Breathe deep, seek... a different game.
Dinotopia: The Sunstone Odyssey is based on the world created by James Gurney in 1992. Dinotopia began as a book and has since spawned a television series as well as a Game Boy Advance game (The Timestone Pirates). The Sunstone Odyssey is the second Dinotopia game and follows the adventures of the Gemini Twins, Drake and Jacob, who were shipwrecked on the titular island a decade ago. The story begins with their father disappearing while preparing for the twins’ 24th birthday. Jacob, believing that the dinosaurs killed their father, leaves to join a group called The Outsiders that believe humans and dinosaurs were not meant to live together and that the dinosaurs should be eradicated. The player takes control of Drake, who sets off to make his father proud and become the Guardian of Dinotopia.
The game follows a pretty simple pattern. Drake is given various missions to complete in order to save Dinotopia. In between missions, he will talk to various people, including the wise sages, who will guide him on his way as well as give him new weapon enhancements. After receiving his next task, Drake makes his way through a level and collects a few items or beats a boss, thus completing the task at hand. He then receives some new information and continues on with his next mission.
Drake’s adventures take him through various parts of the island of Dinotopia. There are tree top villages, crystal filled caverns, and an evil factory, just to name a few. Sadly, almost all of the levels share one common feature. They all have a beginning point and an end point with nothing but a single path (that rarely branches) connecting them. Many of them are also quite claustrophobic. Drake is often flanked by high canyon walls on either side, forcing him to stick to the path. Some of these areas are reused, which further adds to the monotonous nature of the game. The only areas of the game which do not stick to this single-path design are the tree top villages. Unfortunately, the only things to do in the villages are performing tedious scavenger hunts for the villagers and completing a few simple puzzles to receive upgrades.
Along with the standard levels, there are also a few special levels. Two of these find Drake riding on the back of a flying dinosaur, and another sees him piloting a dinosaur-like robot called a Strutter. The controls in the flying level are a hair on the sensitive side. Also, the two flying levels are the same, only run in opposite directions. The Strutter controls just like Drake, only it has a projectile attack in addition to its claws. The Strutter level is a lot of fun, though pretty easy.
Along his way, Drake will meet a number of characters that need assistance. Almost all of them have lost or need something and require you to go and find it. These fetch missions are bad enough, but when combined with the insanely linear levels, they become mind-numbingly annoying.
The game’s story is standard fare for a licensed game. Drake must dispatch the bad guys and convert his brother back to the side of good. The characters are all very flat. In fact, they are so flat that their mouths do not even move when they speak. They often spout off catchphrases, such as “breathe deep, seek peace” at random moments. They are also completely helpless and cannot even complete simple tasks, such as picking berries, without the help of the mighty Drake Gemini. As the game progresses, the story expands a little bit, with other problems arising. A few minor twists also occur during the course of the game, but they are rather predictable. The story is by no means awful; it’s just amazingly weak and hackneyed, like that of a crummy action movie.
At the onset of the game, Drake is given a mallet as a weapon. This mallet can be upgraded with new heads and sunstones to increase its power. Combat takes a note from Ocarina of Time with a lock-on system. When targeted, an enemy is marked with a cone above his head. This cone also shows an enemy’s health. Certain button combos will string moves together to do more damage and possibly stun enemies. Drake’s various mallet heads also have special powers (unlocked by colleting red sunstones for each) which can be used both offensively and defensively. He also has the ability to dodge attacks as well as block, though he is immobile while blocking.
Drake also has access to two types of projectiles. He can throw both peppers, which will stun most enemies, and swamp rocks which will damage them. They are a bit difficult to use though, as the controls for throwing them are mapped to the left and right directions on the control pad, requiring the player to either let go of the control stick or reach across with his other hand in order to use them. This often results in the enemies closing in on Drake before he has a chance to throw anything.
As Drake battles, he gains experience points which eventually allow him to learn the game’s nine combo moves. By the end of the game, Drake is so powerful that many enemies, including the larger ones, can be beaten quite easily by just hammering away at them with powerful attacks and occasionally dodging. On the standard difficulty level, the game will be a walk in the park for most players. Even groups of five or more enemies are no problem for Drake to dispatch, often without taking more than a few paltry hits.
There is one huge oversight in this game. The player can only save their progress at pre-defined save points, which come at the end of every level. This means if you’re in the middle of a level and get called away, the GameCube is going to have to stay on unless you wish to trek through half a level again. Thankfully, most levels shouldn’t take more than thirty minutes to complete. Regardless, it’s still incredibly inconvenient and stupid to not let the player save whenever necessary.
The Sunstone Odyssey is best left to those who are fans of the Dinotopia series. They might be able to at least appreciate the game for its connection to the Dinotopia world. As a stand-alone game, it’s rather dull and tedious. There are plenty of good action/adventure games out there just waiting to be played, but Dinotopia: The Sunstone Odyssey is not one of them.