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Friday, 5 June 2015

Grabbed By The Ghoulies (Xbox)

The beginning of this century saw some huge changes to the landscape of console gaming. Sega, the long time stalwart who had massive success in the 16 bit era with the Mega Drive/Genesis finally announced that they were bowing out of console manufacturing and becoming a third party publisher for their former rivals. Microsoft decided to jump in and release a console of their own....the Xbox....which quickly established itself as a major player and led onto the Xbox 360 and (currently) the Xbox One. And Rare, the British developer who'd made themselves a household name with Donkey Kong Country, were 49% owned by Nintendo and had produced hit game after hit game exclusively for Nintendo consoles including Goldeneye 007 and Banjo-Kazooie, suddenly jumped ship to Microsoft.

Wait....what?!?

Yes, if you were a Nintendo fan back in 2002, then the unthinkable happened. Rare, who'd been pretty much the jewel in the Nintendo 64's crown against fierce competition and worldwide dominance by Sony's Playstation were suddenly completely acquired by Microsoft, with their last game on a Nintendo home console being Star Fox Adventures for the Gamecube. After the initial shock and horror, and being a long time Rare fan myself since their early days as Ultimate: Play The Game, I bit the bullet...bought an Xbox...and was eager to see what they'd put out for the Xbox first. Would it be the highly anticipated Perfect Dark Zero? Would it be one of their other announced games like Kameo: Elements Of Power? No...both of those later became Xbox 360 launch titles. What actually came out was Grabbed By The Ghoulies (awesome title by the way), a game which I'd never even heard of before, let alone was looking forward to. But I decided to keep the faith and picked it up. It's quite a bit different to what I was expecting, but not in an entirely bad way.

These kids never seem to learn, do they?
With a plot that rivals the great works of Shakespeare and puts recent efforts like The Last Of Us to shame (/sarcasm), we begin with Cooper and his girlfriend Amber getting lost whilst out hiking and caught in a storm. They decide to go to the nearest building for shelter, and....surprise, surprise, it turns out to be a haunted mansion housing a mad scientist and an evil baron. Of course, it's not long before Amber is quite literally grabbed by the ghoulies and dragged off kicking and screaming into the mansion, and Cooper has to dash inside to the rescue. It's all cliched and corny but the storyline is presented nicely in the style of a comic book as you go along. Once you're inside and gain control of Cooper, he gameplay isn't actually too dissimilar to a twin stick shoot 'em up (think Robotron or Smash TV). You move him around with the left stick and by tapping the right stick you can unleash a flurry of punches and kicks in any direction. This is actually pretty useful as quite often you'll be completely surrounded by baddies and have to fight your way out of the pack. There's no jumping at all, with the A button only being used to pick up weapons and forward through conversations, but the game is an arcade style brawler and really doesn't need it. Weapons in this game break extremely easily usually after only 2 or 3 hits but pretty much everything can be used to hit things with, be it a picture hanging on a wall, a broomstick or even a large book from the nearest bookcase. There's always something around that can be used to give you the edge in combat if you keep your eyes open.

Cooper smiting poor defenceless imps. With a chair.
To progress, you have to beat a set challenge in every room to unlock the door to the next area and these are usually different every time, or the conditions are mixed and matched...for example, to begin with you'll only have to kill all the enemies in the room to open the door to the next room. Pretty straightforward. But further in, you'll have things like having to find keys, survive waves and waves of respawning enemies until the timer runs out, only killing one specific type of enemy, fighting enemies using only weapons, not being allowed to use weapons at all, not being allowed to break any objects in the room (much harder than it sounds) and so on. They actually become really tricky by midway through and by the end of the game a fair few of them are frustratingly difficult. The evil baron of the mansion (Baron Von Ghoul, if you're interested in knowing his name) also makes life difficult by messing around with your health meter whenever you enter a new area...sometimes he'll give you a generous amount to complete the challenge and other times he'll be a mean old sod and whack it right down to 1, meaning that any hits will instantly kill you and the first thing you'll have to do is scrabble around looking for health powerups.

QTEs keep you on your toes...quick, press those buttons!
Luckily, there are absolutely tons of these lying around in the form of soup cans (don't worry, it's all explained within the context of the plot), and you'll need to use most of them to stand a chance. Most boost your health, but others like temporary invisiblity, invincibility, the Scare Blocker, and extra melee attack and weapon strength will really put you at an advantage. What's a 'Scare Blocker' you say? Well, sometimes Cooper will run into ghosts, or certain enemies will catch him off guard, causing him to go into 'Fright' mode...basically a button press QTE appears on screen and these get more and more complex as you go along. Succeed, and Cooper will become calm again, Fail, and he'll be losing a large chunk of his health. However, if he managers to find a Scare Blocker in the room he's in, this'll completely negate having to do any QTEs at all until Cooper leaves the room.

Dude, pull my finger! Go on, pull it!
Another major problem you'll have to look out for is the Grim Reaper. If you fail to fulfill the conditions for each challenge room properly (ie, you run out of time or use a weapon where weapons are not allowed) then he'll suddenly pop up, scythe in hand and pointy finger outstretched, and start chasing you around the room trying to give you the touch of Death. He's invincible too, and the only way to escape from him is to complete the challenge you're currently tasked with and get the hell out of the room as quick as you can. You'll certainly be seeing a lot of him in the later stages of the game once the difficulty ramps up, and he makes everything a lot more frantic and tense as you're trying to deal with not only a horde of enemies but also a relentless homing bastard who can instantly kill you as well. Luckily, you can find powerups that delay his appearance, make him dizzy and disorientated for a short while, use weapons to knock him back or in some cases actually guide him into a pack of monsters to slow him down a little, but ultimatey he'll just keep coming and coming and coming at you like The Terminator until you either escape or you're lying dead at his feet and have to start the challenge over again.

Grabbed By The Ghoulies also has a nice number of unlockables. Every room in the game has a hidden (or sometimes not so hidden) book with a 'Rare' logo on it to find and collect - 100 all in all. For every 5 you find, you can access a Bonus Challenge from the main menu, and scoring a Platinum Medal in a challenge will net you some concept art images. It's a nice extra touch and the Bonus Challenges are pretty fun for the most part. Finding the books in the second half of the game can be a pain in the backside though....early on, you'll see them lying around in reasonably plain sight but later on a lot of them are hidden inside breakable objects and you'll have to smash up nearly everything in the room to find them. You can also go back and find any you've missed afterwards thanks to a really handy menu screen option that shows you which books you've found and which you haven't, and lets you replay any completed section.

Let's head over to the Atic...
It all looks really nice visually too. Everything is cel-shaded, the lighting and shadows in each area feel spot-on, and all the enemies have their own unique personalities and traits. Skeletons will start looking around for weapons to hit you with if you kill a few of them. Pirate zombies will keep stopping every now and then to down a bottle of rum. The Hunchback will keep trying to hide his face (his only vulnerable part) in his hands and turning his back to you, and it's always interesting to see if there will be a new type of Ghoulie in the next room or not. The house itself is extremely well designed and decorated too....you'll see easter eggs and nods to other Rare games everywhere (one room is even covered in posters of their old ZX Spectrum games like Atic Atac and Sabre Wulf), and most things can be interacted with in some way either by smashing and breaking them, or picking them up and using to smack zombies over the head with. The music on the other hand is a little unimaginative and sounds almost like it's been directly ripped out from the 'Mad Monster Mansion' stage in Banjo-Kazooie...whilst this isn't exactly a bad thing in itself and it certainly fits the mood here, I would have liked to have heard something a bit more original than Rare's stock 'haunted house' theme that seems to play throughout. It could be just me, but after all the hours spent playing Banjo Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64, familiarity definitely breeds a bit of contempt for me here.

