As far back as I can remember I’ve always loved Jurassic Park. Like all kids growing up in the 90s, Spielberg’s blockbuster hit captured my imagination, sparking a lifelong fascination with the source material. I expressed my enthusiasm any way that I could. This mostly consisted of writing terrible fan fiction in scrawled English, and acting out my own adventures with a box of mismatched dinosaur toys.
At approximately the same time, I was in the process of discovering something else that would prove influential on my life: videogames. I had finally started to experiment with my brother’s Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) and his collection of games. To my astonishment, whilst digging through the countless cartridges and crumpled cardboard boxes, I discovered something incredible; my two loves had been combined. There it was: Jurassic Park the game by Ocean Software. Finally, I could live the movie.
I placed the cart into the machine. Pressing the switch forward on the SNES, the title menu flickered and appeared. My excitement was at its peak.
Dropping the player into the middle of Isla Nublar, Jurassic Park the game allows players to take on the role of Alan Grant, the renowned Paleontologist from the film. Your task is simple: find a way to escape from the failed island attraction and avoid its biggest predators. Beyond that, very little prompt is given. You must collect ammunition and whatever else in order to stay alive.
Echoing the opening of Legend of Zelda for the Nintendo Entertainment System, the player is given no real clue on where to head first after beginning the game, but is instead encouraged to explore and collect. This gives the game a sense of vastness, as players take their time to navigate the different environments populated by various species of dinosaur. Along the way, you will encounter Dilophosaurus, Compys, and Gallimimus in the wild, as well as rampaging Triceratops, raptors, and a ferocious T-Rex.
Roaming around the sandy plains and open fields, the player’s movements are accompanied by a diverse electronic soundtrack by British composer Jonathan Dunn. Lacking the rights to the celebrated John Williams score, the game definitely succeeds in reaching an interesting compromise that helps to set the tone magnificently for each particular area. This makes it arguably one of the best soundtracks the SNES has to offer.
One example is the perfectly executed visitor centre scenes that feature a Doom-like first-person perspective with an ominous synth soundtrack. Walking from room to room, players are constantly kept on edge, as they have to avoid dinosaurs that have infiltrated the base. These areas were nerve-wracking as a child to play, and today still manage to make me jump and shout stuff that would make even the hardiest soul blush.
Criticized at the time for its open-ended play style and an over emphasis on exploration, the game has defied its detractors by remaining one of the most authentic experiences to be based on its intellectual property. Taking elements from the successful videogame franchises of the day, it evoked a mixture of adventure and terror in a way that other Jurassic Park titles have since failed to emulate.
The one major flaw the game does have is its lack of a save function. Considering the size of the game, the inability to log progress hinders the experience to some extent, appearing as an oversight on the behalf of the developers. This does have a positive side effect however, as it contributes to a heightened sense of urgency during each individual play session.
Growing up in an age when videogame adaptations of films were notoriously bad, Jurassic Park the game remained a beacon of hope. It showed that you could create a compelling experience based on a movie that didn’t necessarily have to follow the plot beat for beat.
The existence of this game helped broaden my appreciation for the world created by Michael Crichton that was realized onscreen by Spielberg, rather than simply exploiting it. The developers could have slapped the Jurassic Park label on an inferior product, standing on the shoulders of geniuses. Instead, they created a complimentary experience.
There have been plenty of other great Jurassic Park games since the original game on the SNES. These include the game’s sequel Jurassic Park 2: The Chaos Continues, the Xbox game Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis, and the excellent The Lost World arcade game. But Jurassic Park on Super Nintendo was where it all started, at least for me.
With the release of the TT games adventure Lego Jurassic World, spanning all four films, let’s hope the popular brick-based franchise can capture the magic of its source material. From what we’ve seen so far, it certainly does look like a fun spin on the popular series.