Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Magical Dinosaur Tour

Victor Musical Industries / Yazawa Science Office / Fun Project / NEC

Few things are quite as fascinating to four-year-old dudes as prehistoric animals, and it's pretty easy to understand why. We're talking about the inspiration for countless toys and pop-up-book tales: remarkable, gigantic beasts, many of which flaunted awesome natural weaponry and armor. We read of the interesting methods they used to survive, we observed their enormity firsthand via skeletal recreations, and we envisioned the thunderous battles that took place between prodigious rivals-to-the-death (long before Optimus Prime vs. Megatron, there was Tyrannosaurus Rex vs. Triceratops!). Of course, the fact that these great entities actually roamed the Earth at one time made them all the cooler. There's even an element of mystery involved in their history, as no one has ever been able to suss out the true reason for their demise.

Of course, there comes a point when we dudes move on to robots or whatever and then to girls... and yeah, we pretty much stick with girls from there on out. But something about dinosaurs always remains alluring to us. Heck, I still get psyched up whenever I encounter a good dino-boss in a video game.

But then, fighting with dinosaurs is different from sitting around and learning about them. Victor Musical Industries hoped to appeal to the four-year-old dude in all of us with Magical Dinosaur Tour, which isn't so much a game as it is a made-for-television encyclopedia.

And it's a deep one at that. We get much more than a mere handful of entries and images here; this Tour provides lots and lots of information on dozens of types of dinos. And rather than sticking with basic statistical talk, the writers went ahead and included unexpected bits that reveal errors scientists had made concerning certain discoveries or explore mysteries that remain unsolved regarding incomplete fossil structures. Many entries even include an illustration of a human alongside the dino drawing for the sake of size comparison.

And the Tour isn't all about encyclopedic entries. You can read up on dinosaur "record holders" (for size and speed and whatnot) and peruse topical passages loaded with interesting trivia.

There's even a brief cinematic sequence that explores the possible reasons that the creatures died off. You've likely come across these theories before (if you've done any reading on dinosaurs at all), but the animated slide show is an enjoyable little presentation nonetheless.

I'd known about most of these elements and options before I actually loaded up Dino Tour to experience it for myself, and while they all sounded nice, I was hoping for more: I wanted modes where the creatures were displayed in motion. Without some form of animation incorporated into the proceedings, we'd might as well read a book or visit a museum instead of messing around with this "game." Thankfully, animated sketches are indeed provided, often augmented by roars and howls emitted by the in-motion beasts, and some of the situations that are played out are extremely interesting. A few are comedic, focusing on, for instance, the misadventures of a blundering giant attempting in vain to snatch up a little meal, but many are gory affairs depicting the realities of the dinos' death-awaits-around-every-corner lives.

You can even watch a battle between a hefty Apatosaurus and a fierce Allosaurus play out in two ways: one shows how the plant eater could come out on top, while the other results in a bloody victory for the predator (...and his late-on-the-scene ally. Cheaters!).

Sadly, neither the art nor the animation during these sequences is exemplary. The narration that accompanies the skits is strangely lifeless, with the narrators babbling in monotone and frequently pausing for no apparent reason (but to move on to a new script card, perhaps?). Also, the loading times can become annoying, as can the less-than-stellar chip tunes.

Magical Dinosaur Tour is nice for what it is. While it does have a sense of humor, it doesn't dabble in mini-games and is fairly low on interaction in general. Buy it and you'll get a veritable encyclopedia--an informative but not perfectly crafted one.

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