When I was a kid, I used to make all of my toys play together. Every figurine, buildable, and play set was subject to my imagination and the crazy things I could come up with. The concept for Dino Frontier sounds like something straight out of an eight year-old’s mind: The Old West meets Jurassic Park. Cowboys and dinosaurs. With the power of virtual reality, Dino Frontier plays like an interactive miniature set, one filled with saloons, bandits, and prehistoric creatures. It’s a distinction that I noted when I saw the game back at PSX last year.
Dino Frontier is a sim builder. As Big Mayor, a hilariously appropriate name given my godlike nature looming over the town, I used the Move controllers to simulate hands, building the town up from an empty plot and helping my settlers harvest resources. It’s the classic gameplay loop of a simulation builder game, but virtual reality makes it feel more like playing with an Old West play set, one that got mixed in with the plastic dinosaurs. Instead of separating out the different toys, someone’s imagination said “let’s put a cowboy on the back of a T. Rex and see what happens.” Being able to zoom into the environment and become the same size as your settlers, or zoom out to a bird’s eye view is something I can’t do with my toys though, and it’s a delight to see the detail they’ve put into the objects and animations at a macro level.
Welcome to Jurassic Park
As you I built up my town I was able to periodically lure in and train different dinosaurs that gave me bonuses. One collects the lumber that my townspeople chop down, another lays eggs for a regular supply of food, and one more collects water in its mouth to regrow the hewn bushes and trees. The problem here is that the number of dinosaurs you can have is limited to one of each type. You can’t train an army of velociraptors or get a bunch of ankylosaurs to quickly gather wood. If the one you have ends up dying, either in a bandit raid or against another dinosaur, you can make another lure to capture and replace the one you lost.
This also applies to buildings. You can build one of each kind of building, upgrading each to gain some additional benefits, but once you’ve built one of everything there’s nothing left to build on the small plot. Dino Frontier does a great job of pacing the progression so that you don’t feel like your just grinding to the end, but unlike other city builder games that can go on and on, allowing player to customize and play how they want to, Dino Frontier feels like it has a definitive end. You can keep playing if you want to, but the town reaches a point of self sufficiency. There won’t be much to do except water trees as the settlers cut them down.
To earn additional resources, you can move to two adjacent areas. One is a kind of zen garden called the mayor’s retreat. Here you can harvest resources without the need to fend of bandit attacks, reseeding and watering the area each time. It’s a nice little supplement to the resources you gather in town, and a great way to break up some of the monotony that can happen in the normal settlement. The second area is a wave based abandoned mine where you need to shift focus between harvesting the mine and battling waves of dinosaurs and bandits that the Bandit King sends your way. There’s a kind of fun and frantic strategy to moving your settlers around, but once yoru settlers have trained up, it becomes exceptionally easy. By my third run through I was completing wave 20 (the final wave) without any difficulty at all.
End the Bandit King
The end goal is to get strong enough to defeat the Bandit King, which is really just a test of how strong you can make the eight total settlers you get once you’re the highest mayor level you can be. By the time I found myself confronting him, I had over trained my townspeople’s fighting ability and destroyed him and his army without any concern at all. In fact, I didn’t lose a single settler during that final battle. It seems odd that training up any stat other than fighting is a waste of time, with harvesting and helping not coming in to play anywhere in the final encounter.
For being the Wild West, there’s a certain linear predictability to Dino Frontier. My town always felt safe. There wasn’t ever the need to venture out much beyond the plot of land that became my town, scavenging for resources. Occasionally bandits attacked from the left or right side, and there was the odd dinosaur that would wander too close to the treeline and aggro whoever was chopping wood, but overall Dino Frontier plays it safe and easy, rarely ever presenting any kind of challenge. The entire game feels like it could be the opening mission to something greater, but never really explores the mechanics that it sets up, limiting itself before it can even take off. There’s a certain charm and personality that helps to offset this, mostly coming from the guidance of the hilarious narrator.
Dino Frontier is an impeccably charming adventure, one that feels like physically playing with a bunch of cowboy figures and plastic dinosaurs. There’s the foundation for a really solid and unique simulation builder game, not to mention another great application of virtual reality, but Dino Frontier never plays to its strengths as a game. Building the town and training the dinosaurs ends up being a linear experience without the kind of freedom you would expect from a builder, though still has the charm of opening up a toy box and imagining a world where dinosaurs and cowboys roam the Wild West together.
Dino Frontier review code provided by developer. Reviewed on standard PS4. For more information on scoring read our Review Policy.