Dino Island Preview

It's Zoo Tycoon meets ThemePark, and it's in French. Read our impressions of this forthcoming humorous strategy game.

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Dino Island, from French publisher Monte Cristo, is a humorous and lighthearted cross between Jurassic Park and the venerable Bullfrog classic, Theme Park. It is a game in which you construct your own amusement park, with dinosaurs as the main attraction.

We recently received a beta of the game to try out, although it unfortunately was in French. The interface was easy enough for us to lay down the foundation of a dino-themed park, although the more complex aspects of park creation, like the specialized dino exhibits, were so complicated that they begged for English tool tips. Still, we did manage to build our amusement park and sat back to watch how our moneymaking machine would fare against the army of incoming tourists.

The graphics in Dino Island are comical and colorful, featuring dinosaurs that are all exaggerated. The meat eaters have ferocious expressions, while the triceratops and other plant eaters look very docile and even cuddly, with droopy expressions. The T-rexes also have enormous feet, gargantuan jaws, and tiny hands. The artists really accentuated the physical traits of each dinosaur, making them caricatures of their realistic selves. All the dinosaurs look good, though. The attractions you can build are likewise exaggerated and brightly colored.

Life on Dino Island starts with a deserted tropical island that you have to build into a thriving dino theme park.
Life on Dino Island starts with a deserted tropical island that you have to build into a thriving dino theme park.

You start out the game on a tropical island, completely empty except for a dock. Ships can come to drop off tourists, but until you create a compelling park, they won't come. So you'll start off laying the foundation for your park and erecting all the rides that your wallet can handle. Like in other similar games, you can build however you like, as long as you make sure there are ample food stalls to feed the hungry, toilets for the needy, gift shops for the tourists who want to drop cash, and roads to connect all the attractions to each other. Roads are especially important, because without them, your attractions, shops, and food stalls will go empty. However, we noticed that even with this infrastructure in place, many of our attractions weren't being visited. While we couldn't figure out this problem completely (the build was in French, after all), it does mean that there is more to managing your park than just laying down a roller coaster and a connecting roadway. Perhaps you have to also make sure there are enough lavatories or food joints within radius of each ride before people can visit them. Or maybe you need other supporting infrastructure.

Your building options, aside from the gift shops, food stalls, park pieces (such as trees and fountains), infrastructure, and attractions (including bumper cars, Ferris wheels, and others), are dinosaur pens. You can make them as big or small as you like to accommodate the different dinosaurs you might place in them. Once the pens have been placed, you can also place observation booths around them so that people can watch the dinosaurs within. Ideally, your park will offer a huge variety of options for the tourists. You'll want violent dino fights, cozy exhibits with plant eaters, gift shops, and other goodies to appease the wide variety of tourists, who all have their own desires and needs.

There are roughly two dozen dinosaurs to play with in Dino Island,  including the t-rex killer, Gigantosaurus.
There are roughly two dozen dinosaurs to play with in Dino Island, including the t-rex killer, Gigantosaurus.

According to Monte Cristo, there are two great appeals to Dino Island. One is the park-building gameplay, while the other is the chance to play with dinosaurs. Dino Island will come with more than two-dozen dinos with which to populate your creature pens. There are the famous carnivorous ones, the therapods. Those include the tyrannosaurus rex, allosaurus, deinonychus, velociraptor, gigantosaurus, and troodon. There are also lumbering sauropods, such as brachiosaurus, diplodocus, and saltasaurus. A few ceratopsians (the horned dinosaurs) include triceratops and protoceratops. There are also the ankylosaurus, kentrosaurus, and stegosaurus. Rounding out the dinosaurs are the two-legged herbivores, such as the helmet-headed pachycephalosaurus, iguanodon, parasaurolophus, hypsilophodon, and pelecanimimus. But Dino Island doesn't restrict you to playing with just the dinos that come in the game. There is also a dino-creation lab that lets you brew your own terrible lizards.

Dino-mite

Resembling the park ride creators from other amusement park games, the dino creator is a lab where you can mix together parts from different dinosaurs to create inventive hybrids. You can make horned tyrannosaurs or long-necked stegosaurs. You can mix and match body parts but also change the traits of dinosaurs, making stronger T-rexes or more agile brachiosaurs. You'll want to experiment with the dino lab to create more efficient dinosaurs, especially because some attractions call for improved creatures.

While things such as Ferris wheels and spinning tops make for fine rides, your park really won't become wildly popular until you start fielding dinosaur attractions. But that doesn't mean just throwing some into a pen and letting your visitors watch them. You'll want to set up special games and shows featuring those dinosaurs. Dino Island presents a number of unique ways to spice up the dino exhibits. You can set up dino deathmatches, forcing dinosaurs to fight for the amusement of passersby. This looks like it should be a crowd pleaser, especially if you set up the ultimate grudge match: tyrannosaurus rex vs. gigantosaurus. You can also set up races with poky sauropods or quick-footed velociraptors--or both. Your dinosaurs can also be put through their paces in obstacle courses, which you can design yourself. Dinosaurs can even be coaxed to play team sports.

You can have a variety of dinosaurs in a pen, but even more exciting is creating special games for them to play.
You can have a variety of dinosaurs in a pen, but even more exciting is creating special games for them to play.

One other popular attraction is feeding the meat-eating dinosaurs. The observation booths you set up can be a nice vantage point for visitors to view the dinos during mealtime. There are a variety of animals to feed your carnivorous dinosaurs, including cows, goats, ostriches, pigs, and sheep. You can even set up mazes and watch the dinosaurs hunt through the labyrinth for the morsel that waits at the end.

Creating these special dino games is easier than it sounds. Once you click on the type of game you want to create, you get a bewildering array of options that is akin to piecing together a jigsaw puzzle. For example, with the dino fight game, you set the size of the arena and then place various power-ups in the arena, like super speed or invulnerability, which activate when the dinosaur steps over them. You also have to specify the type of seats you want ringing the arena, among several other options. This interface definitely will need good tool tips, or a decent tutorial, to ease gamers into it.

Dino Island has a campaign mode with goal-oriented scenarios, as well as a sandbox mode for just building to your heart's content.
Dino Island has a campaign mode with goal-oriented scenarios, as well as a sandbox mode for just building to your heart's content.

Where genetic manipulation of dinos comes in is in allowing you to create dinosaurs that excel at a particular game. If you were setting up races, you might want to create participants with greater stamina or speed for longer-lasting or more spirited races, both of which are more fun for the visitors to watch than normal competitions are. If you set up dino fights, you might want to create meat eaters with bigger jaws, nastier teeth, or greater strength, again with the intention of making even more spectacular battles. Again, using normal dinosaurs is a good draw, but using pumped-up dinos really gets the crowds going, which in turn bumps up your park revenue nicely. Or, at least, that's the theory. We couldn't do as much with our French beta as we would have liked, but we got the gist of what Dino Island will allow, even if we couldn't actually see those theories in action.

Dino Island has the potential to be a lot of fun. The gameplay, from what we've seen in the beta and heard from Monte Cristo, should be varied and creative. The ability to create your own amusement park with a dinosaur theme is already exciting, but being able to craft unique dinosaurs and set up ridiculous but amusing dino games adds even more fun to the mix. Dino Island should ship sometime in late spring or early summer. Then you'll get your very own tropical island to doll up with slavering dinosaurs. And that version should be in English.

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