People are morbid. If there’s an accident on the freeway, they slow down when they pass so they can get a better look, and when a serial killer is on the loose, they tune into news channels like never before. How is that pertinent here? Because Dino Island, from French developer Monte Cristo Multimedia, is the software equivalent of a car wreck. It’s ugly and it’s gruesome and bits of it are scattered all over the place. So if you’re one of those morbid people who wants to know all the grisly details, keep reading. Otherwise, suffice it to say that Dino Island isn’t a game you want to play.
The goal in Dino Island is to run a dinosaur theme park. Since there have been several theme park management games released in the last few years, you’d think developer Monte Cristo Multimedia would have had an easy time getting the basics right, and that if they had stumbled anywhere, it would have been in adding dinosaurs to the mix. But you’d be wrong. Dino Island is a disaster from start to finish, and no part of the game works.
For starters, at the heart of every management game is making money. Maybe you have to balance profits with making guests happy, or maybe money is the only thing, and you just need to figure out how to gain it quickly enough. But in Dino Island, money is barely an issue at all. It takes almost no effort to make money in the game -- I even tried to lose money without success -- and so the only question is how quickly you earn it. Now, if Dino Island imposed a time limit on you, money would still be a factor... but it doesn’t, and so one of the more effective strategies in the game is to buy a few dinosaurs and set up a few attractions and then wander away for an hour. Then when you get back, you have lots of money for expanding your park. (And yes, it’s a bad sign when leaving the game to watch TV is a good strategy.)
The other mainstay for amusement park management games is keeping guests happy, and Dino Island even tries something new here. It doesn’t just have guests; it has classes of guests, and the classes all want different things. For example, children like large, pretty dinosaurs while “hooligans” want violence. The problem is, between them the classes like everything, and so in order to make them all happy you just need to construct a variety of different attractions, and display a variety of different dinosaurs, things you’d do anyway. Plus, Dino Island allows you to make dinosaur shows (mostly races or fights), and it’s easy to make guests happy with the shows.
In other words, Dino Island isn’t a very good strategy game. That means for it to work, it has to succeed in at least one of two other areas: either the game has to look and sound really good so it’s fun to watch, or the dinosaurs have to be really fun to deal with. Let me start with the dinosaurs. Dino Island sounds promising in this department, because not only do you get to display dinosaurs and create shows for dinosaurs, you also get to play mad scientist and create new dinosaurs. But none of these things really work well. As opposed to, say, Zoo Tycoon: Dinosaur Digs where you have to give dinosaurs the right type of terrain and foliage, creating a dinosaur exhibit in Dino Island is simplicity itself. You just have to specify how big the exhibit should be and how often farmers should deliver food to it, and you’re done. So there isn’t anything to it.
As for dinosaur shows, they end up being pretty boring. Dino Island allows you to create four types -- races, obstacle courses, fights, and destruction derbies -- and it even allows you to add things like fire walls and rocks and pits and power-ups into the arena, but the shows just don’t work because they have to be short (less than one game hour), because they’re not all that different from each other (an obstacle course is just a race after all, and all the show floors have to be flat rectangles), and because they’re not entertaining to watch.
That leaves using the laboratory to create new dinosaurs, and here, finally, Dino Island has some success. Creating dinosaurs is fun, especially later in the game when you gain access to “mutant rays,” which can cause all sorts of weird things to happen. But Monte Cristo even messes this area up. For some reason cloning dinosaurs fails about half the time (costing you money regardless) while splicing two types of dinosaurs together never fails (and is far cheaper, too). And for some reason you can’t just keep dinosaur genes around to play with. If you want to use a dinosaur’s genes to create a new dinosaur, you have to have the dinosaur residing in your park, meaning you have to create space for a lot of boring, intermediary dinosaurs.
Finally, Dino Island isn’t any fun to watch. For starters, its graphics engine is just plain bad. Dinosaurs are modeled reasonably well, but everything else suffers from surprisingly low polygon counts (whatever you do, don’t zoom in to look at the guests), and for some reason the game didn’t recognize my video card (those nVidia cards are pretty rare after all), and so it looked bad and ran poorly on my machine. Plus, there isn’t a lot of variety in the game. There are only six rides for guests to go on and only six food stands for them to visit and -- hmm, are you sensing a trend yet? -- six types of foliage to use, and so you have to plop down identical items all over the place, which is boring. Worse, you can’t even personalize objects in any way by setting prices or changing colors, and so when I say identical I mean identical.
Should I move on to how awkward and unfriendly the interface is, or how you can’t modify terrain, or how there’s barely a staff to deal with, or how you have to manually add a save directory so you can save your game -- or have even you morbid readers had enough by now? Really, I’ve reviewed some bad games in my time, but Dino Island is the first that was completely and seemingly intentionally bad. So don’t wait for the game to hit the bargain bin; it’s not a good pick-up even if you find it in the garbage bin.