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About the Story
Ever since cloning dinosaurs became the cheap, cool way to build a theme park there have been lots of them cropping up. Luckily, this one still had a position open for your summer job! Little Dino Park is a place of fun for the whole family, built with safety in mind. Finally, a summer job that you can really sink your teeth into!
82nd Place - 26th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2020)
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Number of Reviews: 11
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Most Helpful Member Reviews
I’ve tried to note in these reviews where I think a post-Comp release or in-Comp update would help improve a game, but usually I do that as a late-in-the-day aside. For Big Trouble in Little Dino Park, let me shout it from the rooftops at the outset: I want to praise your game, but first please fix it! It seems very charming, with a funny premise, good prose, and what appear to be some interesting puzzles. But due to myriad crash and dead-end bugs, no save functionality, and a gauntlet-type structure that kills you a lot, I found it way too frustrating to make progress. Admittedly, I can see from other reviews that some folks have managed to power through, so maybe I’m just at a low ebb after running into similar issues in other Comp games, but still: help me help you.
Starting with the positive, BTLDP is immediately grabby – the summer-intern-at-Jurassic-Park setup lets you immediately know what you’re in for, so even as you’re going about your chores you’re just waiting for all hell to break loose (and despite that, it’s still a funny surprise exactly how it all plays out). The prose has a lot of exclamation points and ensures you’re viewing things with the proper mix of terror and strangely giddy enthusiasm (I mean, dinosaurs are cool, even when they’re chewing your face off). Like, there’s this ejaculation when the beasts free themselves from their cages:
"Chaos ascendant! A return to man’s most primal nature: prey! There is only one possible path to escape!"
How can that not make you grin? It does occasionally try too hard (there’s a Mosasaurs -> Mosas -> Moses -> parting the Red Sea gag that just profoundly doesn’t work), and there are a few comma splices and misspellings – though it’s hard to fault anyone for not being able to quite come to terms with “archaeopteryx”. Still, if anything these flaws in the prose reinforce the general teenager-who’s-getting-carried-away vibe.
After the prologue, the game opens up to offer three different areas to explore in search of a way to escape, and here, unfortunately, my troubles began. It’s completely appropriate that trying to escape a park of rampaging dinosaurs involves dying A LOT, so I can’t knock BTLDP too much for this. Where I can knock it, though, is for confusing design – going to the docks kicks off what the game flags as a sort of Frogger sequence, as you need to hop between various boats to make it to the one that’s pulling away. But many of the descriptions of each potential hopping-place are unclear, much less the spatial relationships between them, and there’s an added note of difficulty because part of the trickiness of the puzzle is that you’re presented with false choices (specifically, the swamped hulks of boats you’ve already hopped on and were subsequently smashed by a dinosaur). And then once you get to the boat, I was even more confused by what happened after an additional choice (Spoiler - click to show)(what to do after one of the crew falls off the escaping boat – I thought I could try to pull him onto the boat with me, but I think what’s actually happening is you’re deciding not to get on the boat and pulling him onto the disintegrating dock?). So this leads to a large amount of trial and error gameplay.
BTLDP appears to recognize that this is how most people will experience the story, and positions it as an intended part of the gameplay by listing a death count and a rewind option each time you snuff it.
Except “each time” is overstating it, due to the bugs – I’m not sufficiently familiar with Ink to diagnose exactly what’s going on, but there were a lot of times when I’d click on what looked like a perfectly valid link – even one I’d clicked on just fine in a previous playthrough – only to have the game hang, or print out some text while not offering any further links. There’s no save functionality so far as I could determine, so each time this happened I had to play through the introduction from scratch, which unfortunately loses most of its charm the 12th time through.
I’m holding this space open for hopefully revisiting an updated version of BTLDP, or perhaps coming back to it when I’m more mentally prepared for the whiplash between the whimsical, so-you-died-no-biggie presentation and the Dark-Souls-style grimly repetitive approach currently required, but for now I can’t say I got as much out of, or enjoyed, BTLDP as I’d hoped.
