Games based on film franchises tend to be average at best, but sometimes a pleasant surprise arrives in the form of racing dinosaurs.
Note: This was originally written for 1 More Castle in February 2015. The original writing has not been updated.
Also, it looks like the Game Grumps have since played this game, so that’s pretty whimsical! I donated my copy to them.
Retro Platforms: PlayStation
Platform Reviewed: PlayStation
Games based on film franchises tend to have an average quality at best, but sometimes a pleasant surprise arrives in the form of racing dinosaurs. Even with source material like The Land Before Time, there’s always the potential for a group of game designers and programmers to think of ideal ways to convert cinematic source material into fun and interactive forms of entertainment. The film series, if you’re unfamiliar with it, was first introduced with directing by famous animator Don Bluth, and the first entry received over twelve additional sequels. Early entries in the franchise explored some serious themes like famine, family loss, inter-species hostility, and friendship amongst other topics; however, there are plenty of generally upbeat moments in this series too, and today’s game review focuses on fast-paced racing! So how does this work?
Outside of the gameplay, there are a few animated cutscenes that show brief communications between the playable dinosaurs Littlefoot, Ducky, Cera, and Spike. These play during the intro and every time you unlock a new obstacle course, and while the backgrounds look vibrant and colorful, the actual characters look pretty basic, have some compression, and hardly animate during these sequences; the dinosaurs are cute to watch, but you can tell there was very little effort put into the cutscenes. During the gameplay, settings have environmental diversity (including things like mud and lava), boundary grounds are connected (despite occasional smoothness nitpicks), and enemy obstacles are both easy to spot and naturally integrated into the environments. Water flows, colors are diverse, and there are even some weather effects like fog and rain, amongst other things. Some minor problems I have are that the skies could be more detailed, and that there are some slight draw distance limitations in the distance, but the latter is only noticeable far away, so it doesn’t interfere with the gameplay.
While the character movements are pretty minimal during the game’s few cutscenes, they animate better during the gameplay. As the dinosaurs move forward, you can see leg and bob movements, and the jumps provide appropriate feedback to your controls. Most excitedly, there’s a genuine sense of speed that’s maintained while you avoid obstacles, and this is easily the strongest aspect of the animation. When you do hit an obstacle (like a log) and are pushed back, the feedback is clear and your character reacts accordingly. Model-wise, the actual characters themselves are rather simple in appearance, but they’re easy enough to distinguish from the environments; there could definitely be some more depth to them though. Regarding bigger negatives, there are some notable issues with the in-game camera, but I’ll elaborate on this later.
There aren’t many songs in The Land Before Time: Great Valley Racing Adventure, but the audio isn’t repetitive to the point of annoyance. What does plays during the gameplay is surprisingly catchy, fitting with the game’s sense of speed while also providing an upbeat rhythm that builds over time. There aren’t any technical hiccups either, nor are there any problems regarding sharp pitch. Other songs include a few relaxing menu themes, which don’t have much intensity but are rather meant to calm the mood. You’re not likely to get the games songs stuck in your head, but they match what’s going on at least. Now regarding sound effects, there’s feedback to petal collection and obstacle collision, there are some water noises, and the dinosaurs also make some yelps when they run into something. Speaking of the mammals, they don’t say much else besides this and some cheesy introductory speeches, but they sure do love to frequently talk in the menus because it’s really necessary to tell us every time a memory card is being read from, or whenever the options menu is being accessed. So cheesiness aside, the audio is simple but works, although some more ambiance effects would be nice.
Unlike racing games like Mario Kart and Crash Team Racing, the movements in The Land Before Time: Great Valley Racing Adventure are non-vehicular. You choose between four dinosaurs to play as; they differ in appearance but otherwise control the same. During an obstacle course or racetrack, your character is constantly dashing forward, and you steer the mammal by directly aiming where you want to run; no steering wheel controls are needed here. With the D-Pad, this technically works but feels very limited since your directional movements are based in angle multiples of 45 degrees. Fortunately, this game also supports analog stick movement, and that allows for much more accurate navigation. Each level involves running through a valley-like environment, where the action is fairly linear and the path to follow isn’t ambiguous. And honestly, the running is actually really fun: the movement’s in real time, there’s a fair level of difficulty, the analog controls work well, and there are shortcuts of sorts. The premise is actually well-executed, and I was honestly surprised by this when I first played!
