Artist-writer James Gurney's lavishly illustrated book series about an uncharted island where people and talking dinosaurs live in harmony is now a lavishly produced adventure game, Dinotopia: Living the Adventure, that combines Nintendo-ish scrolling graphics, live action, and realistic saurian puppetry. While a find-your-lost-sister story line provides the impetus to explore the island, the game's true appeal lies in lively characters, humor, and the island's day-to-day life (puzzles involve fixing primitive machines and forging metal). Although Dinotopia sometimes leaves the CD-ROM drive huffing and puffing to keep up, it is, after all, a whole new world.
James Gurney's children's tales that are ingeniously brought to life in his two books, Dinotopia and The World Beneath, have been delighting children around the world for some years now and the popularity of these stories is sure to generate a lot of interest in this game. Dinotopia -- the computer game -- transports the player back to the fantastic island of Dinotopia where any child who has read the books will be instantly at home. In the course of their adventure they will get to explore for themselves many familiar locations including the Hatchery, Waterfall City and the lofty heights of Tree Town.
Yes, another two seafaring travelers meet their match on the wild seas and are rescued by dolphins. These friendly creatures transport them safely to the mysterious island of Dinotopia where numerous species of intelligent dinosaur live peacefully with other marooned humans. In this story the travelers are a set of twins, Nathan and Constance, who were on their way from Australia to America when the raging storm hit their vessel. Though both brother and sister are rescued they are separated during their ordeal and the story opens with Nathan standing on Dinotopia's golden sands.
The game takes an isometric perspective (viewed from above at about a 45 degree angle) and through the character of Nathan the player gets to explore the island and meet with lots of Dinotopian citizens (both human and dinosaur) as he searches for his sister. It is a little disappointing as this storyline does tend feel like another boy rescues girl tale but, nevertheless, there is plenty to do for the young adventurer.
Playing the game
The action takes place in the top two thirds of the screen and in the bottom third you will find the inventory, the map, and the icons for interacting with the game world. Navigation is perfectly simple and is mouse controlled by using the footprint icon. Items can be picked up and used by selecting the hand icon although using items is a little fiddly at times and may frustrate some children if they don't select exactly the right pixel. The last icon, the eye, is very useful for getting descriptions and clues about various people/dinosaurs and objects, but it does not appear immediately the game opens. First you must find your friendly guide, Atrik, for it is his eye and his knowledge that will help out.
In this game there are lots items to collect and trade, lots of clues to find and plenty of good deeds to be done along the way, although it is not necessary to help every single dinotopian citizen in distress. I never did find the puppets to entertain the children playing at the Hatchery but I successfully completed the game. My advice is to find Atrik as soon as possible and he will likely have some good advice for many of the problems. At other times there are audio clues to help young players, though I suspect that parents will need to be on hand to help out as well.
Occasionally I experienced problems with the sound so it was difficult to follow the dialogue and this leads me on to my one major complaint but, I must admit, it is only a personal preference. In my opinion some written words on the screen would have worked wonders. Text descriptions could have fleshed out and enriched the story so much, after all it is based on the books where text plays such an important part. And, if I may jump on one of my favourite hobby horses, with text translations of the dialogue this game wouldn't have excluded children with hearing difficulties.
Fun for the family
As well as listening for clues and following the story there are some entertaining sequences included in the game. There is the Dinotopian footprint alphabet to be deciphered and a card game for children to play. Dinotopia comes packaged with a set of playing cards should they want to play some more away from the computer. Also, there is a musical puzzle which might require some parental help, and an arcade-like end sequence where a submarine must be guided though a maze of underwater passages which children should thoroughly appreciate.
Though it is essentially a children's game, Dinotopia is a good title for everyone to join in and play. It's a little patchy in that a lot of help is provided for some specific puzzles though generally following the story line is left solely up to the resources of the player. Whilst this may well leave some children wondering just what to do next at various stages of play it also makes Dinotopia an even more likely candidate as a game for all the family.
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