If you’re anything like me, you spent a lot of your childhood playing educational video games. I was the perfect age for the cavalcade of edutainment titles that flooded shelves in the early 2000s and none captured my attention quite like those that prominently featured dinosaurs. Endless hours of my youth were spent skulking in the needlessly eerie museum halls of DK’s Eyewitness: Dinosaur Hunter, unleashing ravenous Allosaurus into the food courts in the quasi-educational management sim Zoo Tycoon’s Dino Digs expansion pack, or helping a weird little anthropomorphic Parasaurolophus named Rolph collect eggs and magic crystals in today’s title.
Dinosaur Adventure 3-D, not to be confused with the similarly named 3-D Dinosaur Adventure, was published by edutainment giant Knowledge Adventure in 1999 and had an updated rerelease in 2001. The 2001 version is the one we’re looking at today, but I honestly can’t tell if there was any real difference between the two.
Our story begins with a dramatic opening cutscene in which Rolph introduces us to Paleo Island, a mysterious land inhabited by an anachronistic menagerie of mostly Mesozoic creatures. Life was good on Paleo Island, you see, but the arrival of a very tired, very angry, very GREEN Tyrannosaurus has upset the balance. As Rolph puts it “When a dino gets scared, a dino forgets.” and as a result everyone’s eggs have been lost in the panic that ensued when Mr. Rex set foot on shore. Your job is to track them down and, by playing several mini-games, collect hatching crystals which can be used to expedite their incubation time so that you can return them to their parents. You’d assume they’d just get lost again, seeing as the panic-inducing T.rex is still around, but I digress. Mr. Rex, by the way, arrives via an ice floe. Where he came from is anybody’s guess.
After this prelude, Rolph gives players the rundown on how to explore the island, find lost eggs, and collect hatching crystals. We’re also introduced to his pterosaur buddy Pterrance, who is rendered in the same cartoony style as Rolph rather than the CGI used for most other prehistoric critters. Rolph hops atop Pterrance and takes us into the skies, giving us a pterosaur’s-eye view of Paleo Island and revealing that it is divided into three major regions; the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous. Fittingly, the inhabitants of each region are species hailing from the namesake period so moving between zones simulates moving through time! Seeing as there’s a LOT of material to cover, I’m going to move through species in chronological order and then we’ll take an extra post at the end to look at the mini-games and stuff like that.
Upon flying down to the Triassic region, we’re greeted with a Dimetrodon. Sure. Clicking around on the screen will prompt Rolph to give you some fun facts about whatever it is you’ve clicked on, and doing so here reveals that this area is meant to represent the world just before the Triassic, or maybe some time along the Permian/Triassic boundary. That still doesn’t explain what Dimetrodon is doing here but since it’s such a pleasant design I won’t complain. Clicking on the conspicuous computer-generated creatures on screen lets you watch a fun 30-second or so clip of the animal accompanied by either a fact or lame joke from Rolph. The volcano at the center of Paleo Island is home to a theater where you can re-watch these movies, should you be so inclined.
Clicking the lone pelycosaur gives us our very first mini-movie! The Dimetrodon sport pleasing olive tones and besides their overly reptilian sprawl they look pretty good by today’s standards! This depiction reminds me of the classic Jurassic Park action figure, but has a lot in common with many other depictions of the 90s. They trundle across the screen, hissing like crocodiles, and Rolph clearly instructs the player that these are not dinosaurs! There’s the “edu” part of your edutainment, everybody.
The pterosaur Eudimorphodon soars about in the distance and clicking it nets us another movie! We see it snatch a fish and fly off, as any 90s pterosaur worth its salt is expected to do. We don’t get a great look but it seems fairly generic, not a great representation of the distinctive skull and teeth of the real Eudimorphodon. Go check it out if you haven’t lately. Triassic pterosaurs are wacky! The fish-hunting lines up with what we know about the real animal and, much to my surprise, it’s shown catching the fish with a single snap rather than skimming across the surface. As you’ll know if you’re up to date on your pterosaur research, skimming would be likely be disastrous for any known pterosaur species but everything from cheap kid’s books to Walking with Dinosaurs perpetuated the idea. It’s refreshing to see something different for once!
Moving on to the next screen, we find another pair of clickable creatures. Two per screen is usually the way it goes in this game, and sadly the little red Megazostrodon doesn’t get its own movie. The tiger-striped cynodont is Cynognathus and the big fellow behind it is none other than Triassic superstar Plateosaurus! Besides the big animals, you can also learn about amber, cycads, and early mammals by clicking around the screen. Rolph notes that mammals took over after the Cretaceous extinction, which either implies this game takes place in our own time or Rolph is a time traveler. That raises far more questions than I’m prepared to address so let’s just get to the movies!
If you’ve seen any depiction of Plateosaurus from the 1970s onward, you’ve seen these before. They owe a lot to Sibbick’s famous Normanpedia Plateosaurus, which showcases this tail-dragging browsing posture that became the species’ trademark far longer than it had any right to. The foreground individual starts the movie on all fours before rearing magnificently and yanking a whole palm (or maybe Leptocycas?) frond right from the tree. Rolph draws comparisons between the long neck of sauropodomorphs and modern giraffes, which is a classic comparison we’ve all heard before.
