Gotta Dig ’em All
The Pokémon series of games have been an immense success for Nintendo since their initial introduction back on the spinach-green screen of the Game Boy. These titles’ mix of strategy, collection, and RPG elements were a big hit with gamers young and old, helping the franchise to become the second most lucrative game-based property in history, falling only behind Nintendo’s other powerhouse franchise the Mario series.
With all of the success Nintendo has found with Pokémon titles, I suppose it should come as little surprise that they’d try to capitalize by making other games with similar gameplay and themes in an attempt to perhaps create another major franchise. Their most recent attempt is Fossil Fighters, and despite it being a decent game I really don’t think it’ll wind up having the same mass appeal or success as Pokémon.
Fossil Fighters definitely has an interesting concept behind it, mixing equal parts Pokémon, Spectrobes, and Jurassic Park into a single package. Instead of just collecting Pokémon knock-offs, players are tasked with unearthing vivosaur (this game’s name for dinosaur) fossils in order to revive the creatures and use them to combat other Fossil Fighters. The only major problem with this is that while dinosaurs are great and loved especially by children, they lack much of the charm and visual diversity that is inherent in their Pokémon counterparts. Many of the vivosaurs can have similar shapes and forms, leaving only slight differences in color and details to visually differentiate themselves from one another. This certainly leads to not really caring at all about your vivosaurs beyond their different abilities and fighting stats. However, the game does attempt to inject some personality with the characters you’ll meet along your adventure such as your spoiled companion Rosie, the forgetful Dr. Diggins, and your constant adversaries the BB Bandits.
Fossil Fighters starts off as one would expect from a game of this type, with a gradual introduction to the title’s gameplay mechanics. The meat of this game’s experience can be boiled down to three main aspects: digging, cleaning, and fighting. For the digging, players are given fossil sonar located on the top screen that allows them to scan beneath the ground’s surface in order to find hidden fossils. Pressing the left or right shoulder buttons activates the sonar, with diggable items appearing as blips on the screen. Then it’s just a matter of correctly positioning yourself in front of the blip and using you trusty pickaxe to uncover your find. However, not every blip will net you a fossil, as some can turn out to be gems or even useless rocks. This aspect of the game is rather fun: constantly being on the lookout for hidden blips to aid you in your travels.
Cleaning can also be a fairly enjoyable experience, and is necessary to gain more vivosaurs to help you in combat. You can only hold eight fossil rocks at a time, which is pretty lame, but once your pockets are full, you can head back to the fossil center in order to discover what you’ve found. Fossils are cleaned by destroying the rock in which they are encased, but it is rather important to be careful because sloppy cleaning can lead to underpowered vivosaurs or even broken fossils. Players are given a hammer to smash away the larger, thicker rock encasings, while the drill is more precise but takes much longer to chip away stone. You’ll need to find a good balance between using the two, as cleaning fossils is done with a ninety second time limit so speed and accuracy are very important.
As you are cleaning your fossils there is a meter on the top screen that displays your progress, although it is hard to look at while trying to quickly uncover your fossil. Damaging the fossil will cause the top of the meter to begin to fill with red, and successfully clearing rock will fill the meter with blue from the bottom. The amount of damage done to the fossil will ultimately drive down the power of the piece by not allowing the blue bar to fill the entire meter, resulting in a lower cleaning score. The better you do at cleaning these fossils, the more powerful the piece will be. This works pretty well, making each fossil cleaning fairly tense but enjoyable. If you happen to do poorly, it isn’t necessarily the end of the world either since you can always try again later if you find another of the same fossil. The game will also allow you to have a cleaning robot perform these tasks for you if you find them getting tedious, or if you just want to take a break from the stresses of cleaning.
All vivosaurs come in four different pieces including their head, legs, arms, and body. Players need only to find the vivosaur’s head in order to revive them for use in combat. However, each additional piece found will make them much more formidable foes by upping their stats and perhaps granting additional abilities.
There is a surprising amount of strategy in Fossil Fighters’ combat, although much of it comes from the vivosaurs you choose to use and where they are placed. The combat field involves an attack zone and support zones. Vivosaurs in the attack zone can deal more damage but they’re also more vulnerable to attacks, while vivosaurs in the support zones will do and take less damage. There are more layers to this as well, since support zone vivosaurs can be used to boost ones located in the attack zone and some are even unaffected by the loss of attack power caused by being in a support zone.
Aside from vivosaur placement, there are a couple other things to take into account. One is the element with which your vivosaur is associated. Each vivosaur has fire, earth, air, water, or neutral alignments, and as you might expect, this determines which enemies they’re better or worse at competing against. The other major thing to consider is how you will utilize your fossil power. The player has a certain amount of fossil power which can be used to perform skills, with this power regaining a bit after every turn. Since every vivosaur can only use one skill a turn and your supply of fossil power is limited, this can frequently make you question if you should use a big attack that requires a large amount of fossil power or several smaller, cheaper attacks instead.
The core mechanics of the game are decent, but there are a few missteps present. As I alluded to earlier, graphically Fossil Fighters isn’t exactly topnotch. It looks okay for what it is, but it would have been nice if the vivosaur models had at least been a little more detailed or distinguishable from one another. Multiplayer is also a pretty big letdown, as you can’t play with a buddy online. Instead, you are limited to having to be within the DS’s limited wireless range to have the ability to trade fossils or do battle with one another. In the end, Fossil Fighters has some interesting ideas, but since it is so similar to Pokémon, it suffers from not being able to fully step out of that franchise’s shadow. Still, if you’re looking for a Pokémon-like title with a Spectrobes twist and a dash of dinosaurs, you likely will have a good time with Fossil Fighters.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.4 Graphics
The characters and environments look alright, but better looking vivosaur models would have helped out a lot. 3.9 Control
Whether using the D-pad or the stylus the game controls fine. The touch screen works particularly well for cleaning fossils. 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The vivosaurs sound decent but much of this game’s audio is made up of fairly bland elevator music. 3.6
Some of this game’s elements can get tedious, but all in all it is fairly enjoyable and should provide many hours of strategy, RPG, and archeological-based goodness.
3.6 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.