Exhuming an extinct species
Dinosaur Hunting has been something of a passion project for me. I was enamored with it as soon as the preview coverage started in 2002 and only grew more excited as it was announced for a U.S. release and subsequently delayed out of existence alongside Western publisher Metro 3D. By 2006 I had found a copy of it but was stumped by the Japanese text and distracted by the shiny new Xbox 360. It’s not as impenetrably Japanese as a dating sim but the text is important enough that it took creating a full-on Youtube playthrough series for me to finally understand the game and finish it.
The story is so loosely based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘The Lost World’ that one of the hunters is an author named... Sir Arthur. Locked away from the world on the cliffs of the French Guiana, it’s discovered that the area has become unstable and a pair of European Lords are determined to keep the dinosaurs from going extinct again. Their first attempt results in hundreds of dead scientists but puts a lot of convenient gear and tips in place for the B team; a group of four international hunters who are tasked with tranquilizing as many animals as possible in eight days. The story spins off into wonderful anime-meets-Scooby-Doo territory from there, told through several cutscenes which contain practically the only English in the game.
Somewhere between Cabela’s and Turok, the game wants you to methodically scour the environment for clues to take down each animal in a single shot but it isn’t afraid of making raptors jump out of the foliage at you. You’ve got a pistol, shotgun and rifle that all fire tranquilizer rounds (yes, a tranquilizing shotgun!) and have their specific uses but the rifle is the key. By examining footprints, broken trees, dead bodies and gargantuan piles of poo you’ll piece together each creature's color-coded formula. Red, Green, and Blue ingredients can be manually mixed at any time and sometimes you’ll only have part of the formula to work with. It’s a well designed system that puts a lot of importance on each shot and makes you feel like you’re doing a little bit of science. Nailing each of the bigger animals in a single, 100% shot is what gets you the most money which is then used to buy ammo, health items, flashbangs and to reinvest in more RGB ingredients.
What initially stopped me is that I was playing the game like the third-person shooter it appears to be. You can run up on a Stegosaur and unload your shotgun in its face until it falls asleep but you’ll soon run out of cash to buy more ammo. I eventually wound up without enough ammo, ingredients or understanding to finish the game after a hard save. The voice plate recordings you find and the constant radio chatter from the other hunters provide enough tips to play efficiently if you can read Japanese. For me, it took plotting out each stage’s events and replaying several times. Despite that repetition and a few quibbles with the early-2000’s control I was still thrilled to explore each stage and see what was coming next.
The developers wanted to put their own creative spin on the debate over what dinosaurs looked like and it shows. There are three classes of raptor-sized dinos each brighter, more feather-covered and more vicious than the last. The gargantuan Ankylosaurus defend themselves by somersaulting towards you and the Ouranosaurus’ unique hump apparently housed its Predator-style active camo. There are also a number of secret extinct animals to find like the dodo, moa, saber-toothed tiger, and the questionably-extinct Barbary lion. While the visuals are obviously lacking the detail and fidelity of modern games the animation and scale of its inhabitants mostly keep it as thrilling to look at as the first time I saw it.
This is where I’d tell you that ‘if you’re a fan of dinosaurs or peculiar Japanese games you owe it to yourself to track down this lost gem on closeout at GameStop or Amazon’. But in a tragic turn for localized releases it is now infinitely harder to find, way more expensive than you’d like to pay and tougher to play than it should be. To save you all that hassle you can get most of the experience -- the dinosaurs, the hunting, the cultural stereotypes and epic guitar rock -- thanks to the years I’ve spent with the game. Not to sound too much like a self indulgent ad but since I can’t really recommend you play it for yourself it’s the next best chance anyone has to experience yet another of my quirky, oddball favorites: Dinosaur Hunting.