The Lost World: Jurassic Park

While perusing a local vintage game store, I blundered upon The Lost World: Jurassic Park for the PlayStation 1. I bought it, played it, and woke up the next day with patches of hair missing from my head. Visually, for its time, it’s a good game, and the sounds are fantastic. The gameplay, however, leaves you wanting.
Developed by DreamWorks Interactive, and published by Electronic Arts, Lost World is a side-scrolling platformer that will test your skills, as well as your resolve. You start out as Compsognathus, or “Compy” for short. After battling through waves of Velociraptors and hunters with your small-dog-sized dino, you venture into the shoes of a human hunter, Velociraptor, Tyrannosaurus Rex, and finally, Sarah Harding (the only human character that transitions from movie to game). Through these characters, you will fight your way across the plains, jungle, and human camps of Isla Sorna, or “Site B”. The story? Survive. That’s basically it. Each character has a set of levels dedicated to them (30 in total, spread out over six-plus hours of gameplay), with a quick cut scene before each first level, setting the scene for the player. At the beginning of my playthrough, I, being a very story-oriented player, found the lack of writing irritating. As I continued to play, however, I found myself questioning that assessment, ultimately coming to grips with the story actually being exactly what was needed. This game is hard. Brutally hard. Until you figure out the strategies to beat the levels, you will die….often. With that in mind, the story actually works perfectly. SURVIVE. That’s the story, that’s your motivation, that’s what you have to do. As a dino (Compy, Velociraptor, T-Rex), you must out-maneuver or kill other dinos and human hunters armed to the teeth, with only your teeth. As a human (loaded with various weapons, including a machine gun, flamethrower, darts, flares and a grappler for platforming), you must also out-maneuver, only your targets are strictly the dinosaurs roaming the island.

The hunter, the first of two playable human characters.

 

 

The game, being released in 1997, is graphically solid, with beautifully portrayed backgrounds, and rich colors. The dinosaurs are rendered far better than the humans, with faces somehow articulated clearly through the PlayStation 1’s pre-HD tech. The T-Rex sports the same, almost mischievous look it carried in the film and the Velociraptors all appear to be almost smiling as they jump on a human’s shoulders and eat their head. The in-game, movie-inspired music feels somewhat out of place, especially when a pretty, sleepy-time orchestra tune is accompanying you while you desperately run, jump, and grapple away from the roaring T-Rex. However, this only happens a handful of occasions. Through the majority of the playthrough, the music is fairly decent, and adds to the suspense of survival by picking up the tempo at certain times, or mellowing out at others as needed. Something that really stood out to me were the sounds of the game. The T-Rex’s roar and the bark of the Velociraptor were spot on from the film. The prime sounds exploded from my speakers with impressive clarity, which I shall consider the X Factor of this title.

Play as the T-Rex, but watch out for the laggy controls.

 

As I stated before, this game is fairly tough until you get accustomed to each level. I died a bunch. Once I accepted that fact, I relaxed a little, and started to map out the levels. I took notes on where to grapple up, shoot a flare, or simply how close to the edge of a platform I could walk to shoot a baddie, without falling off. The levels then side-stepped the irritating frustration, and evolved into a quite addicting challenge.
Regardless of the addiction factor, there are a few aspects that just didn’t do it for me. While the control scheme makes sense in its arrangement, the follow-through is terrible. The buttons are laggy, and often get you into trouble because of it. Imagine, as a child, your older, cocky cousin comes to stay at your family’s farm. Although his name is right next to your name on the chore list, he doesn’t do anything, and takes credit for your work, leaving your butt on the parentals’ list to chew. Well, that’s sort of what Lost World does to you through its controls. You push yourself to get it done, only to have four Velociraptors jump on your head when you go back for that missed power-up. Now you’re yelling at your Playstation. It retorts with, “Oh, I’m sorry…I didn’t realize you had open wounds. Here, let me just pour some salt in them…theeeerrrrreee we go….much better.” The salt, you ask? After those baddies be-head you, regardless of where you’re at, you’re going to start back over at the beginning sequence for that character! Ha!
Along with the graphics, sounds, and addictive gameplay, Lost World does a fairly decent job at varying up the level requirements. Some levels are spent running and attacking, while others are spent grappling and distracting. Although no in-depth side missions are available, you are urged to use as much “skill” as possible, and are awarded a title after the level, depending on your skill percentage. Throughout the levels, DNA is scattered about, and if you collect all of them, an actor from the film will make a special cameo once the game is completed.

 

Here is where you see your skill percentage, as well as the amount of DNA you collected through the level.

 

 

The Lost World: Jurassic Park for PlayStation 1 will frustrate you beyond belief when you start the levels, but will ultimately give you a feeling of superiority and triumph when you finally complete them. In the six hours of gameplay, you may throw your controller, or put a sailor’s vocabulary to shame. Once it clicks, however, the anger will (for the most part) subside. The controls are laggy, and the respawn is irritating, but it is mostly made up for with striking visuals, outstanding sounds, and addictive gameplay. If you were to discover this game lying about somewhere unloved and dismissed, I would suggest picking it up, as it is a decent game; however, unless you are masochistic by nature (I’m not judging), you’re probably not going to play through it more than once.

