Sand Box Studios and Ubi Soft's latest offering, Dinosaur, is an action-adventure based on the recent Disney movie of the same name. Set for release in July, Dinosaur is currently in its alpha phase, and in the build we received many of the game's elements were already operational.
Dinosaur puts you in control of three characters - intelligent, articulate prehistoric beasts with skills that complement one another's. You must use these skills in tandem to successfully traverse the various stages. All the characters are from the film, and they include Aladar, a large iguanodon who, with his harsh tail slap and swift charge, is best suited for close combat; Zini, a nimble lemur who can run swiftly, jump with ease, hurl fruit at enemies, and mount Aladar; and finally Flia, a pteranodon who can effectively fly and glide through the levels, as well as execute a swoop attack.
You use the shoulder buttons to switch between characters, whom you can place in widely disparate areas of the map. The levels in the build we were given were essentially wide-open expanses sparsely populated with enemies with no real objectives, so there wasn't much of a chance to test each character's versatility. We did however have the opportunity to discern their effectiveness in combat and their ease of movement. Flia is easily the most effective when it comes to movement, as she can soar through the maps relatively unhindered, due to the lack of aerial threats in most stages at this point in the game's development. Aladar, on the other hand, seems to be the game's warlord, as his tail slap brutally bludgeons any rogue raptor in his path. The fact that he has twice as many hit points as his comrades also helps. Zini seems to exist in the cool middle ground between murder and mobility - his coconut attacks are definitely effective, but there's a limit to ammunition, and his lively gait cannot compare with Flia's soar. Zini will probably be used in the game's more platform-ish elements, when they are implemented.
The levels themselves, at this point, seem like total skeletons of what they could be, even though they are somewhat visually appealing. Although the build of the game had incomplete textures, there is a fresh, organic feeling to the prehistoric landscapes; the color palettes are subtle, and there is a definite strong grasp of depth and distance. Little visual tricks make the barren levels worth playing through.
In the technical realm, the game's collision detection is still a ways from legit. Environments habitually "eat" the characters who get too close, and for some reasons you can't attack enemies that are less than two feet away. Also, at this point, it's possible for Aladar and Zini to walk on water, and magma, if you can believe that. Said environmental elements are also boringly static. Some animation needs to be thrown into the mix if Sand Box truly hopes to simulate a teeming, prehistoric world.
At this point, it's still too early to tell if Sand Box and Ubi Soft have a winner on their hands. As we can expect the Disney license to help sales, so too can we hope that it will encourage the development of a quality product. Be on the lookout for a full review of the title in July.