It’s not easy to tell but it seems like the hands have the right number of digits and accurately reflect the enlarged thumb-claw of the species, though there are claws on the outer two digits which definitely shouldn’t have them. The body and especially the skull feel a little formless and the skin texture seems almost like wax, but they’re awfully charming and I miss this sort of depiction more and more every year.
What is it with Cynognathus and tiger stripes? Even ones that aren’t striped are often orange and black, it’s like there’s an unspoken law about it. Anatomically speaking, this isn’t too bad. The skull seems a bit formless and the teeth are overly mammal-like but taken as a whole it’s a passable attempt that communicates its near-mammalian nature. Rolph describes it as a mammal-like reptile, as was the style at the time, and compares it to a dog.
After sniffling around a bit, it turns and bounds forward before lunging, mouth-agape, right at you! I was so terrified of this scene as a kid that I’d run from the room and hide the second it started. I wouldn’t return to the computer until my mom checked to make sure it was over. Even today, something about its scuzzy fuzziness creeps me out.
Speaking of scares, if you linger too long without clicking anything Mr. Rex may leap from offscreen and deliver a roar that terrifies Rolph (and the unwary player!) and sends him to the ground, cowering helplessly. Rex sees himself out as quickly as he arrives so this is just a fun little Easter egg. We’ll take a better look at the T.rex in a later article, but I take note of the tooth shape! They’re not all perfect but some of them are pretty close to those distinctive Tyrannosaurus chompers. Credit to whoever it was that modeled the CGI creatures in this game, a lot of them are genuinely well done!
The next screen plops Rolph besides some obligatory prehistoric tar pits. There’s an entire tar-hopping minigame but we’ll save that for a future article. The only animal that gets a movie on this screen is the little crocodylomorph, which Rolph identities as Protosuchus. Rolph still refers to this as the Triassic region, but the species on this and the next screen are both from the early Jurassic. Similar mistakes abound in dinosaur media from the 90s so its not a huge blow to the educational part of this edutainment game.
The little turtle doesn’t get a specific identification, but Rolph lets us know that the turtle family originated in the Triassic and hasn’t changed much since. That’s not EXACTLY true, but Rolph knows best. I feel like this was a missed opportunity to feature Proganochelys but no use crying over spilled stem-turtles.
Can you believe how adorable this little dude is? I’m a bit perturbed by its seeming lack of nostrils but beyond that it is one seriously cute crocodylomorph. Protosuchus had a distinctive skull that doesn’t look anything like this so either reference material was lacking or something else went wrong. You could probably get away with calling this a baby caiman and, considering the graphical limitations of the time, nobody would say a word. He just trundles along until my worst nightmare sees fit to pop out and send me scrambling to the safety of my living room.
The Protosuchus follows child-me’s lead and runs off. There are little hints of ecology in some of these movies but overall, the depicted species rarely interact with each other. You get the impression that with a bigger budget or more time they would have done a lot more with these. They’re the highlight of the whole game, in my opinion. We should all get together to crowdfund a Dinosaur Adventure 3-D feature length documentary!
Onto the final “Triassic” screen, in which Rolph is menaced by a stupidly huge scorpion and a pair of so-called Syntarsus prowl about in the distance. This was the era where Syntarsus was a must-have in dinosaur media, but it’s since been replaced by the better-studied Coelophysis bauri in work featuring early dinosaurs. Syntarsus turned out to be a preoccupied name, being used for a beetle, but now that genus has been sunk into the genus Cerchanotus. Due to the oft-troubling rules of taxonomy, the name can’t revert back to the dinosaur and sporadic papers over the years have argued over what we should call the Theropod-Formerly-Known-As-Syntarsus.
Clicking on the scorpion prompts Rolf to lecture us about eurypterids. Neat stuff, but sadly they aren’t depicted anywhere in the game. Clicking on the “Syntarsus” gives us a movie starring what is either meant to portray a sphenodont or a primitive lizard, Rolf doesn’t clarify. It basks magnificently upon a rock, reminding us of the wonder and beauty of the natura-
Oh my goodness.
Astute viewers may notice the feathery plumes sticking out from the theropod’s heads. Sticking some filaments on your “Syntarsus” was a trend started in an illustration by Sarah Landry for an article written by palaeontology-legend Robert Bakker way back in 1975. The mohawk look has persisted for nearly half a century now and still pops up from time to time by artists that clearly aren’t too dino-savvy. A closer look at the jaws of these ravenous little dinosaurs reveals that the characteristic coelophysoid kinked jaw is faithfully reconstructed. The rest of the model is nice, but the legs might as well be made of bendy straws! Several other theropods in the game suffer from noodle-leg syndrome, but we’ll be seeing them another day.
Next time we’ll explore the Jurassic region of Paleo Island and a meet a handful of classic species like Dilophosaurus and Stegosaurus, but for now we’ll take a break. Did you play this game as a kid? If so, leave a comment! I’d love to hear about it!