I installed the Jurassic Park Classic Games Collection the other night. Similar to other recent retro bundles, this collection makes a slew of games from the 8- and 16-bit eras playable on modern hardware. The primary reason for my purchase was that I wanted to replay the Mega Drive version of Jurassic Park, a game I struggled with in my youth, to confirm once and for all: was the game bad, or was it just me?
The Mega Drive version of Jurassic Park was a side-scrolling platformer in the vein of Prince of Persia, if the Prince had been armed with stun guns and tranq darts. The game had two main campaigns, one in which you played paleontologist Alan Grant and one in which you played a velociraptor bent on murdering Grant.
Having now replayed it through the Jurassic Park Classic Games Collection, I have my answer. It was the game. The game was bad. I can now plainly see what my 11-year-old gut was trying to tell me. This game is bullshit.
Jurassic Park on the Mega Drive
And it’s at its most bullshit when you are playing as Alan Grant, a defenceless baby man under siege from a hostile universe. The Mega Drive version of Jurassic Park was constructed from the same cruel, masochistic parts as many arcade cabinets of the late eighties and early nineties. It is a game designed to draw in young players and rob them of their money. It’s like someone turned the difficulty knob up to Unfair and then broke the knob off. The problem of course: it is not an arcade game, a hungry beast that consumes only $2 coins. It’s a platform adventure title for consoles, to be purchased once and enjoyed in perpetuity.
Everything hurts Grant. Everything. There are dinosaurs and spiky thorns lying in wait around every corner. Ammunition and upgrades are in punishingly short supply. Just making it through the game’s opening level as Grant is an achievement. If you manage to make it through the game’s seven brutal, funhouse levels, you’ll find your way to the Visitor’s Centre and a climactic final boss fight against the raptor that has dogged you across Isla Nublar. I still do not know how to beat this raptor without cheating my arse off.
Conversely, the raptor is great fun to play. It’s a total power fantasy, using your big slashy toenail to carve through the game’s various obstacles. You’re always one step behind Grant, always arriving in time to see him flee off-screen, luring you into the next area. This all feels about right. Grant should feel squishy, and the raptor should feel like a terrifying master of its domain. The problem is, if you manage to push through all seven levels of the raptor campaign, you’ll have to face Grant at the visitor’s centre. The Grant that appears in this fight in no way resembles the one you play as in his campaign. He is armed to the teeth with grenades and has infused his stun gun with the lightning-based powers of Thor’s Hammer. I still do not know how to beat Grant without cheating my arse off.
The one concession I will make in regard to gameplay: The game’s mean little surprises play out the same way each time you play. If you were to commit all of them to memory, you could, theoretically, push through the game unharmed. The question is: who could be bothered?
Bro, why tf did you keep playing it?
Jurassic Park is one of my all-time favourite movies. I love it. I have always loved it. Like many people my age, Jurassic Park arrived when I was most obsessed with dinosaurs. Thus, I became obsessed with Jurassic Park. I rented the game from my local video shop over and over, and returned it each time with an odd feeling of dissatisfaction. I didn’t yet understand that video games could be bad. At that age, I just figured out how they worked and pushed through. Jurassic Park on the Mega Drive was the first time I’d grappled with the idea that I didn’t like a game. But I kept renting it anyway because it was Jurassic Park, something that I loved. Nothing connected to this perfect film I adored would ever hurt me. I must be the problem. I just need to figure it out.
No, small David. You weren’t the problem. The game was. It’s a hostile game, mean-spirited in its design, and while that is certainly appropriate for an island hell overrun with hungry razor lizards, it’s not really any fun to play.
I’ll check out the other games in this package. I’m interested in playing them all. I can finally spend some time with the top-down Super Nintendo version. (The existence of a wholly other JP game on the SNES blew my young mind when I first found out about it — what do you mean SNES owners get a totally different game? Is their game good?? I’m furious.)
The collection itself seems quite solid — there are games from the NES, Game Boy and Master System, along with the Mega Drive and SNES versions. It also includes the Mega Drive sequels that, as far as I know, never saw the light of day in Australia (and please get in the comments to correct me if I’m wrong about that). I am keen to play those and see how they changed over time (though I remember one British gaming mag I used to collect absolutely demolishing the upgraded Rampage Edition). I hope that I will be impressed.
The one glaring omission appears to be Jurassic Park for the Mega CD, a point-and-click adventure created by Sega’s own Multimedia Studio. It was a weird little game — Sega had the rights to the Jurassic Park name, logo, and certain sounds from the film, but none of the characters. It was also the first game developed and published entirely in the US by Sega of America. Would have been cool to have it in the collection.
Anyway, here, at last, I lay a 30-year question to rest. Trust your instincts, young Davo. You weren’t wrong. The game was bad. I can’t get back the pocket money you spent renting it over and over, beating your head against that profoundly broken wall. But I can assure us both, in the here and now, that you were right and always were.
Jurassic Park Classic Games Collection is out now on PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo and PC platforms.
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