What do you get when you mix the primeval dinosaurs of Jurassic Park with the warm, leisurely management of RollerCoaster Tycoon? You’ve probably never considered such a concoction, but rest assured, Washbear Studio, a new Canadian game developer, has you covered. Their first game, Parkasaurus, is a fresh attempt to do what seems to never have worked out in the movies: build a safe, fun, well-crafted dinosaur zoo. But will Parkasaurus leaves us asking for more or running for our gaming lives? Let’s dig in and find out.
When you fire up a new game in Parkasaurus, you are given the option to either play through the campaign or create a customizable sandbox. Although you’ll probably want to venture into the campaign first due to its helpful tutorial, the sandbox option adds plenty of replay value. It gives you the ability to customize everything from the amount of money or research you start with to the kind of terrain or species of dinosaurs available to you at the beginning of the game. Sometimes in management sims you just want to hunker down and carefully craft your perfect park, and, thankfully, Parkasaurus understands that.
However, your first foray in Parkasaurus will likely be the tutorial. When you start, you are taken through a brief picture gallery detailing some of the game’s backstory: something about a spaceship with cute dinosaurs traveling and landing on an Earth-like planet. Maybe it’s talking about time travel. I’m not quite sure, but it sounds like the developer intends to use the campaign to further the game’s lore. Either way, I wasn’t as interested in the lore as I was in crafting my very own dino paradise. With the help of my oldest son, we named our new park, “Parkyasarus,” and we were off and running.
As you would expect from a park management sim, Parkasaurus is about building and managing a profitable zoo. However, to do that, you need to construct interesting, healthy dino exhibits, provide your patrons with plenty of food and fun, keep the place clean and pepper your park with plenty of donation boxes for your philanthropic patrons to throw cash into. Along the way, you conduct scientific research to improve your park, and if you care for your dinosaurs well, you gain “heart credits” to improve your dinosaurs’ quality of life and/or keep your patrons safer amidst the mammoth herbivores and cooped-up carnivores.
You will also need to hire various employees, ranging from veterinarians, janitors, scientists and security. Each employee is rated in three different categories: speed, ability and personality—and they demand a particular starting wage depending upon their job proficiency. Overall, managing the employees was relatively straightforward since they seemed responsive to the needs of the park, and you can also drag and drop them if you need to. However, I do wish the employees had a little more personality. For instance, as they leveled up, I wish they would demand higher wages or have certain quirks that made managing them a more dynamic affair. What about a distracted veterinarian who has a bad habit of leaving the dino exhibit door open or a greedy security guard who cared more about donuts than tranquilizing? Just food for strategic thought…
How do you acquire your beloved dinosaurs in Parkasaurus? Well, you unlock new species by spending research and heart credits. At present, the game boast 26 different kinds of dinosaurs, ranging from the docile Brachiosaurus to the infamous Velociraptor to everyone’s favorite, the Tyrannous Rex. However, after unlocking a species in the game, you cannot simply buy a dinosaur egg off the street. Instead, the game requires you to travel with some of your employees through a time portal to dig up fossils, footprints and other loot for your park. This is accomplished through a brief mini-game where you select particular tiles to excavate. If you’re archaeologically successful, you then head to the market screen where you buy a gem and then combine everything to purchase the dinosaur egg you desire. Although it’s not complicated to acquire dinosaurs, it will take a little bit of time and effort to get what you want.
Now, time portals and gems may not sound very “realistic” to you, but that’s clearly not Parkasaurus’ aim. Sure, the game gives you things to manage. You’ll need to pay attention to your attendance, your income, your expenses, your customer reviews, and keep tabs on your dinosaurs and their overall well-being. You’ll also need to hire enough staff. There are plenty of things to do in Parkasaurus, but so much of the game is simply about having good, clean, management fun. Whether it’s the warm, colorful graphics or the relaxing, gleeful musical score or the funny reviews that customers give you, Parkasaurus wants you to kick back and craft the zoo that suits your interests. You can even acquire silly hats to put on your dinosaurs! Clearly, this game is not taking itself too seriously.
On the whole, this makes for a relaxing and enjoyable experience. And yet, there is a downside to all this whimsy. As I played the game more and more, I found it entirely too easy. Not only were most of my patrons happily lining my pockets with cash, but I also never had a dinosaur get out of hand unless I made some silly mistake. It shouldn’t be a piece of cake to keep a Stegosaurus contained behind a wooden fence, and yet in Parkasaurus, the dinosaurs are so domesticated that it seems like it would take massive management ineptitude to cause another Jurassic Park. Obviously, the game is still in development, and as your park grows, you are likely to make more mistakes and oversights. Nevertheless, at this point, the game feels a little too tame for its subject matter. Cute dinosaurs wearing twirly hats are still dinosaurs after all.
In the end, Parkasaurus is still a work in progress, but it feels like a game you can jump into right now if you’re busting to manage a good zoo. Although it’s not a terribly complicated game, Parkasaurus is a clean, beautiful, management sim with a lot of prehistoric potential.