In a perfect world, dinosaurs would be as popular as zombies in modern media. For an all too brief period in our nostalgic past (known as the 90s) they almost were thanks to the huge release of the Jurassic Park film in 1993, spawning a gigantic franchise of action figures, games, and sequels that kids like me ate up with our plastic dinosaur spoons. Sadly even that mania wouldn’t last and most dinosaur games these days are relegated to gimmicky first person shooters. Despite a horrifying lack of quality dinosaur games in the video game world, we’ve managed to piece together a top ten list featuring the sharpest of teeth and the scrawniest of arms.
Top Ten Dinosaur Games
This uniquely controlled, giant 3D exploration of a dinosaur infested island was supposed to be an amazing game changer, but ended up horrendously disappointing with hilariously awful controls and frustrations. It became laughably famous for being able to look down at you character’s prominent breast tattoo to check your current health status, and the floating multi-jointed arm was weird and awkward. It’s still an intriguing concept, combining more of a subdued adventure or survival horror theme rather than pure run and gun action. Even with all its problems, it still had dinosaurs in some pretty spiffy 3D graphics of the time.
Star Fox Adventures was not a Star Fox game at all; in fact Nintendo rebranded Rare’s last title as a console developer from an original story set on Dinosaur Planet to suddenly starring Fox McCloud, despite our furry starship pilot being on foot for the whole game. Basically, Star Fox Adventures was a Zelda clone with with Fox and dinosaurs, and I estimate that makes it at least better than half the games ever made. If you can get past the fact that it’s a Zelda game and not a Star Fox game, it’s a surprisingly great action-adventure title.
Fighting games were all the rage in the early and mid 90s thanks to the crazy big successes of Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. Primal Rage attempted to chomp on a piece of the pie with a prehistoric fighting game including several badass (but mostly super fake) dinosaur and giant ape combatants. Primal Rage tried to be even more gory than Mortal Kombat with exploding hearts and dissolving brains and got away with it as the only humans involved were running around the battlefield ready to be munched on by our giant heroes. As far as fighting games go it was fairly mediocre, but dinosaurs make any game approximately 350% better making it one of the best games in the genre.
Chaos Island had a pure winning formula – take the solid real time strategy gameplay of the popular Command and Conquer series, add dinosaurs that you can breed and use as soldiers, and baste liberally with the most famous of dinosaur brands. After cooking at 400 degrees for 40 minutes you come up with a really stupid cooking analogy but a pretty damn good RTS game loosely based on The Lost World. Sadly it was criminally short and developers not named Blizzard rarely touch traditional strategy games let alone ones that you can breed your own dinosaur army. Our dreams of large scale dino war remain unfulfilled.
It’s Pokémon + dinosaurs and that has either instantly sold you or you’re a terrible person. The combat tries some new innovations with front and rearline placement and a regenerating point system for your moves as well as the typical elemental affiliations. Where it really shines is the actual acquisition of fossils, as it’s one of the few games to make me enjoy using the Nintendo DS stylus to track fossils in the ground using sonar and chip away and clean fossils during a fun minigame to try and get the best possible rating. Better fossil rating = a better vivosaur. Getting kids to have fun with paleontology – good on you Fossil Fighters! I pray every day to the Nintendo handheld gods that we get an awesome entry for the 3DS.
The premiere Nintendo 64 title and still one of the best dinosaur games, Turok showed off that fancy 3D engine with its incredibly bad draw distance and fog effects, balancing it with the sheer awesomeness of battling dinosaurs in a first person shooter. It’s one of the few standard dinosaur games that makes everyone’s list and is widely regarded as one of the best in the genre. Wait, dinosaur games still aren’t their own genre? I hate this world.
You think it’s cheating to have two Turok games in one list? You think it’s because there aren’t enough awesome dinosaur games to fit on a single top ten list? You think I’m on the verge of tears as I contemplate your soul piercing inquiries? Well Turok 2 was an awesome sequel and fans generally consider it the better game. With dinosaur fans it’s no contest – the inclusion of an amazing Goldeneye-esque multiplayer mode with a PLAYABLE RAPTOR to eat your friends with makes it one of the best games ever. Also, honorable mention to Rage Wars, a spinoff that realized the best part of Turok was the insanely awesome multiplayer deathmatches.
Hands down Chrono Trigger is the best game on this list and one of the greatest of all time. But is it the best dinosaur game? Or does the inclusion of a prehistory section complete with evolved sentient dinosaur people make it one of the best games of all time? If you’ve been paying attention to this list the answer is pretty obvious. One of the many endings takes place if you beat Lavos before defeating the leader of the Reptites in 65 million B.C., resulting in every character in modern times being a Reptite as dinosaurs rule the world. It is obviously the true ending.
This sequel to the original Jurassic Park 16 bit game was very loose with its official source material as it turned Dr. Alan Grant into a one man army with an arsenal of guns and featured only a handful of levels. However each level was gigantic, could be played in any order, and were actually based on the book rather than the film (such as the aviary and the ship). The reason it’s one of the best dinosaur games, however, is because of its subtitle. Rampage Edition added the real hero of the franchise, the plucky velociraptor. Our dino anti-hero controlled and played completely differently, essentially adding a whole different game on top of an already great one and blowing my dinosaur addled kid mind.
It took ten years after the original film’s release, but fans finally got the perfect Jurassic Park video game. Operation Genesis takes the Rollercoaster Tycoon and SimCoaster formulas and injects the Jurassic Park brand with grace and love. It was the park builder JP fans had wanted and always deserved as it let us build up our own island of dinos complete with concession stands, jeep rides, and every dinosaur even hinted at in the films and books. You had to turn a profit by keeping up with security, researching new dinosaurs and tending to their needs. Their AI was extremely impressive as carnivores would actively hunt herbivores if put in the same paddock, while a group of triceratops could take down a Tyrannosaurus if they felt threatened. Scenario style missions and an open Site B format if you prefer the second film’s island to the first gave players all the options they wanted, and even beyond that the game’s modular nature was easily modable. Operation Genesis is easily one of my all time favorite games, and definitely the greatest dinosaur game.
Pretty much any game that has dinosaurs as a main focus instantly gets my attention, but sadly it’s used more to draw your attention into an otherwise mediocre game, rather than exploring new grounds. Where’s my freeform exploration game on an island of dinosaurs? Where’s my modern version of Trespasser that doesn’t suck? Where’s my Dino-Riders style Battlefield game? Dinosaurs are awesome because they actually existed and retain their awe-inspiring fascination to this day, and they deserve better in the video game world.