Mushroom Men: Rise of the Fungi

In the short time (five to eight hours) that I spent with Red Fly Studio’s Mushroom Men: Rise of the Fungi for Nintendo DS, I spoke aloud curse words that I didn’t even know I knew, almost broke my console in half, and just about gave up.  I also jammed to some good music, tried out three classes of talking mushrooms, and beat a giant spider to death with a CO2 cartridge attached to a stick.  I’d say it equaled out fairly nicely.

The game starts with a meteoroid crashing to Earth.  Dust from the now meteorite sprinkles onto the ground, giving sentience to some rather surly creatures (wasps, cockroaches, worms), as well as our hero, Pax.  Pax is of the Bolete tribe, and only one of many types of mushrooms who’ve now grown eyes, ears, hands, feet, and vocal cords.  Your first task as a newly coherent mushroom warrior is to gather food for another local tribe, the Amanita Order.  While you are meandering through this level, you are also charged with saving a few of the Amanitas from insect-induced annihilation.  Throughout the game, you will run into a slew of characters affected by the mutating space dust.  These creatures, among many others, include the scientific inventors:  the hermitic Morels.  Using tiny weapons and gadgets, prepare yourself to fight across a multitude of platform levels while you dodge mohawked wasps, heat-driven spiders, and multi-skilled militant mushrooms.

At the beginning of the game, you choose one of three classes: Heavy (Warrior), Sage (Mage), or Scout (Archer).  Heavy will focus on melee combat, while Scout is more proficient in ranged attacks.  The Sage class uses spore powers to fight the baddies.  With a swipe of your stylus on the bottom touch screen, your character produces attacks that can dispense enemies and objects, as well as hurt opponents.  Throughout the game, you collect small canisters of mutagen.  These canisters add skill points that Pax can use to upgrade his abilities.  Each point can be added into one of four sets: health (how much you have), spore power (your mana pool), strength (damage caused), and speed (movement and attack).  Using bits of string, screws, needles, sticks, and various other implements you find from the fallen bodies of your baddie brethren, you craft weapons to also aid you in your quests.  A wrench and a piece of string make a good apparatus for slinging wooden beads at an approaching wasp.  You also have ample opportunity to slay a spider with a CO2 cartridge on a stick.  Thanks to a handy spot next to your inventory screen, you know what that spider’s weaknesses are, and can exploit them.  When this icon is tapped by the stylus, you acquire all of the information you need to know about the enemy.  You see its weakness(es) and attack focus, giving you everything you need to craft the perfect weapon to combat the enemy.  Your only charge after that is deciding how to properly utilize that weapon on a boss.

Boss fights are one thing that MM:RotF does a mediocre job at.  Through one boss fight, you need a good weapon and your sharpest wits.  You use those wits (and a few respawns) to figure out the enemy’s tactics, solve the puzzle, and reign victorious.  In the next battle, however, several respawns are spent just trying to work out the special way to win, only to discover that all you have to do is jump at the right time and mash your buttons to oblivion.

That is only the top of the puzzle list, however.  Periodically throughout the game, a floating jigsaw piece will appear.  By arranging certain parts of an item, you unlock the ability to progress.  For example, by placing the given pieces in perfect order under the time limit provided, Pax is given a leaf to grab onto, thus slowing his descent to the forest floor, avoiding a sure-death experience.

A major draw for me was the game’s soundtrack.  With original music from Les Claypool of Primus, possessing an amassment of funky tunes to cruise around the forest to is not an issue.  The rest of the sounds of the game fall short of spectacular, but thanks to Mr. Claypool, all is forgiven.

The in-game graphics are decent, especially for the original DS, aside from some color issues that I will delve into shortly.  What I like about the visuals are the comic book panels used to tell the main story.  There are no real cinemas, just a gorgeously illustrated, graphic novel-esque story presented in panel form.

The difficulty of this game waivers a little at times, but mostly stays fairly true to its nature.  Unfortunately for most (myself included), though, that means that it is pretty hard.  Fortunately for me, there’s no continue cap.  Part of the difficulty lies in the aforementioned boss puzzles, part lies in level puzzles, and part also lies in the frustratingly (and perhaps strategically) placed save points.  At some spots the save points are plentiful, almost daring you to skip one; but mostly, they are just absent.  This causes enough replay through the levels that you start to memorize the layouts fairly quickly.  I believe the save points to be brilliantly placed, and am making that my X Factor for this game.

