Review: Battle of Giants: Dinosaurs (Nintendo DS)

Battle of Giants: Dinosaurs (NDS)
Developer: Ubisoft Quebec
Publisher: Ubisoft
Genre: Fighting
Release Date: 10/14/2008

In this corner, weighing in at… well I can’t be bothered to Wiki it, but let’s say Rather A Lot, Really… Allosaurus! And in the red corner, weighing in at Probably Just A Bit More Than The Other Guy… Albertosaurus! Gentlemen, shake your teeny-tiny hands at each other and come out fighting! *DING-DING-DING*

1. Story / Modes

Battle of Giants: Dinosaurs is a pretty simple story. Giant, lumbering beasts that nature has singled out for extinction wander around eating, fighting, growing feathers, stealing eggs and digging up fossils. I could go into more detail, but it would get pretty redundant. I mean, how many ways can you say, “Dinosaurs fight each other”? It’s called Battle of Giants: Dinosaurs for crying out loud. I think we’d all be pretty surprised if it was a tea party simulation game.

Anyways.

The game does feature multiplayer for up to 6 players, both with or without cards. If a player doesn’t have a card, though, they’ll have to use a basic dino rather than one of the “evolved” ones.

There’s also a quick match mode where you can fight any enemy you’ve fought in the game so far, including the phone booth.

Yes, I said phone booth. Maybe the story isn’t as simple as I thought.

Story / Modes Rating: Good

2. Graphics

The graphics are pretty solid through most of the game. There’s some nice 3D highlights of the dinosaurs, especially some good close-ups when you’re evolving them. The backgrounds are okay, switching from 2D wandering to 3D fight arenas.

Level design is simple, and a little repetitious, but otherwise satisfactory. Each gives you a nice sense of the area you’re in. Rain forests will feel different from grassy areas, which are much different from deserts. Each has it’s own unique plant life, which could have been a little more accurate for my taste, but that’s really just nit-picky.

The fights are animated smoothly (better, in fact, than several games I’ve reviewed recently on hardware more sophisticated than the DS’s.) and are enjoyable to watch. The giant cartoon stars that pop out when you hit your enemies are a bit much, but it’s a kid’s game, so I can’t really complain. Though I will: Kids today don’t need cutesy stars. Especially when they’ve got a T-Rex mopping the floor with a Deinonychus. I’ll give you that blood might be a bit much for the 6-10 crowd, but still. Dinosaurs are all about violence. End of story.

The wandering around scenes keep the dinos in 3D, and your character keeps any distinguishing features you’ve given them. Another nice feature that is all too often left out of games, I might add. After a battle when you need food and water to replenish your health, a little icon appears over your character’s head. I think they missed a marketing angle here by having the dinosaurs eat at Arby’s and have the little hat appear. But then I would’ve complained about selling out and advertising in kids games and given them a lower score. So yeah. Good job, you.

Graphics Rating: Very Good

3. Sound

The music is barely noticeable, and the roars are pretty good; that’s as far as I can go in the plus column. To be blunt, most of the sound sounds like the leftovers from a carnival game.

Every time you hit an opponent, there’s the clanging of a bell (coupled with the aforementioned cartoon stars). When working on the drawing round there’s a loud buzzer if you miss the line, and a klaxon that goes off as you run out of time. It gives it a goofy, sideshow feeling, which really doesn’t mix well with the actual game. I guess it’s hard to straddle the line between a kid’s game and something more mature, but it still comes across as awkward.

Sound Rating: Mediocre

4. Control / Gameplay

The game plays quite simply. Use the stylus to walk around the screen (map at the top, or objectives, your choice) and look for dinosaurs to fight and fossils to dig up. Defeating opponents earns you eggs which can be used to evolve your fighter.

Fighting is where the interesting part comes in. Rather than mashing buttons or memorizing combos, you choose your attacks based on which ones you’ve unlocked and your speed, and are assigned a difficulty rating. The rating is then translated into part of a picture of your opponent that you must trace within a time limit. The more difficult your combo, the more difficult the picture. You’re rated based on the percentage completed at the end of the time limit (which is also related to difficulty) with penalties deducted if you went off track. Higher percentages lead to damage bonuses and the chance to attack first. After that, it’s automated. Sit back and watch your dinosaur pummel the other one.

I know, it sounds absurd. But it plays really well. It’s simple, yet challenging, and a nice change of pace for a fighting game. It also lets you enjoy watching the fights without worrying about having to keep up with what’s going on.

After your fight, if you’ve taken damage, you’ll need to eat and drink. Wandering around the level you’ll find fallen dinosaurs to snack on, streams and pools to drink from, and vegetation to eat if you’re an herbivore. Eating and drinking fills your health up to full, but it will decline over time as you get hungry again.