For what it is, Grabbed By The Ghoulies is an extremely entertaining game that'll keep you interested for a while. It's fun, very playable and packs a decent challenge. Unfortunately, outside of it's difficulty on later stages, it is a fairly short game and can be beaten in less than 10 hours, and because it follows a strictly linear format (complete the challenge in a room, find the door that opens, go onto the next room, rinse repeat), there really isn't much scope for replay value either, unless you're the kind of person who really must find all the hidden Rare books and unlock and complete all the Bonus Challenges. But ultimately it's a game that'll leave you with a smile on your face and is well worth the experience. If you're looking for something a little different from Rare than their usual 3D platformers but also something that has their distinct mark all over it, then you could do a lot worse than to check it out.

TromaDogg's Final Verdict: 8/10

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Superman 64 (Nintendo 64)

Even if you've had your head buried underneath a rock for the last 50 years...even if you've never seen the movies, never seen the TV shows, never seen the animated series, never read the comics, never bought the toys...chances are, you will have heard of Superman 64. It's been a constant subject of debate, reviews and Youtube videos. It's name has practically become legend over the last 15 years. I've had it in my collection for a while now, but until today, I've been hesitant to play it. Would it live up to it's hype? Would it meet my expectations? Would I be able to write a review befitting of it's quality? Would I be left mentally scarred for life after playing it?

With all this in consideration, I decided to approach Superman 64 with a completely open mind....different people like different games after all, and maybe it's one of those underrated classics people keep discovering months or even years later? There's plenty of games like that. Lost Odyssey was a lot better than I thought it would be. Beyond Good & Evil turned out to be great when I eventually played it even though it wasn't a sales success. Mirror's Edge fast became one of my favourites after I picked it up cheaply, and I can't wait for the sequel.

Superman 64 is not going to be joining that list.

Green rings, green skies - get used to seeing these
The story behind Superman 64 is that Lex Luthor, with the help of Braniac has created a virtual version of Metropolis and trapped Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and Professor Hamilton inside it. In order to rescue them, Supes has to enter Virtual Metropolis and complete various tasks and defeat villains along the way such as Metallo and Darkseid who are making a nuisance of themselves and threatening the lives of civilians. Yes, even in the virtual world Superman still has a duty of care to virtual people, although it's never made clear if Lex Luthor has also kidnapped a bunch of civilians or not. In order to reach each objective, you have to 'solve Lex Luthor's maze'....which is pretty much just flying through a sequence of rings within a fairly tight time limit. This is much easier said than done as the first thing you'll notice is that Superman doesn't actually like being controlled by a human player and seems to do everything in his power to fight against you. He flies through the air with all the grace of an 18 wheeler truck and steers like one too. In fact, it's pretty much the same when you're walking on the ground too...despite having the full 360-degree control of the Nintendo 64 analogue stick to play with, Titus in their infinite wisdom decided that it'd be best to have Superman rotate on the spot when you push the stick left and right, and run forward and backwards with up and down. Granted, this was released in 1999, and you could even argue that the original Tomb Raider games also had tank-like controls, but neither the Playstation or Saturn were originally released with analogue controllers as standard like the N64, and when you look at the kind of control Nintendo implemented into Super Mario 64 (an N64 launch title), and also other games that came out prior to Superman 64 such as Banjo Kazooie, then this just seems piss poor in comparison. Switching from flight to walking and back to flight again seems to be a very hit and miss affair. The instructions tell you that you hit the Z trigger to do this, but often Superman will just come to a stop and hover or if you're on foot he won't react to your trigger presses which can be massively frustrating if you're trying to land nearby an enemy or objective, or trying to escape from an enemy.

When you reach the end of a set of rings (which thankfully can be turned completely off in the options by switching the difficulty to 'Easy' if you so wish...although this prevents you from seeing the full ending to the game), Superman is given a objective to complete, such as stop a speeding car before it hits a civilian. No problem for Superman you might think but it's a huge problem for a Superman with borked controls. You use the B button to accelerate forward while you're flying, but the B button is also used to grab objects such as cars. So if you're chasing a speeding car that you need to grab hold of, then you're going to have to take your thumb off the B button, come to a stop and tap the B button again to grab it. But of course the car carries on moving, so you'll need to hold the B button down to catch it up again and then....well, you get the idea. It's unnecessarily fiddly and more often than not you'll only manage it by luck rather than judgement. If you fail an objective, then you're placed back at the beginning of the last set of rings you reached to do those all over again as well.

Oh Superman! Have you glitched through the floor again?
And if you think all this sounds bad? Try dealing with it in an enclosed area. After you persevere through the first section you reach a dam interior where you have to rescue some trapped workers and then deal with some bombs. Because of the low ceilings, you'll be forced to travel around mostly on foot and deal with hordes of enemies and robots. Superman can punch, but you never really feel like you're connecting and, with an inability to lock onto enemies at all, you'll mostly be rotating around on the spot and swinging wildly at thin air whilst the bad guys stand slightly to one side and fill you full of bullets. You can pick up and throw your opponents, but this involves running right up to them, stopping, tapping the B button and then using the A button to throw them. Whilst getting shot at the whole time. And that's even if it works, because roughly 50% of the time Superman won't respond properly anyway. If you do find yourself flying around indoors, you'll constantly be getting stuck on parts of the scenery or hitting invisible walls, or even glitching through solid walls in a lot of cases. The sheer ineptitude of the programming and design on display here is absolutely staggering.

Manage this section, and it's back out into Virtual Metropolis again to fly through yet more rings and complete more mundane tasks over and over again. It's worth pointing out here that the city is strangely empty, devoid of any signs of life until you reach your objective and sometimes have to save one or two innocent bystander from being attacked. Another thing worth mentioning is that the draw distance is extremely low, resulting in severe fogging everywhere even during the indoor sections. The graphics are actually pretty bad in general, with low res and muddy looking textures being the order of the day and some laughably pathetic animation, particularly for Superman himself when he walks and flies. And throughout this all, you'll be hearing the same short bits of music on loop over and over again just to drive you mad in case the rest of the game hasn't already succeeded in pushing you over the brink into insanity.

Wow, check out that draw distance!
I played/struggled as far as a multi story car park stage before I really couldn't stand any more of it. The game told me I had to rescue Jimmy Olsen and defeat Darkseid, but I couldn't find Jimmy anywhere despite searching the stage from top to bottom, and just seemed to be walking and flying around endless samey looking corridors, hitting an endless supply of identical looking enemies and becoming completely bored. There was no indication I was heading in the right direction either. After somehow glitching through the floor of the second story and falling through to the ground floor (I've still no idea how I did it either), I decided enough was enough and turned it off. I really don't know how this could have been put out as a finished product, and I really don't know how it managed to get the Nintendo Seal Of Quality on it either. It's a broken, sorry looking mess of a game that fails in pretty much every aspect.

Is it the worst game I've ever played? I'd be lying if I said it was. I've seen some horrendously bad titles on other systems that barely even classify as games, and I'm sure I'll cover some of them more in due time. But is it the worst game I've played on the N64? At this moment in time I'm pretty sure it is, and I'm also sure that I'm unlikely to find something that will take Superman 64's place at the bottom of the barrel. It's glitchier than just about anything else I've ever played, and it's pretty alarming that this was once put out for sale at full price as a new release next to games like Goldeneye, The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time and Star Wars: Rogue Squadron to be honest.

TromaDogg's Final Verdict: 2.5/10

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Skyblazer (Super NES)

Ashura, Lord of War is a bit of a swine. Centuries ago, he and his group of warlords attempted to plunge the land into darkness, crush the Mystic Pantheon and 'stamp out the light of reason' (I'm not making this up). Fortunately, a great magician called Sky-Lord appeared and, after a hard fought battle, managed to banish him from the realm forever and trap him in limbo, The years passed, Sky-Lord became a legend, Ashura was never heard from again, everybody had a big slap up meal and a party to celebrate and it seemed that everything was fine in the world.

