Some games are stressful. And you’d think that if any game raises your blood pressure, it’s the one wherein you keep squishy humans safe from gigantic dinosaurs. Parkasaurus (PC) defies those expectations with liberal application of googley eyes.
Broadly fitting in the “management” genre, and more specifically in the niche of Jurassic Park-inspired zoo simulators, Parkasaraus manages the impressive feat of making a game where you have tons and tons of stuff to worry about but somehow never feel too worried. Its tools and setup might feel simple to veterans of latter Sim City-style games, but it’s well worth checking out if you’re looking for a relaxing, adorable way to build a prehistoric petting zoo.
Spares (Almost) No Expense
When Parkasaurus plops you down into its undeveloped lot, you’ll do a bit of landscaping before hatching your first dinosaur and attracting a few timid visitors. Not too much effort is expended on the how and why of this: There’s a time machine and some vague paleontology fieldwork and a store that sells dinosaur eggs. The gist is that you get more money, make a bigger park, get more dinosaurs, which attract more visitors to get more money. Rinse and repeat.
Taking care of the dinosaurs digital pet-style is the main focus of the game: Happy dinos means happy visitors. Some surprisingly accurate zoological principles are actually going on here. For the best results, you’ll need to tailor each enclosure to your dinosaur’s environmental and social desires, including adequate shelter and spaces for the dinos to periodically get some alone time away from the gaze of your visitors. This requires strategy: You can’t just stick a dino in a cage for people to gawk at.
And gawking isn’t all that your visitors do, naturally. They need the usual facilities (you WILL build bathrooms), places to eat and learn about dinosaurs, buy souvenirs, get some shade, etc. That’s all part and parcel of the amusement park manager, but Parkasaurus has a third column of basic gameplay: the vaguely-defined “science.”
In addition to standard zoo staff, you’ll need to hire scientists and paleontologists to take care of the dinos you have and find resources to unlock new ones. This involves sending them back in time to dig up fossils—wait, why do they need to go through a time portal to get fossils? Surely the point of fossils is that they exist now? This isn’t made clear, but the result is a surprisingly robust puzzle minigame that requires you to continually recruit and upgrade your science staff to clear grids of land for fossils to unlock new species.
Building’s a Treat
These kinds of games tend to live and die on the ease of use of their building tools; no one would have played the original Sim City if it wasn’t intuitive to actually build your city. I’m happy to report that Parkasaurus’s systems are robust, precise, and surprisingly easy—for the most part. In a few clicks (and with a minimum of wasted funds), you can move around builds or swap up terrain types in a habitat to adapt it to a new dino. The only exception is the topography tool, which can be a bit finicky in raising or lowering the level of the land.
But what’s really appealing about the whole process is the graphics. Parkasaurus has a very simple, angular aesthetic, like a pastel-colored PS1 game that just happens to be running in HD. It’s easy to shrug that off as a lack of resources from an indie developer, but the visual design comes together in a delightful way, as if you’re playing with kindergarten building blocks that just happen to move around and ask for money.
Nowhere is this aesthetic more perfect than in the dinosaurs themselves. The cartoony, happy-looking creatures with googley eyes and exaggerated features are animated toys, even though you’ll need to carefully see to their needs. It’s a nice change of pace from the various licensed Jurassic Park games that have treated the dinos as either “extreme” or “terrifying.” Parkasaurus’s dinos are adorable, even when they break out of their enclosures, scare the crap out of your guests, and require a little hunting by tranquilizer gun-toting vets.
Want to make those dinos even cuter? You can accessorize them with hats and glasses, among other things. It’s at this point that Parkasaurus abandons any pretense of being a serious management game and just tells you to have some Tamagotchi-style fun. Sure, you could abstain for the sake of realism, rigidly sticking to your John Hammond roleplaying. But it’ll be tricky with all those googley eyes staring at you, begging to be festooned with cowboy hats.
A Little More Time in the Incubator
Parkasaurus is an early access game, and herein lies the only hesitation I have in recommending it. The game was scheduled to be finished this year, but it’s going to be at least 2020 before all of its features are implemented. The biggest omission at the moment is any kind of dinosaur breeding: Every animal in your park needs to be hatched from an egg you buy from a second party. It doesn’t help that the dinosaur species are a little lacking in variety, with only 24 species available at the time of writing.
But things are improving, and perhaps more quickly than you might expect from a small indie team. The game’s latest update adds the bare bones of a campaign mode with defined chapters and missions. And compatibility with the Steam Workshop, which allows ambitious modders to add in their own dinosaurs and park features.
Given how much has been added in the last year, I have no doubt that developer Washbear will reach its goals for the final product. Even in its current form, Parkasaurus is worth the $20 asking price if you want a chill, adorable management game. Pick it up on Steam—at the moment, it’s limited to Windows.
Here’s What We Like
- Absolutely adorable
- Easy building tools
- Chill atmosphere
And What We Don't
- Could use more species
- Won't be feature complete for another year