In addition to running, you can also jump over stationary and mobile obstacles. Stationary obstacles include natural landscapes that can slow you down (like water and mud), friction-based terrains (like ice that causes sliding), and blockades (such as trees and giant pine cones); blockade collision also involves controller vibration. Water and mud can be avoided, but they can also help your speed if you first run into a raft and then stay on it without touching other land boundaries; this adds some strategy in the form of faster routes. If you run into a blockade-like obstacle, your character bounces back a few feet, which results in wasted time. Mobile obstacles include rolling versions of logs, leaping fish, sideways-moving turtles, and boulders that roll back and forth, amongst other things. With proper timing, most of the game’s obstacles can be avoided, although some of them fall from the ceiling shortly before you’re expected to jump over them; there’s technically enough time to avoid them, but there can be instances of it being difficult to judge the timing for a jump. This particular scenario is more of a minor issue since it’s not too actively present in the gameplay, but it is worth mentioning.
Regarding modes, there are two different types of levels: obstacle courses and racetracks. The obstacle courses involve lengthy valleys whose objectives change depending on a selected difficulty: easy involves collecting a certain amount of Treestars (for points) before reaching the end, medium involves reaching the end within a certain time limit, and hard combines the two. The difficulty level is surprisingly decent, and you can’t just complete a level goal without paying attention to obstacles and pickups. Half of the obstacle courses have to be unlocked, giving you good rewards to work for, and each obstacle course has enough diversity to help distinguish it from others. Now as for the other mode, racing involves separate stages that consist of three laps, and it supports two players: either two humans, or one human and a competent computer. There’s also split-screen support, but there’s a wasted opportunity by not increasing the allowed character amount to at least four; there’s not even an option to just have more computer-controlled characters. But nonetheless, the racing controls the same as in the obstacle courses, and the action’s generally enjoyable.
Another mechanic in the gameplay comes in in the form of colored petals, not to be confused with the Treestars (which are only present in the obstacle courses). Yellow petals are collected and subsequently used with a separate button; these provide a temporary speed boost that’s indicated with a depleting bar on the top of the screen. Red petals typically launch you to a higher path, which acts as a shortcut that not only lets you run by a section of obstacles, but also tends to lead to other yellow petals. Only available during races, there are also purple petals which give you a temporary resistance to friction-based obstacles. The petals help diversify the gameplay in a fun way, and they add some additional strategy to the obstacle courses and competitive racing.
There are two more notable complaints that I have with the game though, and the first is with regards to its camera. Rather than have a fixed view, the camera seems to directly follow the back of your dinosaur, which works sometimes but can obstruct your view at other times. This is most noticeable during races, especially when running too closely to a wall can leave you without being able to see upcoming obstacles (due to the camera hugging said wall) for a few seconds. It’s not a game breaker, and the camera works more often than not, but it does have some problems. A second complaint is with the amount of content, namely in that you can see all the game has to offer in about an hour, and that’s being generous. Thankfully, the gameplay is very fun, and it’ll last longer if you have a friend to play with, but the length is still noticeable.
Never underestimate the potential that a film franchise has with regards to having some successful game adaptations. It’s true that these adaptations haven’t been so strong lately, with more prominent titles being outweighed by obvious quick cash-ins, but the full library shouldn’t be dismissed entirely. Even The Land Before Time, which additionally had several other video game releases before this one, can be converted into a fun and simple experience, and this particular game can be enjoyed by oneself via the obstacle courses, as well as competitively with a friend via the fast-paced racing mode. There are some problems with the camera, the cutscenes are pretty basic, and the gameplay has a few random issues, but everything else works well enough; if you can look past some limitations, you’ll definitely find plenty of fun moments here! The Land Before Time: Great Valley Racing Adventure is surprisingly enjoyable, and I still can’t believe I’m saying that with a straight face.