Unfortunately, a 'gifted' (ie stupid) apprentice sorceror has now accidentally freed Ashura, and he's now back with a vengeance. Not only has he gone and created a new army of warlords, but he's also kidnapped the sorceress Ariana and he's hell bent on resurrecting his master Raglan, Lord of Darkness, King of Destruction too. Obviously, the prospect of this happening is even worse than a wet weekend in Rhyl, so it's up to you, Skyblazer, the last living descendant of Sky-Lord to put a stop to him.

Ashura kidnaps the sorceress....just because he can.
Skyblazer kicks off with a short training stage where you have unlimited lives and a chance to learn the game mechanics. Controls are tight and responsive, and Sky is pretty agile and can cling to vertical surfaces ad climb up and down them, and also attack whilst hanging onto a wall. He dispatches enemies with a combo melee attack and can also fire magic blasts, though this uses up some of his magic gauge.

At the end of this section, you get a brief cutscene where the four-armed Ashura appears, kicks your ass and kidnaps the sorceress. Your only ally, an old man, then tells you that you're too weak to fight Ashura in your current state and so tasks you with defeating Ashura's warlords in order to gain extra abilities....so off you go through the various stages (around 17 in all), defeating various bosses and turning Sky into a tooled up spellcasting powerhouse along the way. Sounds like the recipe for a good game, right?

Sky can climb or hang from any vertical surface.

Well, yes and no. Skyblazer certainly looks the part with extremely impressive visuals, detailed parallax scrolling backgrounds and a fair few special effects using the SNES's mode 7 trickery thrown in with most boss fights utilising it in some way or other. The platforming and combat with enemies feels polished and never unfair, and there's a a fair bit of variety in the environments, with forest, ice, desert, water and sky stages all thrown in for good measure alongside a couple of auto scrolling 'shoot 'em up' style sections and mode 7 bonus stages that have you flying into the screen and collecting gems for extra lives.

The main problems with Skyblazer lie in it's design and execution. Stages feel extremely bland and linear, with only the odd secret here and there. The bosses, whilst they look impressive, all have ridiculously simple attack patterns that are very easily learned and avoided (even Ashura and Raglan themselves right at the end of the game are a doddle to beat) and fighting them is more of a chore than a test of skill, something which becomes very apparent on the final stage when you have to fight most of them all over again, boss-rush style. And as for the abilities you get for defeating them....asides from the Comet Flash ability you receive really early on, the Heal spell, and the Fiery Phoenix ability you obtain right before the last stage (which is only needed for the Ashura boss fight and nothing else), they're all pretty much surplus to requirements. The stage designs never encourage you to use them, never present you with any situations where they could really help out, and so they become virtually useless and a very poor payoff for the effort you put in.

Flaws asides, it is a very nice looking game.

And that leads to another of Skyblazer's big problems...it's far too easy for the most part. Enemies and traps never seem to do much damage, there's always plenty of Health and Magic pickups, and gems litter the stages in abundance so you'll have built up a stash of extra lives in no time...indeed, Sky feels pretty overpowered before he even gains any extra abilities and once you've gotten hold of Heal, you become almost unstoppable. The game contains a password system too, but there seems little point to it as you can breeze through it from beginning to end in less than an hour once you've gotten the hang of things.

It seems a pity that I have to be so critical of Skyblazer as on the surface, it has quite a lot going for it. It plays extremely well, has decent (if unspectacular) music and looks fantastic most of the time. But scratch beneath the surface a little and you'll find that there's not much there. It's a shining example of style over substance and the gaming equivalent of 'all fur coat and no knickers'. It's a fun experience while it lasts, but it doesn't last anywhere near as long or gel together anywhere near as well as it should, and then comes to an end without really having picked up any pace at all. Mostly, it's a pity that they never made a sequel to it, as some better level design, boss fights, and character abilities could have gone a long way into making Skyblazer an all time classic. The foundations for the gameplay are rock solid. But ultimately it just fails to live up to the huge potential it shows in it's first couple of stages, and that's a damn shame.

TromaDogg's Final Verdict: 6.5/10

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Rocket Knight Adventures (Mega Drive)

Back in the 16-bit era, everybody was seemingly trying to ump on the mascot bandwagon. Mario and Luigi were already well established, Sonic the Hedgehog was the new kid on the block making waves and every other publisher out there wanted a piece of the pie. Whilst there were some absolutely horrendous attempts like Bubsy and Lester The Unlikely (shudder...), there's also quite a lot of unsung heroes who, for whatever reason, never quite achieved the success they deserved.

Konami, unlike the mere shadow of it's former self it's become recently was a force to be reckoned with back in the late 1980's/early 1990's and published many of the era's most most well received games, both licensed and original. Most people who were gamers back then will instantly remember games like Gradius, Contra/Probotector, Castlevania, and also likely fed large amounts of their pocket money into the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Simpsons and X-Men arcade machines. But not all of them seem to remember Rocket Knight Adventures, or even if they do, chances are they've never played it, or only know it by way of the recent Rocket Knight Adventures HD game that was released on XBLA and PSN. And that's something that honestly makes me sad. It's a game that not only deserves wider recognition, it should be being used a lot more often as a benchmark for what makes a good, enjoyable 2D platformer.

Released in 1993 as a Mega Drive exclusive (although it's later sequel, Sparkster, would also confusingly spawn a spin off game of the same name on SNES), Rocket Knight Adventures tells the story of Sparkster the opossum, bravest of the Rocket Knights and part of an elite group of warriors sworn to protect the kingdom of Elhorn against the Devotindos army (basically an evil group of pigs) and a former Rocket Knight turned traitor, the Black Knight Axle Gear. The plot isn't really too important to be honest, it's all your usual fantasy guff that's just there to flesh out the instruction manual. What you need to know is that your character Sparkster can hang upside down from some platforms by his tail, is armed with a sword that can fire short range projectiles and a rocket pack that enables him to fly for short distances and can boost him forwards or upwards by first charging it up and then releasing the button.
Axle kidnaps the princess - what an asshole

The first thing that strikes you about Rocket Knight Adventures even before you take in the visuals is the music...it's absolutely superb. Each of the 7 stages has a really catchy theme and there's also a separate theme for minibosses and end of stage bosses that kicks in every time you run into one as well. Sparkster controls extremely responsively and there's never any times where you feel that a missed jump or damage taken from an enemy wasn't your own fault. The graphics look beautiful for a game of this era...the main sprites are all full of character (hitting a pig enemy for instance will cause it's armour to fly off and for it to run around in it's underwear as a kind of a homage to Ghosts 'n Goblins)...Sparkster himself has a range of cute facial expressions for everything he does...jumping, taking damage, rocket boosting, falling after a rocket boost and even an idle animation...and the background details are excellent. On the first stage for instance, you can see a castle on fire in the background, which turns out to be the next area you're heading towards....and if you look at it really closely, you can even see the Stage 1 boss and Axle Gear's airship hovering around it too. Meanwhile, in the foreground forest that you're travelling though you can see butterflies fluttering about. It's little things like this that constantly draw you more into the game and breathe a lot of life into it.

