Friday, July 20, 2012

East Vs. West: Magical Saurus Tour (1990)

One of the more unusual PC Engine titles to make it from Japan to the United States, Magical Saurus Tour (known here as Magical Dinosaur Tour) was published in 1990 by Victor Musical Industries on the console's original 1.0 CD-ROM System Card.  I had a copy of the American version back in the day, but no longer own it, so I will have to go on memories and research for comparison purposes.  The Japanese title screen calls the Toho kaiju movies to mind -- if you don't speak Japanese, you can easily imagine this says something about King Ghidorah:

This was a surprising choice for NEC to import, although the company did make a lot of strange decisions when it came to populating the US TurboGrafx library; the rich, high-quality Japanese PC Engine software lineup was barely in evidence on our shores.  Magical Saurus Tour seems an especially odd choice, however, because of the amount of translation and voice-over recording the localization required (no word on whether the Beatles had to approve the title.)  My only hypothesis is that NEC felt the expensive CD-ROM accessory might be an easier sell if there was some educational content available.

By the standards of the day, Magical Saurus Tour does a pretty good job at delivering on the cover's English-text promise: "A NEW PICTORIAL ENCYCLOPEDIA OF DINOSAURS."  It's a CD-ROM encyclopedia, of the sort usually devoted to anime fandom, and it's pretty comprehensive.  While the text could have used substantial fleshing out, this was designed to be read on a TV screen with a gamepad; the primary attraction may be the full-color artwork, most of which matches the best scientific anatomical modeling available at the time.  And it's not limited to the obvious, well-known saurians of later Jurassic Park fame; it takes the task seriously, covering more obscure creatures like Metriorhyncus:

And Archaeopteryx, the first known dinosaur-bird species (probably a relative but not a direct ancestor of modern birds; more recent finds are indicating that feathers were much more common than believed in 1990):

And Deinonychus, a member of the raptor family:

My only complaint about Magical Dinosaur Tour was the limited text -- we only get a few screens of large-print text, though the Japanese version likely crams more content into the limited space (if I could read it!)

These individual dinosaur pages can be accessed by a number of pathways, lending significant organizational value to the encyclopedia.  There's an alphabetic index, of course, as well as an evolutionary timeline tree, allowing users to see how various families of dinosaurs changed over geologic time:

There's also a time-shifting geographical map, showing the regions of the earth as portions of the Earth's original single continent moved (borne by the tectonic plates of the Earth's crust) into its modern configuration, and allowing the user to examine the dinosaurs that inhabited each region:

And a sightseeing tour allows users to view the dinos in approximations of their contemporary habitats, with some limited animation depicting hypothetical behaviors derived from anatomy and observations of similar creatures in our time.  These hard-headed little guys are battling for dominance:

There are also some entertaining bits of trivia, like a "Best of Three" awards ceremony (Biggest Dinosaur? Tyrannosaurus!) and other notes with fanciful illustrations:

The science is respected, and so are users, as then-current uncertainties are documented in these sections --- my own knowledge had become outdated in 1990, and I remember learning about the whole "Brontosaurus" mix-up from the American version.  (In short, an Apatosaurus had had a reconstructed, semi-hypothetical head stuck on it for a museum display; further analysis established that this was in error, and both skeletons represented the Apatosaur.)

There a poignant end-of-the-dinosaurs section that presents various hypotheses about the demise of the thunder lizards, and the subsequent rise of the mammals, as depicted in this asteroid-induced winter image:

Magical Saurus Tour isn't a game, but a high-tech reference work circa the pre-Internet era.  I can't really recommend it in either its Japanese or American forms for a 2012 audience; the information presented is too limited in the age of Wikipedia and Walking with Dinosaurs.  But it was a credible attempt to document our understanding of these fascinating creatures circa the late 1980s, and remains a unique entry in the PC Engine/TurboGrafx-CD library.

This one wasn't a huge seller in the US, but is also not much in demand so it's generally inexpensive.  You may be able to purchase the Japanese version here:

 Magical Saurus Tour PC-Engine CD

or the American one here:

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