City builders, when done well, are fantastically addictive video games that can draw you in for hours at a time. When I was a teenager, I’d sink hours into whatever version of SimCity took my fancy (or could run on my terrible computer), often wasting entire days building cities and then destroying them with disasters of my own making. Wait, does that say a lot about the type of person I am?
Uh, anyway, Dino Frontier looked to take this city builder gameplay to PlayStation VR. What’s more, it was both set in the Wild West and filled out its cast with dinosaurs. In my opinion, not enough games feature dinosaurs, and Dino Frontier wants to be part of the solution.
I remember feeling extremely excited after watching the initial trailer for Dino Frontier. The cel shaded gunslingers looked stylish, and the reveal that the third figure in the stand-off was, in fact, a hat-wearing velociraptor induced a grin from my stony heart. I was surprised when the trailer revealed that the game was a city builder, however; I’d expected something like a cartoony Turok. Still, as I mentioned before, I’m a big fan of this style of game, and the fact that it also had both cowboys AND tyrannosaurs solidified my interest in the title.
When Dino Frontier first loaded up, I was greeted by two cowboys sat around a campfire, their tamed dinosaur mounts resting in the background. One of the cowboys sings a catchy, throaty country song about taming the Dino Frontier. Nice. I could get on board with this, and it was only the title screen.
I start the game, and shortly thereafter I’m informed that I’m the ‘Big Mayor’. Its probably something to do with my huge hands. You know what they say about big hands; you can pick up your settlers and assign them to different buildings or jobs.
Speaking of bad jokes, one of the best parts about Dino Frontier is its humour, which manifests in both the game’s cutesy graphics and the dialogue of the town’s settlers. This is the closest the game comes to matching the greatness of Bullfrog-style building games, like Theme Park. Sadly, it’s all downhill from here.
Asides from the setting and art style, the game is pretty average, with an extremely basic gameplay loop. You build things in the usual progression; housing for your settlers, a food processor to convert raw gatherings into an edible supply, a lumbermill to convert chopped wood into building material so you can grow even more… you get the idea. Despite such a fresh setting, there aren’t that many new ideas on display. The dinosaurs themselves don’t even play into the loop that often; they simply substitute for regular Wild West creatures to make the game more visually unique.
I enjoyed the game, for the most part, for about an hour and half, while I was still being introduced to new mechanics and ideas: you can tame these dinosaurs, which’ll do various tasks around your town; you fend off bandits; you visit your farmstead to grow some crops and aid your town. And then, a few hours later, after what I thought was only a tower defense mini-game interlude, the game ended.
I’d spent the last few hours simply going through the motions. I’d assumed that I was heading into a second scenario with a greater variety of things to do, more dinosaurs, a bigger challenge… but, no, the credits were rolling. This was surprising, because the game tutorialised every mechanic. I assumed that, once you beat the opening level, it’d release you into a new zone and introduce new elements that build upon the knowledge it taught you. Nope. It was done.
It’s a great shame I can’t heavily recommend Dino Frontier, especially at full price. I beat the game in under five hours, and I spent less than half that time really engaged with the game. The art style and setting are both interesting and fun, but throughout its short playtime it holds your hand and never truly challenges you to think and manage the town on your own. There’s no additional modes once you beat the game. Dino Frontier feels like it was rushed out of the door to meet a development quota; perhaps the developers had intended for the game to be longer, or more open-ended. The best city-builders reward experimentation; Dino Frontier does not.
Dino Frontier feels like a first level of a more ambitious title, and gets tedious quickly. The game’s greatest strength is its cartoony visuals and humour, but if you’re looking for a challenging and ambitious building/management sim on PSVR, stick with Tethered.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.