Using your reflection to get ahead
The stages all seem to have had a massive amount of time and care put into them, in that you never know what to expect next. Rocket Knight Adventures is a game that constantly throws new ideas at you right up until the very end, and almost seems afraid of doing the same thing twice. Once stage for instance has the top of the screen obscured so that you have to use the reflective (but deadly) lava underneath to see where the next platforms are, another has you on the top of Axle's airship fighting high speed winds, whist there's also the usual suspects like a minecart and underwater stage for good measure although even these feel like they've been done in a fresh way. From time to time, Sparkster will even power up his rocket pack, don his goggles and embark on a 2D scrolling shoot 'em up section for a short while. The game never becomes boring and almost challenges you to keep up with it.

Even the boss encounters are a tour de force of inventiveness. Far from being just the normal, dull 'whack the enemy a lot of times until it dies' affairs, you'll often have to engage in multi stage fights. The second stage boss for instance will fire laser bolts at you from the front...destroy the front cannon and it'll then sprout long robotic arms that you have to deal with. Destroy these, and then the back cannon starts firing at you as well. One later stage even has Sparkster and Axle Gear having a boxing match. In 2 giant Pig Mechs. It's fascinating to see just what will come next and you'll be driven to see it through until the final credits.
Taking some slight inspiration from R-Type...

In fact, there's nothing really negative I can say about Rocket Knight Adventures. It's a supremely well put together game that ticks all the right boxes...it's not too short, doesn't outstay it's welcome and never becomes impossibly difficult...even those few of you who think it's all a little too easy will be tested by the 2 unlockable difficulty settings, Most importantly it's an absolute joy to play and even coming back to it over 20 years later, it has the edge over many similar games that have been released since (including it's own sequel, but more on that another time). It's still such a good game that it even makes Rocket Knight Adventures HD look like an insult. If you're one of those people that's never experienced the original then you really owe it to yourself to try it out, and come back and thank me when you do. If you are one of the people who's played it and understands why I love this game so much, dig it out and give it another go. You'll be glad you did.

TromaDogg's Final Verdict: 9.5/10

Monday, 18 May 2015

Jurassic Park (Universal Pictures, 1993)

Try as hard as I might not to be, the new Jurassic World trailers have still managed to get me all excited again. Whenever I think about the original Jurassic Park...even now all these years later, I can still remember the massive amount of hype surrounding it's release. Much was talked about how groundbreaking the CGI effects were going to be, and most of the teaser trailers would start at the bit where the T-Rex escapes from it's enclosure...not actually showing off any of the CGI (oh no...the best bit was saved for the cinema) but instead focusing the puddle of water in the giant footprint, and then the glass of water rippling, ominous music playing as the T-Rex stomped closer and closer, and then right at the end of the trailer....a giant, angry looking T-Rex face would lower down and stare in through the vehicle window at a terrified Lex. I can honestly say this: I was chomping at the bit to see this movie when it was released. I'd already seen these newfangled CGI effects put to impressive use on the big screen when I went to see Terminator 2 a couple of years before (Useless Information Time: T2 was the first '15' rated movie I ever went to see at the cinema although I was only actually 14 when it came out) but now we were talking dinosaurs! Real life fucking dinos that wanted to eat people! Or at least by far the most realistic ones anybody had ever seen at that point.


As it was, my anticipation had reached such fever pitch that I actually rushed out and bought a copy of Michael Crichton's book to read before the movie was released. And I loved it. The main problem was,  I think, that I enjoyed the book so much that in my 16 year old mind, there was no way that the movie could live up to it. The book was actually quite dark and violent in certain places, but the movie was rated PG and directed by Steven Spielberg. My most enduring memories of when I eventually did go to see it back in 1993 are of being disappointed that the ending was less action packed than the book, and badly needing a piss after drinking a large Coca Cola earlier on, but then not wanting to leave my seat and miss any of the special effects. I didn't get to see it again for a while after that (back in those days you usually had to wait several months for movies to be released on VHS) so for a long time I felt pretty deflated. I knew however that I'd completely over-hyped things in my head, so when the time came for me to sit and watch Jurassic Park again, I did it with an open mind and found myself really falling in love with it. And watching it again, now, I honestly think it's a movie that's aged extremely well too.

I ain't 'fraid of no 'raptor!
Jurassic Park starts off on Isla Nublar, the soon-to-be-site of the aforementioned dinosaur themed attraction. The Park's game warden, a Crocodile Dundee-alike called Muldoon (played by Bob Peck), and a group of workers armed with guns and electric cattle prods are watching an incoming shipping container be delivered with worried looks on their faces...we soon learn that it contains a velociraptor, although we don't get a good look at it yet. As they are releasing it into it's enclosure, one of the workers standing on top of the container loses his balance and falls with his legs in between the the container and enclosure. The raptor (that's still hidden from view) immediately grabs the poor bastard and tries to drag him off to his death. Muldoon grabs a hold of the guy's arm and tries to save him whilst some other workers try to stun the dinosaur. It isn't letting go. Muldoon catches a glimpse of it's eye as it stares though the bars of it's container at him. Muldoon stares back. Muldoon starts calling for the other workers to just shoot the raptor. Gunshots are heard but the trapped worker unfortunately dies. It's an effective and tense opening sequence that really shows you how dangerous these things are without revealing too much of them yet and is a lot like the opening of Jaws (also directed by Spielberg), where the fear is created more by what you can't see than what's on the screen in front of you.

Velociraptors turned into birds. No, really.
Next, we're introduced to Donald Gennaro (played by Martin Ferrero a.k.a Izzy Moreno from Miami Vice) a suit-wearing lawyer type who's been sent in by the investors to report on what's going on at Jurassic Park following the worker's death. He mentions that the insurance guys will back off if they can find a couple of experts to declare the island safe. Then we're taken off to a dig site where Dr. Alan Grant, a world renowned palaeontologist and his partner and girlfriend Ellie Sattler (played by Sam Neill and Laura Dern) have just discovered a fossilised velociraptor skeleton. and are talking about their findings to a group of people. Alan thinks that raptors maybe evolved into birds, much to the amusement of the crowd, but Grant insists and says that the word 'raptor' even means 'bird of prey'. A young boy in the group scoffs at this and says that the raptor skeleton looks more like a turkey than a bird of prey.  Alan then describes in great detail to the boy how raptors hunt and kill their prey, using a fossilised claw to demonstrate on the boy how they would tear him to ribbons and telling him that they would start eating him while he was still alive. He then has a discussion with Ellie about how much he dislikes kids and doesn't want any. At this point in the movie, he actually comes across as a bit of an asshole, truth be told and it would've be quite funny if a T-Rex had come charging over and finished him off, but luckily, he gets to redeem himself later on. Alan and Ellie head back to their trailer to find the owner of Jurassic Park, John Hammond (played by Richard Attenborough) waiting for them. John tells Alan and Ellie that he owns an island, and that he's spent the last 5 years setting up some kind of spectacular 'biological preserve'. He wants to open it to the public next year, but the investors are putting pressure on him to bring in a couple of experts to check out the island first, and that's where Alan and Ellie come in. He shies away from telling them what the park actually is, but he invites them to come over and check it out and offers to fund Alan's dig site for a further 3 years if he accepts. Alan and Ellie take the bribe.

Muhahahahaha!
Meanwhile over in Costa Rica, Dennis Nedry (played by Wayne Knight, a.k.a.the police detective who got a nice close up view of when Sharon Stone uncrossed her legs in Basic Instinct) is waiting at a scruffy outdoor cafe area for a guy called Dodgson to arrive. Dodgson is doing his best to be incognito. Something clearly suspicious is going on. Dodgson hands Nedry a holdall bag containing $750,000 and offers to top it up to a cool $1.5 million if Nedry delivers him samples of all the species on the island. Dodgson works for a genetics company called Biosyn and is looking to steal dinosaur embryos from Ingen, John Hammond's company. He gives Nedry a can of shaving foam with a false bottom to smuggle them out in, and Nedry laughs like an evil pantomime villain, as if it's the most heinous plot ever devised in the history of mankind. Knight's overacting is actually amusing. You just know that Nedry is going to suffer a nasty death later on, and will probably deserve it.

