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Monday, June 8, 2015

Obscusion B-Side: Warpath: Jurassic Park: Open the Door, Get On the Floor... Everybody Fight the Dinosaur!

As a child of the 90s, it's no surprise that Steven Spielberg's movie adaptation of Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park is a favorite film of mine. As for the sequels, I think The Lost World: Jurassic Park is an okay movie, albeit with an amazing climax, while I'm actually a fan of Jurassic Park III; it's flawed, but it's a fun action/survival flick. With the fourth film, Jurassic World,  actually coming out this weekend, I wanted to review a video game based on the franchise. While there are plenty of JP games out there, I have my mind set on possibly the most bizarre-yet-ingenious one of them all.

One of the first things that comes to mind when you think of the term "dinosaur" is, easily, the concept of survival of the fittest. While there were plenty of herbivores during the Mesozoic Era, if you ask someone to name a dinosaur, most will answer first with a carnivore, which makes sense; there were tons of deadly creatures during this era. With that in mind, it sounds like a no-brainer to make a fighting game based on dinosaurs... Yet there are actually very few of them out there. The one people will quickly bring up is Atari Games' arcade fighter Primal Rage from 1994, though that one did have a couple of giant apes mixed in. The most recent one was Ubisoft's Combat/Battle of Giants: Dinosaur Strike for the Wii in 2010, but while that one had a neat line-up, the slow-paced & simplistic gameplay is a turn-off. Well, in 1999, Dreamworks Interactive teamed with Black Ops Entertainment to make Warpath: Jurassic Park for the PlayStation, a 3D dinosaur fighter that was released the same day as the original Medal of Honor (also developed by Dreamworks). So, how did a duo of American game studios handle a game about JP-styled dinos battling to the death?

Would you believe via a mix of Tekken & Virtua Fighter, with a dash of Battle Arena Toshinden?

Warpath: Jurassic Park has a line-up of 14 dinosaurs, utilizing a nice variety of bipedal & qudaripedal dinos, each of which is given a shortened name during gameplay:
-Mega Raptor
-Tyrannosaurs Rex (T-Rex)
-Triceratops (Trike)

While the game uses the Jurassic Park license, there isn't any story to be found to explain why these dinos are fighting each other. At the same time, however, it's dinosaurs fighting each other... Does there need to be a reason? Still, the game has more than enough call backs to the movie franchise, specifically the first two movies (as those were the only ones made at this point). Each dino has its own stage, with a good number of them being based on actual locations from the films. The T-Rex has the freighter that transported it to San Diego from Lost World, the Raptor has the pens its kind was housed in from the original, the Giga has the fence-side where the T-Rex broke free, & the Acro has the 76 gas station from Lost World, among other notable locations. Naturally, the dinos all have different cries, including the iconic roars that the T-Rex & Raptor were given. Each dino also has a quick intro for their respective stages, which are cool, but they only work for the specific dino for each specific stage; otherwise, the match starts right away. On the nitpick side, there's the fact that scale is obviously not a factor here. Every dino is portrayed as roughly the same height & overall size, even though a T-Rex should be way, way larger than something like a Raptor; this was done to maintain a sense of balance & fairness, obviously. From a fanservice perspective, Warpath nails everything (nearly) perfectly.

Flipping a dino never gets old.

That being said, fanservice can only go so far, so how does the actual fighting work out? Well, as brought up earlier, it's a surprising mix of notable 3D fighters. Control-wise, the four face buttons (X, O, Square, & Triangle) are mapped to four attack buttons, split between pairs of "Main Attack" & "2nd Attack", with light & heavy variants for each. The naming of these attack buttons makes sense, as it would be silly to call them "Punch" & "Kick", seeing that most of the dinos don't actually rely on such traditional fighting attacks. For example, the T-Rex doesn't use its puny arms, but rather uses its powerful jaws & large tail, so its pairs of attacks are based around those. Holding R1 blocks & pressing R2 taunts (which has actual uses that I'll get to), while L1 & L2 are used to sidestep, Toshinden-style. Each dino also has two throws, done by pressing X+Square or O+Triangle, while Square+Triangle does a launcher attack, which can launch an opponent into the air; follow that up with X+O to whack it in mid-air. X+O on it's own is also used to pounce on a downed opponent, where one can mash buttons to keep pouncing for up to 11 times for extra damage, while the opponent mashes to break free. Add to that a small handful of special attacks for each dino, done with quarter-circle motions & the like, and even pre-set combo chains, and this dino fighter is surprisingly more robust than you'd first think.

