When reading children’s fiction, what you want most as a parent is something that’s as fun for you as it is for them, and has plenty of different characters for you to do some wild voices. Alongside Julia Donaldson, Jonny Duddle is kids book royalty, and Gigantosaurus is essential reading for dinosaur obsessed children. It also teaches the importance of not crying wolf – or dinosaur – so there’s a handy moral lesson to learn too. Kids love that right?
Just as with anything popular these days, the Gigantosaurus book spawned a TV show, which has in turn brought with it a video game, meaning you can now take Tiny, Bill, Rocky and Mazu (we all know him as Bonehead, but that must have been too on the nose), and take them around a bright prehistoric world, collecting things. Sadly the video game isn’t anywhere near as essential as the book that spawned it, and it’s even a pale imitation of the already sanitised TV show.
Gigantosaurus: The Game is a 3D platformer that’s all about collecting things. Whether it’s seeds to plant, eggs that need returning to nests, or inexplicable walnuts for the terrifying Gigantosaurus, you and up to three friends will need to collect them in order to progress from world to world.
Most of the time that’ll mean jumping ever higher up hillsides and mountains, collecting missing items and bringing them back to where they need to be. Every time you’ve got 200 seeds you can propagate a new tree, while eggs need to nestle safely back in their nests. Getting in your way (besides some tricky platforms and wooden logs) are a few bad guys, from lurking piranhas in the water to horrendous, buzzing bees.
Even for the smallest members of your family, all of that turns out to be not that much fun. While some eggs lay obviously on the ground, others lurk in areas that are ridiculously tough to get to. I had to try about ten times to get to one in the opening world, a feat that neither my three-year-old or eight-year-old could possibly achieve.
There’s flashes of the same collectathon action that the Lego games are so good for – light combat and platforming wrapped up in an appealing form – but Gigantosaurus squanders its positives with poor signposting and annoying control issues. It even gives each character a specific skill, meaning you’ll have to swap between them, a la Lego games, in order to get past certain obstacles, but they’re so lightly used as to be utterly meaningless and you have to cycle through all four every time you want to move between them.
If you play with others, which you’d think would be the ideal, you have to stay within the same area, or you’ll all jump to whoever the game thinks is the lead character if you get too spread out. That’s useful at times to ‘pull’ a younger player along with you, but diabolically annoying when you’re trying to do one thing and the other players are trying to grab something else. There’s none of the dynamic split screen that makes Lego games actually playable.
Some enemies, like those buzzing bees, cause your character to run in fear, ripping control away from you and forcing you to wrestle your diminutive dinosaur away from them. It’s the kind of thing that a child simply can’t comprehend, and even caused a few tears in our house. Not quite the light family fun we were looking for.
There’s a myriad of other annoying design decisions that sap any remaining enjoyment out of the experience. The purple objective path lines aren’t reliable enough, taking you around in circles, and there’s no dynamic minimap. Instead, you have to open the map every time you want to try and work out where you’re going, and then only player one can do that, making getting around an ungainly, staccato crawl.
Moving from world to world introduces an extra, and mostly enjoyable, game mode bringing some kart racing into the mix. These sections allow your four players to all play together, inhabiting their own portions of the screen, which makes you wonder why there isn’t the same split-screen option for the platforming. Unfortunately, there’s only five tracks and once you’ve collected everything in them, I doubt there’s going to be too much drive for it to become a regular multiplayer hit.
If anything, the game would have been better off with this mode as the focus, but it is at least a separate option from the opening menu. It’s here that Gigantosaurus comes closest to replicating the feel of the Lego games, as you’re still collecting things, but in comparison to the rest of the game, you’ll likely find yourself enjoying it.
If we’re looking for positives, it does at least look ok, with the character models in particular looking like their animated selves, though the basic, half-empty and generic levels won’t be winning any design awards later in the year. Occasionally, the platforming lifts itself beyond the mundane too, but for the most part this is Sat Nav the game; you’ll just follow a guiding line to the next stop, then back again, and have no real recollection of anything whatsoever between the two.