A smile you'd just love to put a boot through
Alan and Ellie are now on their way to Isla Nublar by helicopter with Hammond and Gennaro, and it's now that we also meet Ian Malcolm (played by Jeff Goldblum) for the first time. He's a mathematician who specialises in Chaos Theory, and Gennaro's bought him along as another expert to endorse the island. Ian Malcolm immediately comes across as an even bigger asshole than Alan Grant...he dresses like a wannabe rock star (Hammond even refers to him as such), has a big shit-eating grin on his face, keeps chewing gum and has a ridiculous sounding laugh...he even attempts a lame chat up line on Ellie that goes down like a lead balloon. Again, you start wondering how enjoyable it might be if a dino killed this character off. So far, Jurassic Park hasn't done a great job of presenting its audience with characters it can really get behind and root for, but of course it's only quite early on. The helicopter lands, and the group make their way through the first electric fence and continue on their way towards the Visitor's Centre.

Dafuq?!?

Mama?
It's now that we get the first big money shot of the movie, where the group get to see what Jurassic Park is all about for the first time. It's a wonderful scene, that first keeps the camera on the faces of the characters (with the actors doing a great job of conveying their character's sheer disbelief at what they're seeing) and then slowly panning upwards and away from them to show the audience a huge brachiosaurus go walking by. Even now, the CGI effects used to create this thing look pretty impressive, Hammond says the line 'Welcome to Jurassic Park!' and it's a great introduction and gets you hyped up for what's yet to come. It's also here where Gennaro's true colours come out, and whilst everybody is looking on in amazement, he starts talking about how they're going to make a fortune with the Park. Boo, hiss. Typical slimy lawyer. You're meant to be making sure the Park is safe for the public first, Gennaro. You're gonna get yourself killed off, talking like that. At the Visitor's Centre, Hammond takes the others on a tour and shows them how the dinos are created. Dinosaur blood is extracted from mosquitos trapped in amber and the missing parts of the DNA sequences are replaced with frog DNA (remember this, it's important later on). We also get to see a baby velociraptor hatching out of an egg (Awwwww!) and learn that the dinos can't breed in the wild because they've all been engineered to be female. So that's comforting then, although not to Ian Malcolm who keeps his sceptic hat on.

Back outside at the velociraptor enclosure, we see Muldoon again, and he explains just how dangerous the raptors are to Grant...he talks about how fast they are and how they've been displaying basic problem solving skills...apparently, they originally bred 8 but then they introduced 'the big one' into the pack and she killed all but 2 of the others. Yikes. Muldoon thinks that they should all be destroyed, but where would the fun in that be?

Whoa! Dinosaurs! Awesome!
Gennaro now seems to have gone into full 'dollar dollar' mode, all he'll talk about is how much money the park will make and no longer seems bothered that there's dangerous killer dinos there (boo, hiss) whilst a change has come over Ian Malcolm and he's completely humbled by what he's seen and thinks they should be respecting nature more. He starts reading Hammond the riot act about playing God, and Ellie and Alan agree with him. Hammond starts getting pissed because only the greedy lawyer is backing him up. Then we find out that Hammond's 2 young grandchildren Tim and his sister Lex have just arrived on the island for a visit and everybody's about to go on a tour of the island, using some electric rail powered cars outside. Alan's face immediately drops...not because he's worried at this point about their safety, but because he's still a child hating douchebag. Tim admittedly is a bit of an annoying little shit...he rabbits on and on and on about dinosaur books he's read, but it's not really much of an excuse for the way Alan just takes him to the lead vehicle and slams the door on him. Miserable old bastard.

Royale with cheese!
Hammond then heads off into the control room and tells the chief engineer John Arnold (played by Samuel L motherfuckin' Jackson!) to start the ride, and the cars head off into the main part of Jurassic Park. First stop, the dilophosaurus enclosure. The vehicles are fitted with an audio guide that tells everybody that dilophosaurus spits poisonous venom at it's prey. Sounds interesting. But dilophosaurus is being awkward and can't be arsed showing itself to the visitors and so the tour moves on, with Alan disappointed. Pretty similar to the kind of experience many people have at a real safari park then. Back in the control room, Dennis Nedry is having a rant about his pay and arguing with Hammond about it. It's clear that he's a whiny little bitch  and gets on everybody's nerves...kind of makes you wonder why Hammond bothers employing him. Out on the tour, the cars have come to a stop outside the Tyrannosaur paddock, but the T-Rex is being as shy as the dilophosaurus was. John Arnold decides to try and tempt the T-Rex out by raising a cage containing a goat into the paddock, but the T-Rex is still having none of it. So far, this tour absolutely sucks.

Poor triceratops :(
En-route to the next area though, Alan spots a sick triceratops and jumps out of the vehicle for a closer look. While it's disappointing that we don't get to see this thing up on it's feet and running and charging around, it does give us a proper chance to see Stan Winston's creature effects up close and they're extremely impressive....even now, that thing looks like it could be a real live dinosaur. Ellie tries to diagnose it's illness by shoving her arms into a massive pile of it's dung (as you do!) but draws a blank. In the control room, Muldoon tells Hammond and Arnold that they'll have to cut the tour short as there's a massive storm on the way. Hammond is pissed....it's all been a disaster so far. While the others are preoccupied, Nedry start to put his evil plan into action....

You got a problem, motherfucker?
Ellie stays behind with a park ranger to carry on tending to the sick triceratops whilst the others make their way back to the cars. Arnold tells Hammond that it's not been such a bad tour, things could have been worse. Arnold is smoking again. Seems like every time we see this guy, he's got a cigarette in his mouth. But it's Samuel L motherfuckin' Jackson, so we can let it slide. Nedry makes some excuse about wanting to go and get a snack, clicks on something on his computer and leaves...the evil little bastard has closed down the park security systems so he can go and steal the dinosaur embryos for Biosyn. He heads straight to the labs and starts loading up his shaving foam can with samples from tubes with such labels as 'Tyranosaurus Rex' and 'Stegasaurus'....those Ingen employees might be world leaders in the field of science, but they fail at spelling....and then heads out into the worsening storm and heads towards the docks where a Biosyn pickup boat is waiting for him. He can't see where he's going in the rain though, and after accidentally knocking down a sign he becomes disorientated and lost in the dark.

'Ah ha ha! You didn't say the magic word!'
After noticing that most of the electric fences in the park have powered down, Arnold frantically tries to get them back online again...unfortunately, Nedry has password locked his computer and an animated image of his face keeps appearing and laughing  'Please! Goddam it! I hate this hacker crap!' screams Arnold, never-ending cigarette still firmly in mouth. John Arnold is the man. Easily my favourite character in the movie at this point. Hammond remembers that the tour cars were on their way back to the Visitor's Centre and wonders where they've gotten to....with the power down, they've stopped right outside the T-Rex paddock. And the goat is still there, so there's no T-Rex about and everything's fine...isn't it?!? And that's when Tim starts feeling vibrations and notices ripples on the cups of water in the car where he, Lex and Gennaro are. Gennaro notices it too and is visibly concerned, but tries to dismiss it as maybe the power coming back on. Tim looks over towards where the goat was again, but the goat is gone. Lex asks where it is, and as if to answer, one of it's chewed off legs falls down and hits the roof of the car. They look up and see this....
Mmmm. Tastes like chicken!
At this point, Gennaro completely loses his shit and jumps out the car and makes a run for it, leaving the kids to fend for themselves. With the car door wide open. Horrible little prick. He finds a nearby toilet cubicle and hides inside. Outside, the T-Rex casually breaks through the now switched off electric fence and starts sniffing around the tour cars. Alan tells Ian to stay absolutely still as the T-Rex's vision is apparently based on movement. This hasn't been mentioned in the movie so far, and Dr Grant has never encountered a real live T-Rex before but nobody questions it, so we just take it as gospel.