That's not even taking into consideration the extra mechanics in the game. First off, most stages feature some sort of interactivity, like boxes, boulders, or explosive barrels that can damage a dino when hit. Some stages even feature environmental hazards, like an electrified fence or the 76 gas station itself. There are also creatures like Compsognathus (a.k.a. "Compy"), goats, dogs, or even humans running around that can be killed in one blow. Do it correctly, though, and the killer will actually regain health by feeding; yes, even the herbivores can do this. Another mechanic is the frenzy meter, which is between a dino's health meter & the time counter. Constant aggressive behavior raises the meter, which when filled puts the dino into a crazed rage. During this period, the dino has access to two super moves, performed by pressing R2 & a Main or 2nd Attack; you can even hold R2 in preparation. Taunting via R2 works in concert with the frenzy meter, which raises the taunting dino's meter while slowly draining the opponent's. That being said, the super moves are maybe a little too powerful & can be abused, as the frenzy mode is time-based instead of use-based, not to mention that being knocked down doesn't protect you from additional attacks. Knocking down a frenzied opponent does negate frenzy mode, however, and if one finds the mechanic too cheap or abusable it can be turned off via the options.

So, taking all of those buttons & mechanics into consideration, how does the game play? Well, the first thing you'll notice if how fast the rounds go by. While the gameplay itself seems to take some notes from Tekken, the pacing is definitely more like Virtua Fighter. The default round time is set at 60 seconds, but rounds can easily be finished in less than half of that, even without frenzy mode being activated. Much like that series, a good combo can take off some nice health from your opponent, while playing defense doesn't require one to do so for a long period of time. Now the options do allow for one to add or remove time, or simply go infinite, but it really isn't necessary here. When the game came out there were complaints about the game feeling sluggish, and I'll admit that it's not without merit. However, I don't think it really hurts the gameplay much, because a dinosaur fighter isn't something I'll think up as being speed-based & heavy on combos, which require more active responses; the controls work for the kind of game it is. One last thing to bring up is that while I did say that each dino has a small set of special attacks & super moves, they're aren't anything fantastical, but instead are simply attacks that seem logical for each dino. That being said, there are a couple that are ever so slightly over-the-top, like the Anky's jumping 360 attack. It is cool to see that, compared to Primal Rage's special-laden style or Battle of Giants' super-simplistic style, Warpath goes for something that not only fits the way these creatures likely would have fought, but also feels like an actual fighting game.

While the visuals of the 32/64-bit era haven't always held up the best over time, Warpath's graphics is one of those exceptions. In fact, this might be one of the more graphically-impressive PS1 games in some ways, especially when it comes to how the dinos look. There's a lot of nice detail in each of the 14 dinos & the three color schemes they each have all look interesting; one looks "realisitic", another looks plausible, & the last is wild & outrageous. When doing battle, the dinos get damaged & bloody, matching the spots where they've been hurt, which is simply awesome to see. It's obvious that the dinos were given the main focus graphically, however, as the stages are much simpler in comparison. The environment don't look poor, mind you, but the textures, colors, & overall presentation for them aren't quite as detailed as the dinos; night stages are also kind of too dark to see any real detail. Reviews from '99 brought up things like tearing & other visual glitches, likely because the game did tax the PS1's hardware somewhat, but I honestly never really noticed anything like that. One thing I did have an issue with, however, was the music; specifically, how the game handles it. Maybe it's simply a glitch on my disc, or maybe it's because I was playing the game on a PS3, but whenever I did Arcade Mode the music's volume would automatically lower, usually after I have to continue. In fact. sometimes I would go to the Options afterwards & the music volume would be lowered; the game literally changed the volume on its own! Not just that, but the music is general is kind of quiet, even on the loudest setting; this was a complaint at the time with reviewers at the time, too. It's sad that the music isn't handled all too nicely, too, because it's really good... And it has a relation to what's coming up in theaters.

