A Sound of Thunder

Release Date: February 1st, 2005
Developer: Möbius Entertainment Ltd.
Director: n/a

Rating: 4/5

65,000,000 years ago….

I had to pick this game up for the fact that it is one of the rare games with a dinosaur on the cover and because I learned it uses an isometric perspective. The game takes place in abandoned man-made areas routinely invaded by jungle elements. I would strongly recommend no continue using to keep the tension high and to get more of a feeling of accomplishment.

*Spoilers below appear in red text*

One major point of interest I had was seeing how well survival horror translates to a handheld. There are a few unexpected designs that positively work out that could be applied on a larger scale (i.e. consoles). There are also certain limitations that are disappointing, yet enlightening enough that balances out otherwise negatively-perceived flaws.

The first level best suits the mood for true survival horror. As I entered the abandoned building, I begin to look around for signs of life. Suddenly without explanation the whole display image on the screen jostles. The effect is genuinely scary as I have no clue what exactly is causing it and my mind starts to wander thinking about how a T-Rex walking is the cause. The next unknown item is a powerUP-looking pickup (looks like something out of a Bomberman game), which caused me confusion figuring out what it did; I thought perhaps it actually was a trap initially because taking this item spawns enemies into your area. Picking up items is stylized in a bold way that clashes with how subdued item discovery is presented in the genre. There is no “Do you want to pick this up?” message.

The next level takes a break from run’n’gun room-clearing action. Seeing a jeep presented to me after working through an interior of a building containing carnivorous dinosaurs was quite freeing. Getting a jeep for moving between indoor areas (i.e. facilities) or simply using it for a semi-open area jungle exploration is perfect for this game reminding me of the very best qualities of the Jurassic Park franchise’s arcade games. What’s great here is how the jeep is controlled from the isometric perspective allowing you to keep the chasing beast in view and watch what direction it knocks the jeep to readjust the steering to counteract its force, whereas if ASOT was on a console I think the developer would have used a more traditional camera perspective for driving that would have resulted in a far less imaginative chase sequence. While I was excited to see the jeep return in later levels it never got another cool chase sequence, although dropping out and running into interior areas and then running back out to drive some more was fun.

After beating the first level it’s revealed that there is a password system for this game. A very simple 6-digit password. Not an issue at all for me; in fact, I just played a GBA game called VIP that used a password system, so I wasn’t exactly shocked to see this. The real issue is that your inventory is not carried over between levels password or not; you are always allocated a predetermined loadout.

Knowing that changes the mindset of the player dramatically. It is slightly unreasonable to expect to play this game that is past the point of comfortably being beaten in one sitting all the way through without the ability to save, although this is the ultimate way to play these types of games. Being able to save and reload causes immersion issues. That and the ability to continue (up to 3 times) and in the exact room you died in. This became absurd when watching a player ‘death animation’ and then continuing instantly placing me seconds away from the boss. The encounter definitely needed a certain distance typically reserved at the end of level than the start of one. This has its pros in that each level is designed around a total possible amount of items available; additionally, it encourages players to test out weaponry in place of never thinking of using it until absolutely necessary.

Don’t be fooled into thinking this game can’t frighten you. While there is usually a lone raptor or two quickly moving towards the player creating a tension of testing how fast you can let off shots, they aren’t the major scare here. If you want to see how aggressive enemies can get on Game Boy Advance, you should pick this up. Getting swarmed here is terrifying. Forget the GBA, getting swarmed here is terrifying in the whole medium. They’ve got the viciousness of those Compsognathus, the smallest dinosaurs in the Jurassic Park 2 movie.

Fighting back – Switching weapons mid-fire from an assault rifle to shotgun allows the player to immediately fire out a shotgun shell blast essentially a ‘combo finisher’. Next up is the introduction of time mechanics. When it comes to stopping power the time gun hits the hardest. The downside of the mission-style saving is that ironically you are now forced to use powerful weapons far quicker in your playthrough as there is no benefit to expertly saving weapons for a much needed late-game time, although it would have been strange seeing an action sequence designed around numerous time stopping rounds being fired.

Getting hit – It’s more fun to shoot at things than get shot. Despite the game not having any gun-firing enemies there are noxious plants that launch explosive pod of toxin with uncanny precision. Fun or frustration is to be had dodging their large and easily seen projectiles. They hit hard instead of the usual rattling the player down with invisible bullets where sensation occurs via red flashes diminishing your view, a delayed futile reaction to lead storms the exact same way you would to discovering you’d been bitten by mosquito bites. Having the time gun to deal with them is very relieving.

The next interesting part is pausing the game lets the player obtain a ‘reality check’ of the situation and figure out puzzles, which unpaused puts your decision-making under the bombardment of plant fire. So either firing a time round or literally pressing the start button on the GBA to pause the game is extremely valuable for puzzle box pushing in contested areas as destroyed plants will continuously sprout back anew. Fired time rounds effects can last beyond your current room, which is a design decision I disagree with as it allows the player to alter time in advance instead of being forced to make a quick decision in a tumultuous moment. This would benefit enemies as while they cannot chase you into another room, they could bump you into another room eliminating your attempt to slow down time.

Another area of interest is how the level is divided up by ‘rooms’ or ‘screens’. While you can get knocked into stuff on-screen like lava, there also is the aforementioned exclusive design feature here that allows you to get knocked into the next screen. This completely stops that threat since enemies cannot move from screen to screen with the exception of the large beast in the jeep chase sequence. You can cheekily pop in-and-out of screen transitional space boundaries when fast-moving creatures abound. Pushable blocks can be used later for blocking enemies. They also allow work as a step to higher grounds so that you become unfollowable to large raptors, but you’ll be in for a big surprise if you think you can escape the smaller enemies doing this.

Remember Tremors (1990)? There is an underground bore worm boss in this game that is a great unexpected addition to the genre, especially since the final encounter has an added threat of being knocked off a precipice.

Cutscene-wise, I only thought there was one memorable scene in particular: While onboard a train car all of a sudden velociraptors break through via a time portal dragging someone away. By limiting the color palette to a gray and black color the gunfire and terror are captured well.

CONCLUSION

First two levels are the most important worth experiencing here along with the second to last level. Definitely worth checking out for fans of survival horror games interested in seeing new features added in the genre. On Game Boy Advance this game is great but had it been on GameCube it would have been phenomenal.


IMPROVEMENT LIST

Why no flamethrower?

GAME COMPARISON LIST

A major issue with horror games is that the developer never states what they think is an optimal way to first experience / beat the game. They leave it up to gamers. If you want to keep high tension in horror games you have to eliminate quick save mentality. Long breaks between save points (Breath of Fire V: Dragon Quarter) or ideally no save points in a 1-3 hour game (i.e. Clock Tower).

Diversions – I’m not the guy to overstate minor complaints in this area. Devil May Cry‘s water section, Shadow of Rome‘s stealth levels, Mirror’s Edge optional gun combat sections — all these sequences were handled well and gave the player a small break before throwing them back into the action. Same situation with this game.

Room transitions – Of interest is how enemies can bump the player moving into the next screen / room in Metroid [NES]. One flying enemy is designed to hit you while you are in suspended animation in the transitional space, which is quite surprising.

Another game of interest I reviewed already, Wario World, had the player getting knocked from the main stage into lower worlds.

Intentional slowdown advantage – how I beat the final boss in Mega Man Zero

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