Lemme in!
For some absolutely inane reason that's never explained, Lex finds a lamp in the car where she and Tim are, switches it on and shines it straight at the T-Rex's face whilst waving it around. Of course, the T-Rex sees this and stomps straight over to them. Tim screams at her to turn it off. Of course, Lex being Lex, she doesn't turn the light off. Tim tries to turn it off for her, but she starts struggling with him and waving the light around again, causing the T-Rex to start attacking them through the sunroof. As a tense, dramatic scene it works brilliantly...it's just that the events leading up to it are all a bit silly. The T-Rex eventually gets frustrated and decides to overturn the car onto it's roof and start attacking the underneath, like a predator attacking the soft underbelly of it's prey. It puts it weight on the car and the 2 kids still trapped inside are in serious danger of being crushed.

Just what the hell is he doing?!?
It's only now, after having sat and watched all of this going on for a few minutes that the 2 adult assholes in the car behind decide to actually do anything to try to save the kids. Alan jumps out waving a flare around to distract the T-Rex and throws it into the T-Rex paddock. As the T-Rex is going after it, Ian steps out of the car waving another flare and distracts the T-Rex again, and tells Alan to get to the kids whilst running off in the opposite direction with the T-Rex chasing close behind. Not really the best idea he's ever had, seeing as a human can't really outrun a T-Rex but, hey...full marks for effort. Amusingly, the T-Rex chases Ian straight towards the toilet cubicle where the cowardly lawyer is hiding, and the T-Rex ploughs right through it. It's not clear what happens to Ian Malcolm...he appears to get bashed to one side and knocked out in all of the confusion...but it's pretty clear what happens to Gennaro....
Om nom nom!

Not a good time to be hanging around...
Alan is at the crushed tour car trying to retrieve the 2 kids from underneath it. He gets Lex out, only for the T-Rex to suddenly return after it's meal. Lex, who seems to have become a massive liability starts screaming like a banshee, and Alan has to grab hold of her and cup his hand over her mouth to shut her up and save her from becoming T-Rex chow....I'd have been tempted to snap her neck as well, but Alan keeps his cool. The T-Rex loses interest and goes back to attacking the car again - with Tim still trapped in it. Alan decides to abandon Tim and try and save Lex by hanging over the side of the precipice they're on...but it's all good, because the T-Rex decides to push the car (and Tim) over the edge after them as well! Good old T-Rex. The car narrowly misses Alan and Lex, and lands in a tree below  Back at the Control Centre and with problems still going on getting the security systems back online, Hammond decides it's about time to send Muldoon out to retrieve his grandchildren. Took him long enough. Arnold resigns himself to the fact that he can't get the systems operating again without Nedry.

But Nedry is out trying to find the East Docks and meet his Biosyn contact. Still lost and disorientated in the dark and heavy rain, he goes offroad and gets his jeep stuck at the top of a small waterfall, and whilst trying to free his vehicle he has an encounter with a dilophosaurus. This does not end well for Dennis, who finally gets what's coming to him. He even manages to lose the shaving foam can in the struggle, which ends up buried in mud, never to be found....
Mmmmm...rump steak!

Come back with my lunch!
Alan rescues Tim from his predicament, whilst at the T-Rex paddock Ellie and Muldoon come looking for everybody. They find the toilet cubicle (and Gennaro) in pieces, and Ian Malcolm lying injured nearby, with a makeshift torniquet holding his leg together, and help him into the jeep. They also find the other car which has now fallen out of the tree, but footprints leading away from it indicate Alan and the kids may be alive. They then have to get the hell out of there as the T-Rex decides to make a sudden, unwelcome reappearance. This chase sequence works really and does a good job of showing off the impressive special effects as the T-Rex charges after the jeep and smashes through a whole tree in the process as if it wasn't even there. A fucking tree! It also slams the side of the jeep, massively denting it but eventually it gives up. Alan and the kids, now wandering about the park on foot find another large tree to climb up and camp in for the rest of the night. Tim decides that now would be the best time to start cracking bad dinosaur jokes. Alan briefly considers murdering the annoying little brat with the fossilised raptor claw he's been carrying around in his back pocket since the start of the movie, but thinks better of it and throws it away.

I ate their ice cream with a nice chianti
Over in the Visitor's Centre, Hammond shows his deep concern for his grandchildren by stuffing his face with large tubs of ice cream and talking about getting Jurassic Park back up and running again and regaining control of things. He comes across as a complete sociopath. Ellie tells him he never had control, and that only the people they care about matter. But then she starts eating the Jurassic Park ice cream too. That stuff must be pretty good. It's even more addictive than Ben & Jerry's by the seems of it.

Ah...ah....ah.....ACHOO!
The following morning, Alan and the kids awaken to find a brachiosaurus munching on the leaves out of their tree. After a bit of an initial panic, Alan tells the kids to think of it as 'kind of a big cow'. Yeah, right. A big cow that could swallow you whole or accidentally squish you without even realising you were there, that is. Lex tries to make friends with it, and it reacts by sneezing all over her and covering her in dino snot. Seems like the brachiosaurus saw the earlier part of the movie where Lex almost got herself and Tim killed with the lamp in the tour car. With absolutely no concern for his sister now covered in all kinds of unknown dino germs and gunk, Tim shouts out a cheery 'God bless you!' to the brachiosaurus. He understands. The three of them start making the trek back to the Visitor's Centre, and along the way, Alan notices some hatched dino eggs. The dinos are breeding. Remember earlier on when Ingen said they used frog DNA to complete the dinosaur DNA sequences? Well it's now come back to bite them on the ass big time, as some frogs have been known to spontaneously change sex in a single-sex environment. And not a single one of these 'experts' saw it coming. D'oh!

Hello, ladies! Come...to Dr. Malcolm
Ian Malcolm, not content with being a mere rock god earlier on, has now decided to be a sex god for the rest of the film. Phew. Universal Studios should've just upped the age classification to an '18' rating and had done with it. Lying with his shirt completely unbuttoned, he listens to the discussion with interest. Still locked out of the security systems by Nedry's password, Hammond wants to shut the power down completely to reset everything. Arnold isn't quite so sure. Arnold is still puffing on his cigarettes and worrying about things. But Arnold is Samuel L motherfuckin' Jackson so we take notice of him. Muldoon mentions something called 'The Lysine Contingency'...basically, the dinos have been genetically modified so that they can't produce an essential amino acid themselves and will die without it being administered to them after awhile...but the sociopathic Hammond is having none of it. He will have control back, dammit. And these dinos must be bloody expensive to create. So Arnold reluctantly flicks off the main power switch and out go the lights...he switches it back on and nothing happens. A computer screen flickers back into life though so something's worked. Arnold thinks that the shutdown tripped the circuit breakers at the other end of the compound in a maintenance shed, so he heads off in that direction. He says he'll be back in a few minutes minutes and everybody else relocates to an emergency bunker nearby.

Yum!
Outside, Alan and the kids are still on their way back. They encounter a herd of fleeing gallimimus, and as they duck out of harms way behind a fallen tree, the T-Rex comes charging into view and chomps down on one of the herd. This thing is fucking relentless and keeps appearing pretty much everywhere. After stopping for a brief moment to watch how it kills and eats it's prey, Alan grabs Tim and Lex and continues on to the Visitor's Centre.

