The Dinotopia franchise has been around for a number of years now. Originating as a series of books, Dinotopia has also been turned into a miniseries, a short-lived TV series, and a game--last year's Dinotopia: The Timestone Pirates for the GBA. If you've never encountered Dinotopia before, it chronicles the story of a hidden island where humans and dinosaurs have been living together in harmony. The latest addition to the series is Dinotopia: The Sunstone Odyssey, an action adventure game from TDK Mediactive that, for better or worse, tries very hard to capture the atmosphere and style of the Dinotopia books, but for the most part, it just isn't a lot of fun to play.
Dinotopia: The Sunstone Odyssey follows the story of Drake Gemini, his twin brother, Jacob, and their father, who have been stranded on Dinotopia for 10 years. At the beginning of the game, Drake and Jacob's father is attacked and killed by a rogue Tyrannosaurus while exploring the outer jungles of Dinotopia. After the killing, Drake and Jacob begin to go their separate ways, with Jacob joining a gang of dinosaur-hating humans called the Outsiders and Drake choosing to take on the role of a guardian of Dinotopia. In the game, you play as Drake, and your task is to defend Dinotopia from a bevy of underwhelming threats.
Right out of the gate, Dinotopia lets you know that it doesn't have much intention of messing around with any sort of interesting plot or mission structure. The first task you're assigned is to go get trained in combat by a weird old man who feels that he has to train you in order to keep you from falling off the deep end after your father's death, or something like that. After you've mastered the basic combat skills, you'll be sent to one of Dinotopia's sages (there are three sages in all, and they're rather difficult to keep track of) so that you might learn more skills from her. From here on out, the game turns into one gigantic fetch quest. You'll be charged with such tasks as running through a swamp to find a hermit, so he can tell you to go find an item, but you'll discover that before you can get that item, you'll have to go get something else to bring back to another person so that person can give you what you need to go get the first item. Every mission is pretty much a variation on having to go get something and bring it back to someone else, and it wears thin extremely fast.
To top off the painfully dull mission structure, you'll also be treated to a seemingly endless cavalcade of long-drawn-out cutscenes that just don't go anywhere. Apparently, no character in Dinotopia can explain anything without droning on and on about unnecessary details that simply have no relevance to the mission you're about to embark on, and there's a fair amount of needless pontificating about improving your mind, body, soul, and whatever other nonsense the game feels like throwing at you. It would be one thing if this sort of pontification were done well and made relevant to what you were doing in the game, but in Dinotopia, it simply feels completely out of place and totally irrelevant.
Amid all the pointless running around and existential musings, you will, thankfully, find yourself engaging in a fair amount of combat in Dinotopia. Drake's weapon of choice is a large mallet, with upgradable mallet heads that can do progressively heavier damage as the game goes on. You'll have two attacks at your disposal--one is your basic attack, and the other is an uppercut-like jump attack that you perform with the jump button when you have an enemy targeted with the L trigger. There is also a magic button that performs a special attack when your magic meter is filled up to the necessary level. Magic attacks are unique to each type of mallet head and can range from simple invincibility functionality to a sweeping stun attack that knocks down every enemy within range. Projectile attacks can also be accessed using the right and left buttons of the D pad. Occasionally you'll get to break up the standard combat by traveling around in a strutter--a robotlike apparatus that walks around like a dinosaur and attacks like one as well--but for the most part, it's hand-to-hand combat in Dinotopia.
The combat system is probably the most developed aspect of the game, but it still falls short of being interesting, thanks primarily to the extremely unintelligent and useless enemies. Most bad guys in the game tend to run at you in packs, and the one you happen to be targeting will attack frequently, while the rest just stand around, periodically trying to hit you, though rarely ever doing a very good job of it. Once you've upgraded your mallet to a decent level, practically every enemy in the game--human and dinosaur alike--can be done away with fairly easily. There are a few difficult bad guys here and there, but they're pretty few and far between.
Though Dinotopia's gameplay is entirely lackluster, the game's graphics actually aren't bad at all. All of the environments contained within Dinotopia, though fairly low in polygon count, are quite nice to look at, with some unique and aesthetically pleasing design elements. Every character in the game looks reasonably solid, though not great by any means. This is most apparent in cutscenes, where characters don't move their mouths at all while talking and move around in a pretty jerky fashion. The dinosaur characters definitely look a lot better than the humans, but both have their distinct flaws. Technically, the game does run very smoothly, and frame rate drops or graphical glitches are nowhere to be found. Compared with the GameCube version of the game, Dinotopia on the Xbox definitely looks a bit cleaner and brighter, but otherwise, the two versions are practically identical.
The game's sound, however, is on the other side of the fence--especially in the area of voice acting. Every character in the game sounds like he or she was voiced by some two-bit actor the developers yanked out of a dinner-theater production of Hamlet, complete with cheesy British and Scottish accents. Drake's and Jacob's voices are probably the most offensive--they sound like a bad mixture of Scrooge McDuck and Darrell Hammond's Saturday Night Live impersonation of Sean Connery. Aside from the atrocious voice acting, most of the in-game effects are pretty sparse at best, with a lot of repeated thud, smack, and crash effects that seem more silly than anything else. Most of the music in the game is of the Renaissance Faire ilk, with lots of flutes and acoustic guitars. It's actually probably the best aspect of Dinotopia's audio presentation, but it's still not all that great. Dinotopia does support Dolby Pro Logic II surround sound, but it doesn't use the support particularly well.
Dinotopia is, more than anything else, just a poorly designed game. While it may have some reasonably pleasing visuals, the tedious nature of the story and gameplay, coupled with the cringingly bad sound, simply makes the game an unpleasant experience in general. Only the most die-hard of Dinotopia fans will find anything to like about The Sunstone Odyssey, and all others should definitely look elsewhere for their action adventure game needs.