Before The Elite Institute formed, Switch spotlights were relegated to our Twitch streams. One of the games covered on the channel was the excellent Jurassic World Evolution – a miracle port that provided Switch owners with an opportunity to create their own Dinosaur park.
Now we have Parkasaurus, which is essentially a more family friendly indie version of Jurassic World Evolution, except with fewer casualties and more hats.
Does this cute little game stand on its own four legs, or is it Rawr-ful?
Many thanks to Washbear Studio for the review code.
Anyone expecting a tale of ‘science gone wrong’ here, is probably going to be in for a bit of a surprise when booting up the campaign mode in Parkasaurus. Rather than going for the obvious plotline, instead the story is framed around alien dinosaurs who have crash landed on the planet and need to get the ship parts required to rebuild their rocket to get home. In order to do so, they set up theme parks to earn money and thus ship parts. It’s as stupid as it sounds and honestly never progresses beyond that unusual framing device that raises more questions than it answers. Of course, you’re here to build dinosaur theme parks so you probably won’t even notice the almost non-existent plotline.
There are fifteen missions in total (including the tutorial), and beating each one will earn you multiple ship pieces, depending on how well you do. Completing a level fast enough will earn you a bonus ship piece for your troubles. A curious choice for a genre designed to be slow-paced, perhaps, but it’s not necessary at all in order to proceed. Ship pieces serve two functions: firstly, they’re used to unlock more story missions; secondly, you can use them to activate additional buffs for your park. These only relate to the actual campaign missions though, which is great as it allows people to skip the campaign mode should they wish to go straight into the sandbox mode.
JURASSIC TIMES CALL FOR JURASSIC MEASURES
The reason I include the tutorial mission in the total mission count is twofold: firstly, the tutorial is decently lengthy and doesn’t feel as heavy handed as other games in the genre; the second reason is that the other missions feel like extended tutorials that focus on some other different mechanic in the game. There’s a fair amount of variety in the missions too, which should please those looking for something a little bit more structured, from the initial one in Toronto that has you building around houses in very limited space to an interesting one that forces guests to go on a long walk before reaching the park – meaning you need to make sure your park has plenty of space for guests to rest once they finally get there. None of these missions feel as liberating as jumping into the sandbox mode, but they’re still enjoyable and you can pick up some interesting tidbits about how the game works along the way too.
The sandbox mode offers a vast array of customisable options, with you being able to tweak things from the area you want to build on to whether you want money to be unlimited. There’s even a ‘Dinosaur Tycoon’ sandbox mode that ramps up the difficulty under preset options. It’s a nice touch, and the mode is only really let down by a bug that stops the world map location list from scrolling; you can still select the other levels, but you won’t be able to see what they are until you select it. Unfortunate, perhaps, but something that’s likely to be patched in the near future.
As for how park management works in Parkasaurus, it can be separated into two main focuses: Dinosaur happiness and guest happiness. The former largely revolves around your prehistoric pal’s need for food, companionship, environment, and health. You can change the environment with ease by use of fences, scenery and the terrain tool to get things just right. Everything controls well, although I found myself mixing up the button presses from time to time. Being able to pause time and manipulate things at your leisure certainly helps take the pressure off any clumsiness with the controls you may have. The needs for each biome can also be a little tricky to understand at first as they require a certain combination of things to both activate the relevant biome and make it healthy. Thankfully, examining the dinosaurs needs and the enclosure information should provide you with enough information to figure things out. Once dinosaurs are happy, things then become relatively smooth sailing providing that they have food and you don’t start overcrowding their pen; they may get sick from time to time, sure, but it’s not as constant of an issue as in Jurassic World Evolution. Dinosaur happiness should be your first priority when building your park too, since if they’re even a little bit miffed then they’ll start breaking down the fences and terrorizing the guests.
Speaking of which, guest happiness is also something you’ll need to manage and this is a little bit more traditional for the most part. Food, drink, shops, and bathrooms are all worthwhile purchases; but you’ll also need to make sure trash is taken care of and the place looks nice too. it’s quite easy to satisfy their dinosaur needs, and bigger carnivores will obviously generate more excitement than a mere Ankylosaurus. And do you know what excites them more than a T-Rex? A T-Rex in a space helmet, of course. Sticking hats onto dinosaurs is a sure fire way to make them more of a hit, and there’s a certain charm in seeing these polygonal predator donning silly headgear.
You can acquire more dinosaurs with a combination of fossils, found through the time portal that you conveniently have, and other materials such as science points and hearts – the latter of which are generated by happy dinosaurs. Hearts and Science points can be used to upgrade your park in various ways, which will also help you boost your rating and ultimately your profit. It’s a very rewarding mechanic even if there’s rarely any pressure. A bad park usually just means you have to wait for a bit. You can get more money by trading Heart and Science points at the bank, so you’ll never end up bankrupt. It makes for a far more laid back park management experience compared to most games in the genre. Heck, even dinosaurs escaping has very little consequence; guests dying doesn’t seem to affect your park rating much, so you can simply deal with it and carry on as usual. One time I had some dinosaurs break out and I didn’t even notice; a few tranquilisations and fence fixes later, and it was like nothing it happened. A stark contrast to Jurassic World Evolution, perhaps, but that also makes it a very different experience – which is much appreciated for someone who likes both games!
The simplistic presentation is charming in its own low-poly way, and the visuals certainly help make the game run very smoothly on the console, but they’re also a little bit disappointing when held up to scrutiny. Animations tend to be pretty bare bones, with some animations seemingly being either buggy or missing. One notable example, and probably the worst I experienced, was with rampaging dinos. After escaping and attacking guests, the hapless humans ended up turning into buggy floating T-posing models. Unfortunate, perhaps, but thankfully these issues tend to be uncommon enough that it doesn’t sour the overall experience. I’d also say that these types of problems are far more forgivable when compared to the performance issues that usually plague these types of games.
It might not be the deepest or most challenging management simulator out there, but Parkasaurus is a charming little title that should prove enjoyable for genre enthusiasts. It may have its issues, but at its core it offers something quite unique that also runs pretty well on the Switch too. Switch owners looking for a dino-mite experience should be able to get countless of hours worth of fun out of this one!