The music for Warpath: Jurassic Park is done by Michael Giacchino, who got his start helping on games like Mickey Mania & Gargoyles on the Sega Genesis before getting his first solo work on the PS1 & Saturn game based on The Lost World: Jurassic Park. As time went on, Giachinno would do the soundtrack for games like the Medal of Honor franchise (the World War II entries only) & the original Call of Duty, before moving onto TV & movies like Alias, Lost, The Incredibles, Up, & Jupiter Ascending. The cool thing, however, is that Giacchino's career has now come full circle, because his next movie soundtrack is for Jurassic World. Considering that the man has gone on to become an award-winning maestro, it's no surprise how good Warpath's music is. It's filled with orchestral pieces, usually making each dino sound intensely dangerous or larger than life. In fact, the music almost doesn't sound like what you'd expect from a fighting game. The genre tends to go more fast-paced, often rock-ish, but Giacchino's work instead sounds more ambient & fitting as background music. It definitely fits the kind of work you'd expect from the franchise, giving off a very strong John Williams-esque feel. Luckily, the entire soundtrack has been ripped onto YouTube, so check it out & judge for yourself how well it fits.

As for replayability, there is a fair bit of it, considering the time it came out in. In terms of play modes there is Arcade (play through eight enemies), Versus, Practice (which actually teaches you how to play!), Team, Museum (which is really cool to see added in), & Options, with Survival, Choice (a.k.a. "Vs. CPU"), & Exhibition being unlockable. In order to unlock these modes, and the bottom row of six dinos, one has to play through Arcade with every dino. The first time will unlock Survival & Choice, every even-numbered time will unlock a dino, & beating it with every dino will unlock Exhibition (plus a special FMV sequence). While such a method may seem archaic nowadays, I actually like it when it's done like this, as it encourages the player to try out every playable character in a fighting game, which I'm sure most players don't normally do. Beating Survival mode with each dino unlocks its respective third color option, too. The inclusion of team battle & a watch mode is also welcome. While most people wonder what the point of a CPU vs. CPU mode is, I do find it fun to see the CPU fight itself, as you sometimes notice some fun little habits it may have. Fighting the CPU can admittedly only go so far, though, as the AI is particularly annoying, especially on late-Normal or Hard difficulty. In fact, I think the CPU cheats, as I've seen the AI fill its frenzy meter in literally two or three hits, not lose any frenzy when I taunt, dizzy me with a single hit (though I could never dizzy it at all), & execute entire combo strings without even needing to hit anything, as if they were auto-combos. It's simply insane.

I won't make any excuses here, because I don't have to: Warpath: Jurassic Park is a gimmick-based fighting game, and it's gimmick is that it's a 3D dinosaur fighter. This isn't a game that was meant to be taken up by the hardcore fighting fanbase & looked at as an iconic tournament-level fighter. This is more like recent games like Aquapazza, Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax, or even J-Stars Victory Vs. in that it was really more for fans of Jurassic Park who wanted to see its take on dinosaurs fight each other to the death, as the movies admittedly are light on that. That being said, it's mix of Tekken & Virtua Fighter in the way the fighting plays out makes it pretty original, especially compared to it's closest competitors. This won't go down as an iconic fighting game & it does have some flaws that do age it somewhat now, not to mention that annoying music glitch, but there is some good fun to be found in Warpath: Jurassic Park; I certainly wouldn't mind seeing a new take on this idea, especially with the new movie. Sadly, this game isn't available on PSN as a PSOne Classic, and the disc itself has maintained its value somewhat. Let's just say that if you can get it for ~$20 complete, as I did recently, consider yourself very lucky.

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