There were a few instances throughout the game that left me wishing for brighter colors.  The earthy tones are welcomed, and I understand the meaning behind them (they’re mushrooms from the earth!), however, the colors could have been just a bit louder.  The dullness results too often in a meshing of colors as you’re climbing to the top of a log, via sporadically placed platforms that all look exactly like the back drop.  It usually ends with a missed ledge and a respawn at the last save point.

The other issue I have is the constant use of the stylus to swap between screens to access the inventory, map, and skill screen.  Occasionally you need to tap on each individual screen to accomplish a different task (ranged shots, puzzle pieces, etc…) However, I would have preferred a designated trigger button for the swap, so I could put down my stylus while I played the majority of the game.

That being said, though, there’s really not a lot to complain about in this game.  The controls work pretty responsively, the graphics are decent for a DS game, the music is great, and the RPG elements give you several options to go and experiment with.  Mushroom Men: Rise of the Fungi is a slightly above average platformer that left me wanting to continue the somewhat unique story in the Nintendo Wii sequel:  Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars.

Star Wars Episode 1: Jedi Power Battles (PS1)

Star Wars Episode I: Jedi Power Battles for the Playstation 1 is a game that I had located in a bargain bin about a year ago.  After watching the trailer for The Force Awakens the other day, I decided to dig it out and finally give it a chance.  I’m not too sure that was the best idea.  My time could have been better used cleaning my attic, garage, or simply zoning out at the wall.

You begin the game by choosing one of five Jedi Knights: Plo Koon, Qui-Gon Jinn, Mace Windu, Obi-Wan Kenobi, or Adi Gallia.  After you receive word from the chancellor concerning shipping to Naboo, you then take your character to battle through ten levels, all with different settings (Trade Federation Battleship, Swamps of Naboo, Tatooine, etc).  Throughout these levels, you must overcome several different instances of platforming, enemy swarms, short-lived escorting, and incoming motion hazards (rolling boulders and animal stampedes, for example).  In addition, this must all be done while blocking enemy blaster shots, managing terrible controls, and dealing with a limited amount of force powers.  Lives are replaced by credits, giving a nostalgic arcade feel, which makes it seem only right for a buddy to hop in and copilot the game for the duration.

Select your Jedi!

Select your Jedi!

The visuals are actually quite impressive for the Playstation 1, and would have been moreso, had it been released a few years earlier.  Being an early 2000 release brought its wow factor down considerably, but not so much that it hurts the eyes or distracts much from the gameplay.  There is a great deal of strange texture rendering, however, especially in the Naboo swamp.  What I mean by this is that you can clearly make out grass ahead of you, while the ground is blurry underfoot and behind.  Then, when you approach the rendered section, it becomes blurry, and the places you were just inhabiting become fully clear.  It’s not a huge deal, but it did catch my eye whilst destroying droids in that particular level.  The character models (especially those based off of the actors appearing in the film) look decent, but had a few quirks.  For example, Samuel L. Jackson’s Mace Windu, looks incredibly confused the entire time, and Neeson’s Qui-Gon Jinn is strangely missing his neck.  The in-game animations are carried out just fine, though, save a few awkward running motions.

I believe Mr. Jackson is befuddled over who's taken Neeson's neck.

I believe Mr. Jackson is befuddled over who’s taken Neeson’s neck.

The music, being seemingly brought straight from The Phantom Menace, provides a very nice soundtrack to slash enemies to, and appears to actually fit specific scenarios.  This is a big plus for me, as too many games I’ve previously endured had randomly generated scores and tracks that just did not fit the scene.  This really takes away from the immersion of the game.  Thankfully, though, this is not the case with JPB.

While making your way through the levels, you will pick up power-ups that accumulate points, and fleeting upgrades to your light saber. The points are then attached to skill and level.  You don’t have the option to manually level your character, from what I can tell, but it does help your character’s health and force pool throughout the game.  Each time you pick up a goodie, you hear a little snippet from Yoda, addressing his pleasure from your exploring.  It’s not much, but it is amusing (the first few times, anyway).  Eventually, the slashing gets a bit old, but for a good while, it is rather satisfying.

Grab a buddy and carve up some droids.

Grab a buddy and carve up some droids.

What really turned me off from this game was the frustrating 2.5D platforming.  You have no idea where you’re jumping until you see a tiny shadow on the targeted platform, letting you know that you’re on the mark; or you simply miss, falling to your death. Perhaps if the aggressively laggy controls were a tad more responsive, this wouldn’t be quite an issue.  However, the final product we are left with will drain your credits quicker than a rigged arcade cabinet at a sketchy pool hall by the docks.

One spot of guesswork platforming.

One spot of guesswork platforming.

Star Wars Episode 1: Jedi Power Battles for the Playstation 1 is a frustratingly platformed beat ’em up that does a couple of things alright, but mostly just falls short.  If you discover this game in a bargain bin or garage sale for a shiny nickel, and you have a competent copilot in mind, you may want to pick it up.  If you’re looking for a good Jedi-themed game to enjoy alone, I wouldn’t recommend it, as there are much better choices out there.

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