Disney’s Dinosaur – Beware Of Disney’s Terrible Lizards

The dinosaurs, terrible lizards that they were, ruled the Earth unchallenged for millions of years. The mucky-muck scientists out there are quick to offer up crackpot theories as to what offed the beasts — asteroids, disease, climactic changes, alien invasion — but all these unsupported notions fail to hit the mark. What really killed the dinosaurs was junky graphics and frustration, the kind that’s created because someone thought it be a good idea to stock a children’s game with challenges only slightly less daunting than trying to spear a fly with a chopstick.

Disney’s Dinosaur brings prehistory to the Sega Dreamcast, and does it quite competently. The game takes its plot from the Disney animated film of the same name, and uses a top-down view and third-person perspective. What is old becomes new again, as players control the Iguanodon Aladar, the Lemur Zini and the Pteranodon Flia separately or in tandem with one another.

Mission-based play loosely follows Dinosaur’s plot. The heroic beasts must escape their now-wrecked paradise and make their way to a new home that can only be found after copious amounts of platform jumping, puzzle-solving, fruit collection and dinosaur killing. Here, Disney builds its skeleton from the bones of all that’s come before; each stage has multiple mission objectives that need to be completed before our heroes can proceed to the next stage, and all three characters must be employed to solve the puzzles. Though players are afforded a modicum of freedom of movement within an environment, Dinosaur often restricts the order in which tasks can be challenged — and the single-mindedly linear play saps the game of some its luster.

A neat control scheme allows a player to move and control Zini, Aladar and Flia separately from one another, and move Zini and Aladar, or all three characters, in tandem with one another. As one would expect, each character has its own particular strengths and weaknesses, to be used strategically during play. Aladar can use his brute force to topple logs, shove boulders and smash stuff; Zini can use his agility to leap onto platforms, and employ that wonderful primate’s paw to pick up rocks to hurl at enemies; and Flia can soar over obstacles and pick up objects in her beak. A given mission may require Flia to light the way for her compatriots, Aladar to clear the path with many headbutts and tailswipes and Zini to collect those hard-to-reach goodies. This is not to say that the characters can’t be employed in creative ways; Flia makes an excellent dive-bomber, for instance, and excels at swooping around foes’ flanks for sneak attacks. Zini’s rock-tossing comes in handy when Aladar’s up-close-and-personal attacks make him easy pickings for multiple foes. Another new game that is popular today is Disney Magic Kingdoms. You should try that game hack out.

The graphics, while not terrible, certainly border on the slightly embarassing. Each level holds a decent amount of finery, such as bubbling lava pits and swirling sandstorms, but clearly, the play’s the thing here. The thing is, though, that Dinosaur is clearly a feel-good child’s game that’s unbalanced by a few unforgiving moments. One level requires Flia to snatch a lit torch and then race through a fierce sandstorm to light a series of fires to guide her friends to safety. On the first leg of her task, Flia must streak along, following dinosaur tracks that are being obliterated by a fierce wind. If she doesn’t fly fast enough, the tracks will disappear and she’ll have to start from the beginning. If she strays too far from the tracks (even though her objectives are clearly marked) she’s forced to start anew. If she missteps in any way… well, it’s back to square one. Once this arduous task is completed, Zini and Aladar must follow the beacons to the end. The beacons, though, only point the way; the now-destroyed tracks must be followed, and the game is quite unforgiving on this point. Deviate a few centimeters from the path and it’s destination: Frustrationville.

This, more than anything else, slays Disney’s Dinosaur. Minor pokes can be taken at Dinosaur’s oddly finicky controls, which make crossing narrow platforms more challenging than it should be, and weak AI enemies who forget about their foes once they’ve disappeared from sight — but these pale when stacked up against the game’s extinction-level paradox: It’s the most non-kid-friendly piece of work ever issued by Disney.

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