Like Its Titular Attraction, Jurassic Park Builder Is A Good Idea… In Theory [Review]

jurassicpark

I can’t believe it took me so long to get to Jurassic Park Builder.

Jurassic Park Builder by Ludia
Category: iOS Games
Works With: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch
Price: Free w/ in-app purchases

Originally released in 2012, I stumbled upon the game thanks to its latest December 2013 update — which added new missions and various options related to the Dinosaur Battle Arena. As its title suggests, Jurassic Park Builder essentially puts you into John Hammond’s shoes: asking you to build a dino-themed attraction, and then run it in a way that brings in a constant stream of punters to gawk at your prehistoric predators and gobble down raptor-shaped ice creams.

Build some flimsy cages. Fill them with dinosaurs. What could possibly go wrong?

Build some flimsy cages. Fill them with dinosaurs. What could possibly go wrong?

While there have been a bunch of Jurassic Park licensed games over the past twenty years, very few have ever managed to truly capture the spirit of the Michael Crichton book/Steven Spielberg film to its full potential. Perhaps part of the reason for that is the genre, which has tended toward the action end of the gaming spectrum. On balance, this may be a mistake. Yes, Jurassic Park is about some (comparatively) little people running from some flipping big dinosaurs, but it was also man’s attempts to lord it over nature, and the intrinsic failure that this inevitably resulted in.

In other words, the management sim choice is perfect.

As a big Rollercoaster Tycoon and Theme Park geek back in the day, I was in my element from the beginning. You start with a small settlement, a bit of money, and a whole lot of empty space, and then you start expanding — in this case, clearing away as much jungle as possible to make room for exotic plants, water pump stations, restaurants, guard towers, roads and, of course, dinosaurs. As you build, you make more money and unlock a greater amount of items.

The graphics are attractive, both detailed and colorful. The game is played from an isometric view which is suitably nostalgic for a game whose entire premise revolves around recreating the past. There are some nice modern flourishes courtesy of iOS devices, however. While “pinch to zoom” is something we all take for granted these days (including, it seems, Samsung), I was reminded for the first time in ages of how neat a tool it was while playing Jurassic Park Builder.

The Jurassic Park movie license is well used graphically.

Actually, I know exactly the reason: because zooming was something that always struck me as a bit fiddly on isometric strategy games, but which works here perfectly.

The Jurassic Park movie license is well used graphically. There is, of course, the logo and a number of dino-species (around 30 in total) recognizable from the film, but it’s also neat to see cameos from the original film’s characters — Dr. Alan Grant, John Hammond and Dr. Ian “nature finds a way” Malcolm — all complete with actor likenesses.

If you sense a complaint coming like an electrified fence power cut during a massive storm, it is this: freemium. While I totally understand the economics of it, freemium may be the biggest single blight to hit video games this past decade: the equivalent of software engineers putting out buggy software so that you would be forced to upgrade. It’s no fun, and it has a more negative impact on your playing experience than a dozen Dennis Nedrys stealing your dinosaur embryos for cash.

There's the option of entertaining your visitors with dino-fights. Which is probably something no real zoo should do.

There’s the option of entertaining your visitors with dino-fights. Which is probably something no real zoo should do.

Yes, I understand that Jurassic Park Builder is free, and is probably more a promotional tool than anything, but from a purely gaming perspective I would have rather paid $15 and then been left alone without having my game experience artificially stunted in the hopes that I would shell out a ton of micro-payments to make it more enjoyable. While some payments go toward unlocking things, most just go towards speeding up build times: cutting down the time needed to advance your park from, say, thirty minutes down to a few seconds.

What you end up with is effectively FarmVille with velociraptors. Adapting a story that’s all about the perils of human greed, you’d really think the developers would know better.

And sadly the John Williams score is missing.

jurassicGame Name: Jurassic Park Builder
The Good: The concept is great, and the game is a whole lot of fun..
The Bad: …until it starts begging you for in-app purchases. No John Williams theme either.
The Verdict: There’s a lot to like, but further evidence of why freemium is the death-knell for certain games. Like breeding a T-Rex in a family theme park, it’s a bad idea.
Get it from: App Store

Cult of Mac rating: 3/5

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About the author

Luke DormehlLuke Dormehl is a UK-based journalist and author, with a background working in documentary film for Channel 4 and the BBC. He is the author of The Formula: How Algorithms Solve All Our Problems, And Create More and The Apple Revolution, both published by Penguin/Random House. His tech writing has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, Techmeme, and other publications. He'd like you a lot if you followed him on Twitter.

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