I've got a big gun, and I aint afraid to use it
The lights still aren't back on, and Ellie is worried that something's gone wrong. She want to go and check the maintenance shed. Muldoon says he'll go with her and kits himself out with a combat shotgun. He doesn't offer one to Ellie despite having a whole locker full of them, but then she complains that Hammond is sexist when he offers to go instead of her. Ian Malcolm just stays where he is, lying on the table and trying to ooze sex appeal (see above). Outside, Muldoon glances over at the velociraptor enclosure to see that the fence has been broken and they've escaped. This is not good...in fact, Muldoon seems more bothered by the raptors getting out than the T-Rex. At this point, I was wondering why Muldoon hadn't offered Arnold one of his shotguns either. Or why John Arnold thought it would be a good idea to go outside unarmed. But then I remembered that he's Samuel L motherfuckin' Jackson and put it out of my mind. Nearby the maintenance shed, Muldoon realises that he and Ellie are being hunted by the raptors, and tells her to make a run for it. She gets to the maintenance shed and slams the door behind her. There's no sign of John Arnold.

Bzzzzzt!
Alan, Lex and Tim reach a deactivated electric fence they need to climb over. Because Alan still hasn't quite learned how to be nice around kids yet, he grabs hold of the fence, pretends to be electrocuted and scares the absolute shit out of them for a few seconds...considering all the other stuff Lex and Tim have been through so far, this is just plain mean. But whilst he's having his cheap laugh, they hear the T-Rex roar...and it doesn't sound very far away so they start hurrying to climb.  Meanwhile, in a maintenance shed not a million miles away, Ellie is busy restoring all of the park's power, resulting in Tim actually legit getting zapped before he has a chance to jump off the other side, and he goes flying backwards from the fence, comedy style. Luckily Alan manages to catch him.

Hey! I'm over here, dumbass!
Ellie meanwhile has her hands full. There's a raptor in the maintenance shed and it attacks just as she hits the last switch. Luckily, Samuel L motherfuckin' Jackson is here to lend a hand! A whole arm even, as that's pretty much all that's left of him at this point. Ellie escapes by the skin of her teeth. Nearby, Muldoon, still the only person with a weapon, is looking to bag himself a raptor. He hates these things. He understands them really well. He knows his shit. He's way too experienced to end up as raptor chow. But he also makes the schoolboy error of not looking left or right when he's crossing the jungle and doesn't see the raptor stalking him until the very last second. With his famous last words 'Clever girl!', Muldoon becomes the latest casualty.

Come on out! We won't bite!
Alan manages to revive Tim from the brink of death with CPR and finally they make it back to the Visitor's Centre...but there's nobody waiting for them. Alan leaves the kids in the dining area where he thinks it will be safe and goes off to find the others...outside he finds a traumatized Ellie. The raptors have now invaded the Visitor's Centre and go straight after the kids. Tim and Lex move to hide out in the kitchens (making sure to pass by a stylist en-route, check out their hair as they come running through the door), and the raptors who have now suddenly learned how to open doors follow them in. After a really tense few moments of ducking and dodging, they manage to trap one of the raptors in the freezer before Alan and Ellie come to the rescue with one of Muldoon's shotguns. Ellie still hasn't armed herself at this point for some reason. It's almost like she has a death wish.

Ooh, yeah...right there! That hits the spot!
They dash off to the Control Room where Alan and Ellie frantically try to hold the door shut against the other raptor, whilst Tim seemingly starts having a mental breakdown. Lex, who up until now has been the most useless character in the movie suddenly regains her composure and uses her Unix hacking skills to get the park security systems back online. The 3D graphics on the display screen chug along with all the speed and finesse of a snail sliding though quicksand. They sure don't make 'em back like they used to in 1993. After a last quick look at Dennis Nedry's softcore porn desktop wallpaper, Lex gets everything up and running again. Alan calls Hammond on the internal phone network to let him know the good news. As the phone rings out and we cut to the bunker, we see Hammond and Malcolm sharing a tender moment. Obviously it was getting pretty lonely down there, and Hammond was finding Dr Malcolm's raw animal magnetism way too hard to resist.

After firing a couple of shotgun blasts off at the raptor (and completely missing it) Alan, Ellie and the kids climb into the ventilation system to escape, and end up back in the main foyer of the Visitor's Centre, where the remaining 2 raptors attack again from both sides. Just as things are starting to look really bad, here comes the fucking T-Rex again as well! Seriously. This thing has a whole island to explore, but it never seems to be any more than a minute away from the people at any given time. Luckily, the T-Rex doesn't seem to like the raptors much and swiftly attacks and kills them, inadvertently rescuing Alan, Ellie and the kids in the process who escape in the confusion. The last shot we see of the T-Rex is of it standing tall in the Visitor's Centre, with a banner saying 'When dinosaurs ruled the earth' draped around it. It's a really fitting way to leave things, as the T-Rex now pretty much rules what's left of Jurassic Park. After one last sad look back at the island, and finally realising the error of his ways, Hammond gets onto the escape helicopter with the others and Grant stares out of the window at birds peacefully flying by, presumably wondering if his evolution theories have been correct after all. The main Jurassic Park theme plays us out as the credits start to roll.
It's all mine now!

The Summary: So what can be said about Jurassic Park? Sure, if you take the plot purely at face value, it does have it's inconsistencies and some of the stuff it presents as scientific fact is pretty much ludicrous. There's a whole group of people who seem to have been completely forgotten about later in the movie....all the Ingen scientists who were first seen in the lab at the start of Hammond's tour and the park ranger Ellie spoke to nearby the triceratops....what happened to them? Did they just knock off from work early and go back to the mainland? Did the T-Rex or velociraptors massacre them? How did Lex know how to navigate a system that she'd never seen before and pull out the correct files, even if her hacking skills are that damn good? Why the hell would you kill off Samuel L motherfuckin' Jackson anyway? But it builds up towards the action at just the right pace, and when the main action sequences do kick in, they're a blast. Even over 20 years later, the effects still look great and the performances from all of the main stars are pretty convincing...there's a few interesting personal journeys going on, with the likes of Alan Grant going from child hating douche to reasonably likeable hero, Ian Malcolm changing from cocky know-it-all mathematician to the voice of reason, and Donald Gennaro just becoming an even bigger twat than he started off as. Special mention too has to go to the John Williams soundtrack and the main theme...it's fantastic, fits every scene perfectly and really captures the mood and sense of wonder that Spielberg was trying to convey.

I still don't know quite why it didn't really capture my imagination so much when it was on the big screen (I still mostly blame the book) but it's definitely become one of my favourite movies over the last couple of decades, and I seem to enjoy it that bit more every time I revisit it, and it's a testament to it's legacy that it's already spawned 2 sequels with a fourth movie on the way. Hopefully it won't be too much of a letdown, but even if it is, then we'll always at least still have this to go back to.

TromaDogg's Final Verdict: 9/10

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Rain (PS3 download exclusive)

Rain, or 'rain' (without the capital R) as the game calls itself isn't a title that I'd heard of before I saw it crop up on PSN network a couple of years back. At the time I was really intrigued by the concept, but didn't actually download it due to being a bit short on cash, and so it just went completely out of my head for a long while. Fast-forward in time to last Xmas and I noticed it had been discounted so I decided to download it to give it a go at a later date. Recently, and still not having read any reviews, I decided to finally fire it up and try it out.

Developed by Sony's Japan Studio, of Ico and Shadow Of The Colossus fame, the game has a very similar Ico-style feel to it. You play as a young boy who, after seeing what looks like a girl being chased by a shadowy figure, travels through a doorway into an alternate dimension to rescue her. On the other side of the doorway, it's always dark and perpetually rains, and this is the whole premise the game is based around....in this world, most living creatures are invisible (including the boy and girl themselves) unless they're standing in the rain and can be seen by their ghostly silhouettes. It's a clever idea, and lends itself to some interesting puzzles, such as being able to sneak past monsters by walking underneath an overhanging ledge so you stay out of the rainfall and they can't see you. Unfortunately, this also applies to the monsters as well, but you can always see where you and they are by looking at the trail of wet footprints each character leaves behind.

