This week we’re seeing the triumphant relaunching of Hollywood’s blockbuster dinosaur franchise after an almost fifteen year absence with Jurassic World hitting theaters and breaking records, so there’s no time like the present to look at some of the coolest dino-themed games to hit our favorite consoles over the years. Dinosaurs make everything cooler, and video games are not an exception to that rule. So to celebrate the successful return of giant prehistoric creatures to the big screen, here are five of my favorite dino-themed games. Hold on to your butts.
Not to be confused with the original Jurassic Park game for the SNES (which was cool, but not cool enough to make the top five), this slice of awesome was brought to us by Telltale Games just before they became the toast of the gaming world following the massive success of their take on The Walking Dead. Reading the reviews for this one, you’d think it wasn’t as good. You’d be wrong. PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 owners, it’s not too late.
Telltale’s Jurassic Park suffered from being just slightly ahead of its time and utilizing a franchise that hadn’t been cool since the mid-90’s before lackluster sequels made us forget that the original film was one of the most amazing things ever put on the big screen at the time. Jurassic Park: The Game has the memorable characters, smart writing, unpredictable story, tension, and interactivity we love from Telltale, but with the massive action set pieces and killer visuals of a summer blockbuster.
The story runs parallel to and beyond the events of the film with species not featured in the original narrative -including the Mosasaur featured prominently in Jurassic World– and goes so far as to attempt to fill in some of the gaping scientific holes left in the film by further expanding on details from Michael Crichton’s original novel. In spite of its linear path, this game does not half-ass. If you’re a fan of Telltale Games and Jurassic Park and haven’t played this, you’ve missed out.
While this fifth game in the Turok: Dinosaur Hunter series didn’t gather as much acclaim as the original, I still remember it really fondly as one of the first awe-inducing shooters to come out in the Xbox/PS2 /Gamecube era. The original game was a big win for the Nintendo 64 back in 1997, but I recall being really frustrated by the terrible first-person platforming mechanics. Still, a lot of it was blowing up dinosaurs with insane firepower so rest assured, that sucker was badass.
Turok: Evolution upped the wow factor for the new console generation in 2002 with an almost unheard-of attention to detail (with respect to Halo: Combat Evolved). While stalking through the jungles, dinosaurs would relieve themselves and you could walk up and look at the droppings. Even cooler, when you shot an enemy with a poison arrow, they’d throw up and die horribly. You could also go look at the vomit. What’s wrong with me that I spent so much of this game being impressed by looking at poop and puke? I was like like the Grizzly Man of dinosaur games.
Another thing this game had that the original didn’t was the Cerebral Bore. “What the hell is a Cerebral Bore?” says the young gamer. Why, it’s only the awesomest weapon ever devised for a video game. How many other fictional guns have a death metal band named after them? That’s cred. The gun fires projectiles that home in on your target’s skull, attach themselves to it, eat their way inside of it, and then blows it up. It’s like having a gun that shoots explosive Sentinel Spheres from Phantasm. It debuted in the second game, but Cerebral Bore’s inclusion in Evolution and the resultant memories of playing split-screen multiplayer with friends and relatives -I almost made them cry because it was so overpowered- helped me decide on this one over the original.
In 1994 arcades were in a full fighting game explosion following the inescapable popularity of Street Fighter II and the media-baiting gore-fest of Mortal Kombat. Then came Primal Rage, which looked at all of the ninjas, karate men, and street brawlers throwing fireballs at each other and said “Screw all that. Dinosaurs, man. Dinosaurs.” And who could argue? The popular game was ported all over the place from the SNES to the PlayStation, but somehow we’ve never gotten a sequel.
You picked one of several murderous prehistoric God beasts and set out to take over the post-apocalyptic “Urth” by slaughtering all who dare oppose you. Villagers gathered to watch the titanic duels to the death and cheer their monster of choice and got routinely knocked around. They could even be eaten for health. The game pioneered a lot of features, some of which stuck around in the genre, such as showing combo damage percentages onscreen.
It was definitely a breath of fresh air in the genre at the time and it’s kind of a bummer that it didn’t really catch on because this thing was seriously cool. How cool? Well, after you defeated your opponent, among many other things you could eat them. Instead of some over-the-top cartoonish fatality, some characters could literally begin devouring the corpse of their fallen foe. And if you played as one of the giant ape monsters, you could dissolve them with your piss. No matter how insane and ignoble Mortal Kombat gets with their fatalities, it’ll probably never be so awesome that you can literally piss on your opponents’ corpse after beating them and watch the flesh melt from their bones. Flawless victory.
Fun fact: Dino Crisis was the first game I ever played on my own Sony PlayStation. Not coincidentally, it was also the first to scare the crap out of me. Having clung for too long to my SNES, I was a late comer to the PS era, and didn’t have the baggage of realizing that this game was pretty much just Resident Evil with dinosaurs. But it was done really well for a total rip-off.
Raptors dove on top of you through doors to keep you on your toes when they weren’t chasing you down hallways, and in one particularly memorable moment, a motherflippin’ T-Rex busted through a massive second-story window and devoured me while I did psychological battle with the utter confusion of my body telling me to run out of the goddamn room irl while my brain was telling me to do it in-game, stupid. I was not used to cinematic horror in interactive entertainment, needless to say.
Dino Crisis was a hit at the time and retains cult status to this day. It spawned two sequels; one on its native PS, and an Xbox-exclusive trilogy closer that I somehow didn’t play. There have been almost constant rumors of reboots and remakes ever since. I have yet to see anything official, but I definitely won’t be surprised if Capcom brings this one back from extinction soon.
Shooting dinosaurs with shotguns, grenade launchers, and crazy sci-fi tech, playing as dinosaur tearing the flesh from my enemies’ bones, and even running for my life from dinosaurs is all really fun, but I’ve got to admit that out of all the dino games I’ve encountered, this is the one I really want to play right now. Take the theme park/wildlife simulation gameplay of Zoo Tycoon, add dinosaurs and the Jurassic Park branding, and enjoy it any way you see fit. This one is all about you.
Think that old John Hammond was a hack and you could build a better Jurassic Park? Or maybe you just want to lure a bunch off sap tourists in so you can tear down all the fences and laugh as nature takes its course. Want to create your own dino fight club? Or maybe you’re as big a nerd as I am and you just want to create and observe a prehistoric ecosystem where these majestic beasts can roam free of enclosures and live out their lives. Like Cheap Trick, whatever you want, Operation Genesis gives it to you.
I’m a sucker for creative business simulator games, I was correctly pronouncing ridiculously long dinosaur names since first grade, and Jurassic Park is among my all-time favorite novels and 90’s films. So allowing me to design and run my own dinosaur theme park was like a dream come true to say the least. Once you’re up and running, there are lots of different ways to enjoy your creation; by helicopter, by jeep, and even through the eyes of the tourists. Just observing the dinosaurs and the way they interact with each other is fun and there’s a lot of satisfaction in seeing your visitors have a good time. Plus, the game throws curve balls like destructive tropical storms to make sure Chaos Theory is in effect. In addition, the Site B mode let you build your own ecosystem with any species you want without any constraints and let dinosaurs really rule the Earth.
But you know what else is fun? Wrapping up each session by setting all of the dinosaurs loose in the park. The big predators challenge each other, herbivores stampede and defend themselves, and the visitors? Well, they should have known better than to come to a park run by a gamer. Welcome… to Jurassic Massacre.