The dinosaurs don’t really die when you defeat them, so the game has provided a couple of solutions. When you encounter another dino that you don’t want to fight, you have the option of opening a mini-game where you slide the stylus back and forth quickly. This intimidates the foe, who cowers and turns translucent, allowing you to pass. You can also, err, stroke your dino with the stylus which causes him to roar, scaring away all the other creatures. Yeah….

Once you’ve collected enough eggs, you can evolve your dinosaur in a special cave called the Grotto. You can choose from feathers (for speed), bones (for defense), and thorns (for attack). I don’t know why the spikes are called thorns. I’m guessing it’s a translation thing. The nice thing here is that you can always change your configuration. If you need more attacks, you can trade in a previous evolution and replace it. Each evolution changes the look of your fighter, so you can select where on the body you add each piece. You’re also given the option to change your coloration and stripe pattern. Combining the two options can lead to some interesting results. For instance, I kept switching mine between the affectionately named Hell-Cow and Punk-Rock-Chicken. I don’t think that was the original intent, but there you have it.

The best part of the gameplay, though, are the hidden enemies. As you collect fossils to beat the stage, one of them will randomly be a hidden enemy. These are no ordinary dinosaurs, however. No, someone got the idea into their head that it would be funny to have Jurassic predators fight modern machinery. Like I said, the first enemy is an old fashioned, red, British telephone booth. For a second I thought I was going to fight the TARDIS, or perhaps Bill and Ted. Later on you’ll fight tractors, firetrucks, and a tank that shoots a spring loaded boxing glove out of its turret. I don’t know who’s idea this was, but it’s sheer genius.

Control / Gameplay Rating: Very Good

5. Replayability

I’ve seen games that don’t have a replay, but this is the first I’ve ever seen that looks like you’ve got the option, and then won’t let you. When you beat the game and start a new game selecting your old character, a message pops up telling you that you’ve already beat the game, so there’s no point trying that character.

How hard would it have been to scale up the enemies and double up on the enhancements? Platinum mods would have worked fine. A second run through wouldn’t have hurt anything. As it stands, it leaves you almost feeling like all your work was for naught.

Once you get past your hurt feelings, though, there’s lots more opportunities. Playing through the game once automatically unlocks all the other dinosaurs. And while different dinos from the same group all play alike, you’ve still got 5 other types to choose from, each with their own bonuses and starting stats. So if you really want to explore all your options, there’s quite a lot of play left in the game.

Replayability Rating: Very Good

6. Balance

The balance in the game is skewed towards easy. I went through the whole game without dying once. In fact, I can only think of two occasions where I even came close. Now some of the fights are drawn out affairs, and some come really close, but you never really get the sense that things might end badly for you. Remember developers, just because they’re kids doesn’t mean you have to use kid gloves. Smack ’em around a bit. You’ll enjoy it, and they probably deserve it anyways, little snot-nosed brats.

Balance Rating: Mediocre

7. Originality

While it’s no Primal Rage, Battle of Giants: Dinosaurs is a pretty unique fighter. The drawing system is actually pretty clever when you think about it, and makes for a nice challenge in a genre filled with button mashers. The ability to evolve your fighter, and the fact that you aren’t locked in to your evolutions, is another nice addition. It’s nothing that will redefine fighters for years to come, but it does make this game stand out somewhat.

Originality Rating: Very Good

8. Addictiveness

It’s not addictive in the “gotta play it now” sense, but more in the “that was fun, I think I’ll play another level” sense. It’s a very mellow, low-level addiction that keeps you playing when you don’t have to be. Nothing that can’t be put down easily, but you’re there playing it all the same.

Addictiveness Rating: Above Average

9. Appeal Factor

When I got the game, especially after my last review, I wasn’t expecting much. Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised at how much fun the game was. Again, it’s nothing revolutionary, just the simple kind of fun from a well made game that plays well. Also, how can you not smile when your Triceratops is beating up a school bus or a tractor? It’s just not possible.

Appeal Factor Rating: Enjoyable

10. Miscellaneous

While it’s no National Geographic-based game, Battle of Giants: Dinosaurs brings something all its own to the genre. It’s just one of those games that’s fun. It’ll pass the time for grownups, and probably be entrancing to children. It’s nice to see a solid, well put together game that doesn’t really have any problems. I never thought that would be a rarity, but there you have it.

Miscellaneous Factor Rating: Very Good

The Scores

Story / Modes: Good
Graphics: Very Good
Sound: Mediocre
Control / Gameplay: Very Good
Replayability: Very Good
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Very Good
Addictiveness: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Enjoyable
Miscellaneous Factor: Very Good
FINAL SCORE: GOOD GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
While it’s not a game you should rush out and purchase immediately, it’s definitely worth a play. And should you find yourself on a long car trip with small children, it would make an excellent pacifier for the little angels.

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