As the boy searches for the girl he chased after, it soon becomes apparent that a large monster is constantly stalking the children and chasing them from area to area. Only ever referred to as 'The Unknown', you always get a sense of dread when this thing appears as it can outrun and kill you easily if it spots you. There is no combat in Rain whatsoever, so you have to outsmart it instead, which usually involves either finding the best places to hide, or distracting it whilst you sneak away. Distractions in Rain are caused by making noises (usually by jumping in puddles), or using an item such as a doll to attract the monsters' attention, and you'll have to learn to use them if you want to see the story through to the end. Thankfully, the checkpoints are fairly generous and you're never sent back too far if you die, and the game also offers hints if you keep making mistakes and die repeatedly.

Run, Forrest! Run!
Rain, like Ico before it manages to tell a compelling story with few words and without ever naming the main characters. By subtle use of the soundtrack alongside the incessant faint thrumming of the rain it even manages to convey emotions such as loneliness, fear, and joy when they're called for. It constantly manages to maintain your interest whilst driving you forward to the next chapter, and even though the basic game mechanics and how the puzzles work never really changes, it manages to keep things fresh by putting a slightly different spin on things each time you encounter a new enemy, or The Unknown comes charging after you to attack you again.

Rain certainly isn't the longest game you'll ever play (clocks in at around 7 hours) but it's just the right length for it not to outstay it's welcome and be remembered as an enjoyable experience rather than one that dragged. When it ends, it ends pretty much at the point where it can no longer present you with new ideas or ways to do things, and also has quite a satisfying conclusion to boot. On top of this, completing the game also unlocks 'memories' (additional storyline details) that are hidden around the levels in the form of floating orbs that only appear when you're close to them so it's a perfect excuse to relive the adventure at least one more time, even if it never quite manages to reach the same kind of heights that Ico and Shadow Of The Colossus did

TromaDogg's Final Verdict: 8/10

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - NES (also ported to various formats)

The original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ('Hero' Turtles, you say? GTFO)  console and computer game is a bit of an oddity. During 1989 at around the end of the cartoon show's second season, Konami released a 1-4 player scrolling beat 'em up based on the show into arcades. It was an instant massive smash hit. Not only was the game itself great...extremely playable, excellent looking and full of music and speech samples from the TV show (which was probably the most popular kid's programme at the time on both sides of the Atlantic), but the beat 'em up genre was already riding high on a massive wave of popularity at the time with games like Double Dragon, Renegade, Final Fight and Golden Axe all doing the rounds and raking in impressive amounts of money from arcade goers. So when Konami also released a Turtles game for the massively popular NES console, you'd be forgiven for thinking that it'd be a port of the arcade game.....but you couldn't be more wrong.

The Turtles game that hit the NES was a 2D single player hack and slash platformer with some overhead sections inbetween....a very different beast to what had wowed gamers in the arcade. The license alone still ensured that it was a top seller...over 4 million copies sold...but for many who wanted to play the arcade game at home with their friends, it was a huge disappointment.

Despite this, it's still quite an interesting and unique game in it's own right and does a decent job of capturing the atmosphere of the TV show, if nothing else. The music sounds fab for the most part and the areas are well drawn out and designed, with a good mixture of underground and sewer stages as well as a number of building interiors. Although you can only play as one of the Turtles at a time, you can also switch between them whenever you need to, so if one takes a lot of damage and is low on energy you can swap him out for a fresh Turtle or you can make tactical use of a specific Turtle's weapon....if there's guys on a ledge above you for instance, you may want to switch to Donatello and use his long reaching bo staff to take them out.
Going for a ride in the Wagon

This mechanic does however present problems of it's own. If you swap to another Turtle, the old Turtle still keeps it's existing energy bar and this carries across even when you defeat a boss and move onto the next stage so if you don't make sure to find a pizza and top up, you may find yourself unable to use a particular Turtle at a crucial moment. Picking up a pizza will only replenish the currently selected Turtle's health too, so if you've got all 4 needing a top up, you may have to scour around for more pizzas which can be pretty time consuming. The team members are also massively unbalanced too, with Donatello having both the most powerful and longest reaching weapon (fnar!), Leo being weaker but still having decent up/down attacks but then both Michelangelo and Raphael both being about as useful as a chocolate teapot with weedy short range weapons and no downward attacks. If one of the guys loses all their energy and gets captured, that's it...they're out of the game completely, permadeath style until the whole team goes down (and having to 'continue sends you right back to the start of whichever overhead map stage you're currently on, with any collected weapons or items removed)...this also makes things massively frustrating if you get stuck with either Mike or Raph near the end of a stage.

Oh, and did I mention that you can only continue twice, before it's back to the very start of the whole game?


Seaweed = death
The original TMNT game also has one of the most notoriously difficult levels in all of well known NES games....the underwater section by the dam where you have to defuse bombs. Whilst I've never struggled too much with this section myself (even after not having played the game for years, I was still able to do it first try, albeit with switching around of the Turtles to conserve their energy bars) it was a game breaker for many people. The swimming controls are sloppy and a little unresponsive, unseen currents keep nudging your Turtle towards hazards and making them swim slower in some directions, the amount of traps and hazards is pretty ridiculous, with spinning blades, electric zappers and even lethal seaweed out to get you...and on top of this the time limit is extremely tight and unforgiving....run out of time and it's an instant game over and back to the start of the dam level, and you have to go through a lengthy 2D platforming section before you even get to the underwater bit. It's extremely poor game design, and even though games back then were just generally tougher, a checkpoint or 2 at least wouldn't have gone amiss.
Who are these guys?!?

The variety of enemies is also...shall we just say...a little weird. While the bosses are the usual suspects like Bebop, Rocksteady and Shredder (although oddly enough no Krang, even though the Technodrome itself features in a boss fight), the normal enemies range from Mouser robots and a couple of Foot Soldiers to a downright bizarre selection of mutant eyeball thingies, giant frogs, some weird robot that spits fire at you and then explodes and attacks you with it's head, guys made out of fire, bomb dropping robots and strange flying things that attack in groups. Hardly any of these enemies appeared in the TV show, and it feels like an odd design choice for Konami to have put them in here. It actually makes me wonder if when they started development on the game it was something else entirely and then just had the Turtles shoehorned into it when Konami got the license. Its probably something we'll never know the answer to. They also respawn constantly whenever you leave the screen too, so be prepared to fight them over and over and over and over again.

So do I think it's a bad game? No. It does try do be a deeper experience than just going for the easier option of being a brawler, but it's one that could have (and should have) been quite a bit better than how it turned out. Some of the platforming sections are frustrating in the extreme, requiring fairly precise jumps and not helped by the floaty controls for jumping at all, and the team members being so unbalanced in their abilities really does hurt things, as does the inability to play with a friend. Some of the enemies take a silly amount of hits to kill...it's bad enough when you've got enemies on the first stage taking 2 or 3 hits to take down, but by the time you get to the Technodrome, a lot of the enemies are taking 5-6 hits a time each unless you've managed to collect a lot of subweapons along the way to take them down with, but it is still fun to fight the more familiar boss characters, and it's the only Turtles games so far (to my knowledge) that allows you to drive around in the Party Wagon and blast things so it does deserve some credit. Most people would be better off just sticking to one of the more well known scrolling beat 'em up games from the series though.

TromaDogg's Final Verdict: 6/10