Friday, October 23, 2020

REVIEW: Parkasaurus

When I was in high school I was a big fan of two games. One on the PS2 where you build and manage different types of theme parks, and another that was a flash game on Adult Swim’s website where you run a dinosaur zoo. Canada-based WashBear Studio has finally done the unthinkable - they merged both games into one.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of Parkasaurus courtesy of WashBear Studio.
Opinions are my own.

Parkasaurus challenges the player to plan, design and construct fabulous exhibits that maximize both the happiness of their Dinos, and the park guests’ satisfaction and willingness to spend money! Starting with only a dream and an abandoned park the player will discover groundbreaking technologies, new attractions and a special bond with each of their Dinos, all captured in stunningly beautiful modernized 3D flat design graphics.

Boasting impressively deep and robust building and editing tools, Parkasaurus isn’t just a classic tycoon style game with dinosaurs. Every facet of this game is filled with detail that shows how much passion the developers put into the project. Landscaping, construction, and park management are so well-throughout sometimes I forget there are dinosaurs in this game too.

Parkasaurus is lighthearted and while it may feature some legit dinosaur science, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Dinosaurs come in a variety of bright colors and there’s this gang of cute cartoony dinosaurs who offer you tips throughout gameplay. Also, apparently they came from space and built the pyramids. 

The game features two main modes. The first one I jumped into was the campaign. Set on a world map, the campaign begins with a very brief tutorial before unleashing you into the Americas. The tutorial barely scratches the surface of the games systems, but this is by design. Each of the campaign’s standalone missions elaborate on specific aspects of the game while also providing unique sets of tasks.

Some of these “missions” are so brief and vague they might as well have been part of the actual tutorial. Others are so hilarious in concept alone I wish there were more of them. One involves building a dinosaur zoo in the middle of a neighborhood without destroying houses, one arbitrarily jacks up the prices of fences and forces you to use the pre-built fences haphazardly thrown about.

My favorite involves opening a park in some guy’s backyard - but he refuses to get rid of his garden. So guests have to navigate a long maze before they get to your park and are so tired you better have benches close by or else they’re turn right around and leave.

The campaign missions, as fun and creative as they were, were weakened by their brevity. Upgrades for your park are acquired in two different skill trees that don’t carry over from mission to mission. As a result I found myself ignoring them altogether since they’re rarely useful within the missions themselves.

This is where the game’s other mode comes in. It’s a customizable sandbox with no specific goal. Build the park of your dreams, keep all of your upgrades, truly play your way. There are daily objectives too but they’re never anything too complicated. I’m not sure why this isn’t pushed as the “main” game mode since the campaign missions are more like extra challenges.

As I said before, the various systems that go into creating your park are really well done. Each dinosaur requires a different biome to and each biome requires its own balance of water, hills, and plant life. Creating the right biome for the right dinosaur is a fun challenge and allows for each exhibit to feel unique.

Games like this often involve a lot of waiting, but Parkasaurus knows how to make waiting fun. Since you spend most of the game zoomed far out, it’s fun every now and then to zoom in and watch your dinosaurs frolic about or see how your guests react to your newest decoration. You can even pop loose balloons for - as far as I can tell - no reason. Little touches like that make building a dinosaur park worth it.

I will say that construction on the park feels a bit janky at times. It took a while to get used to things like rotating objects and picking up an object and moving it to somewhere else could be a lot easier. There’s also no undo function which makes removing something a pain too. None of this is game breaking though and once I got used to it I didn’t really notice it. What this game really needed was a dedicated “build mode” of some kind.

One thing that really surprised me was the presence of theming options. Like I said before I loved playing this theme park game as a kid and nothing has really come close to it since. Parkasaurus allows players to customize the colors of the food shops - you can even choose the colors for the candy and balloons. You can even theme specific exhibits to have a magic triceratops area or a spooky t-rex area.

Another thing I didn’t quite get on both a gameplay level and a worldbuilding level is where the dinosaurs come from. Other than select challenge missions, all of your dinosaurs get hatched from eggs. To get these eggs you have to collect data from fossils which makes sense enough, but you have to go through a portal through time to give up these fossils? Why do we have to go back in time to dig up dinosaur fossils? We have fossils now.

Getting everything you need to make a single egg is also a bit cumbersome. You need a certain amount of two different types of fossils - which you dig up from a cute albeit repetitive mini-game - plus a gem of some kind. You unlock some gems as rewards but for the most part you have to buy them from a different shop than the place you get eggs. Coupled with the time travel digging, the whole process feels like way too many steps.

Parkasaurus is everything I wish I had when I was younger. You can spend hours building habitats and creating gorgeous landscapes in the sandbox mode or complete challenges in the campaign to hone and test your parkmaking abilities. This review took a little longer than usual because I kept putting it off to play more - and once it’s published I’m going back to my park!

Parkasaurus is available now on Steam. Click here to get a copy for yourself.