With a parody title that signals wackiness from the start, Big Trouble in Little Dino Park is a choice-based game heavily inspired by the classic Choose Your Own Adventure style, which follows a disaffected teen as they try to escape from, well, you can guess where this is going.
The setting and writing are hilarious, with very strong world building and snappy dialogue. Also, the amusing deaths and twists feel like loving throwbacks to CYOA, although I also like that there appears to be thought put into creating a puzzle that can potentially be solved to actually escape.
Unfortunately, the CYOA influence is a double-edged sword for me, because the experience can be frustrating. There’s a lot of branching leading to dead ends with trial and error required, and many choice points have that CYOA feeling of choosing between “go right” vs. “go left” with random-feeling consequences and little sense of agency. One other note is that while I appreciate the large sense of scale to the park, in some sections like the boat hopping scene it’s difficult to spatially follow what’s happening.
This is a medium-length Ink game where everything breaks loose at a dinosaur park.
I saw this game with one of the authors guiding us through it at the Seattle IF Meetup. I appreciate the witty humor and the world model that lets you travel around.
I think there are a few things that need to be ironed out. There are instant deaths without undo, but it does have save points to help you restart. A bit more troubling is that there is often not any indication of what path is most likely to lead to success. This was typical of CYOA books, but those books allowed instant undo and instant traversal to any page at any time. I’ve often thought that successful ‘puzzly’ IF is based around making the player feel smart, so giving them hints to pick up on is really helpful.
The other thing that I think could be improved is the story pacing. I think the big moment in the middle needed a bit more buildup. It’s possible that there were more clues hidden in some of the options, but as Emily Short has recommended in the past, if you’re writing a branching game make sure that it’s impossible for the player to miss your story. If a beat is essential to understanding what’s going on, make sure that story beat is hit in every playthrough.
Otherwise, I found this game fun. I couldn’t get to an ending (in the Frogger version, the best I got was rescuing a guy out of water before dying, and in the lab, I got in a weird repeated cycle where I kept getting ‘sneak’ and ‘distract’ and one other option, and I couldn’t figure it out). Glad to see Ink being used!
-Polish: There were a few typos (like helicoptor) and the laboratory ending with the dinos seemed off somehow.
+Descriptiveness: The writing is full of interesting descriptions of things.
+Interactivity: Even though I was frustrated, I felt like I had real options near the end.
-Emotional impact: I felt like there needed to be one or two additional scenes for buildup before dramatic sections (that set up the feeling or more tension)
+Would I play again? I'd like to find a successful ending.
The authors note that they completed this game in thirty days; it appears there was not enough beta-testing done, as within ten minutes I found a game crashing bug that purged my save point. Looking at other reviews, it appears I am not the only one. I stopped playing after that.
Prior to that, I found the premise somewhat intriguing. You essentially need to solve a long puzzle to escape a dinosaur park when your prehistoric friends get released. It's light-hearted and goofy. But for me it was hard to follow due to the grammar. In one choice early on, you are allowed to "Ask if you can pet the Ankylosaurus again," even though to this point in the story you have never seen a dinosaur nor has the ankylosaurus been mentioned. In a later point in the story you are hopping between boats, Frogger-style, and it's hard to keep track of which boats the game is referring to as in the text they're often just referred to as "the boat," despite there being several around you.
It sounds like those who have managed to finish the game have enjoyed the process of solving it, so hopefully if there is a future release it will be more accessible.
You play a kid working your summer job in a theme park with a teeth-grindingly twee theme. But everything goes wrong when the dinosaurs are let loose!
It’s technically sound, though some proofreading would have ironed out a few typos here and there. It did have the breadth I expect of an IFComp game, though with the multiple ways to die I almost expected a running tally or achievement board.
The biggest thing for me was that I found it hard to be invested in the player character. With few details on who the player character is, the stakes for their survival becomes relatively low. The way the story is laid out also means the player’s first time navigating the park is during the attack: without me, the player, being able to make a plan, the deaths might as well be random.
The setup is not bad, really; with more preamble and more distinctive characters I might even get invested in it. But as it is now, it feels more like a skeleton not given enough flesh.
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This is version 6 of this page, edited by Paxton on 7 January 2021 at 2:04pm. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item