains: “How does it stack up as a Jurassic Park Game?” Much of the content is all over the place: Ingen forces? the army? riding dinosaurs? Being set outside of the source material freed Rampage Edition to invent its own signature locations but also stymied any thoughts of representing classic JP moments. That being said, the ship and gallimimus sections at least have some echos of the film. And although it’s lacking the cinematic intro of its predecessor, the map screen carries the iconic Isla Nublar silhouette for some vague visual consistency.
If you can set aside the part of your brain that’s screaming about how bizarre it is that a Jurassic Park game contains a big slice of run-n-gun against ‘army dudes then it ‘feels’ much more like a Jurassic Park ‘adventure’ than the original game. One of the reasons that I’m doing this whole JP game thing is because I want to find a game that captures some of the ‘magic’ of the film. Without wanting to over romanticise it, at its heart Jurassic Park is an adventure; with a blend of wonder, excitement, danger, and a chance to reflect on the human element. It’s tied together by a very specific visual style and some larger than life characters. Despite how ‘wrong’ so much of it is, JP:RE manages to convey just a sliver of that sense of adventure. One of my favourite parts of the game are the changing light levels during the final raptor rapids level. It starts very light and gradually becomes more and more dark and brooding as the player descends the rapids, unable to backtrack, to the final dramatic encounter with the T-Rex. It’s a small detail in an otherwise very samey level that elevates it to a slow burning tension build rather than a dull slog. In this sense I think it answers the Jurassic Park call pretty well for a 16-bit platformer…Plus.. you know… dino-riding-helicopter-shooting.