Fossil Fighters Review
As kids, we all went through our dinosaur phase. The difference between some dinosaur enthusiasts and the rest of the world, though, is that some of us never grow out of it. From watching the Land of the Lost on Saturday morning TV to having the short pants scared off us watching Jurassic Park, we love us some dinos. For those of us who never really got over wishing we had a pet T-Rex, Fossil Fighters, the new pet fighting game from Red Entertainment, is a dream come true.
Fossil Fighters is a turn-based pet fighting game, something like the Pokemon titles. Jaded Pokemon fans will likely dismiss the game out of hand as derivative or ignore it altogether, but it’s their loss. Fossil Fighters offers a twist on Pokemon-ish gameplay that revolves around digging up fossils and reviving long-dead vivosaurs (the game’s fictional word for dinosaurs). Everything takes place on Vivosaur Island which akin to certain cock-fighting-obsessed communities, is populated by people bent on setting overgrown iguanas against one another in arena-based combat.
You play a young wannabe Fossil Fighter named, well, whatever you name him. You can’t play as a female so I defiantly called the hero Trixie even though he’s a boy. Obviously it’s never occurred to some developers that girls like dinosaurs too! Ahem. Anyway, you start out being trained by eccentric paleontologist, Dr. Diggs, who teaches you how to locate fossils using sonar, dig them up and clean them at the Fossil Center. The coolness starts almost immediately when your first fossils come to life, becoming powerful contenders in the Fossil Fighting ring. For those of us who loathe cleaning, it’s hard to believe that it can be fun but the challenge of producing a perfect fossil from a shapeless hunk of rock actually is. Using an x-ray, you spot the outline of the fossil, then use your hammer and drill to remove excess rock. The quality of your cleaning job is measured by a gauge that judges how clean the fossil is, as well as how much damage it suffers during cleaning. It’s tricky getting the fossil clean before the timer runs out without destroying it and if you can‘t, you’ll get a failing grade and lose the fossil completely.
Fossils come in four types: heads, bodies, arms and legs. Heads are required for revival but additional body parts raise your vivosaur’s power level and rank. Fossils can be found all over the island and it’s pretty exciting coming back to the Fossil Center with a bag full of new fossils, wondering what cool new vivosaurs they’re gonna make. Those of us with obsessive-compulsive tendencies will feel the need to clean all the fossils ourselves but if you’re not that into tapping and drilling, you can drop the fossils off for your personal helper ‘bot to clean. That’s fun too, dropping off a load of fossils and coming back later to see if you scored any vivosaur upgrades, jewel stones or donations. Donations happen when the ‘bot cleans a fossil you already have. You can either sell these dupes at the Fossil Guild store or gain donation points by donating them. Donation points are worth collecting because they work like currency and allow you to buy some of the rarest fossils in the game.
Whoa, this is a lot of talk about cleaning and the game’s not called “Fossil Cleaners”, right? Cool as the archeological aspect of the game is, the most fun happens once you’ve collected a few vivosaurs of your own and can join the Fossil Fighting frenzy. The leveling, team-building and skill usage might be a lot for new players to swallow but the game does a good job teaching these concepts a little at a time. First you learn about turn-based combat and positioning (attack zones versus support zones), then you move on to skills, fossil power cost, elemental alignments and team abilities. It’s great that the game takes the time to explain all this thoroughly because success is dependent on understanding how to effectively use your vivosaurs’ unique support abilities.
The game offers a great variety of vivosaurs; I had over a hundred when I beat the game and still hadn't collected them all. Combat takes place on the top DS screen as combatants face off and vivosaurs snap and claw viciously at one another (By the way - a gold star to the sound guy who created the very satisfying teeth-gnashing sound effects). One decision I applaud by the design team is that you won’t encounter many random battles when you’re out in the field. Of course you’ll run into people who want to test your mettle you but you always have the choice to fight them or ignore them. That said, you won’t likely want to ignore them since winning fights earns your vivosaurs life points and fight points, the latter of which can eventually rank them up.
Being called Fossil Fighters, it’s no surprise the game’s focus is well, fossil fighting, but the game offers up a surprisingly involved story as well. To begin with, young “Trixie” and his accident-prone girlfriend Rosie encounter a slimy group called the BB Bandits who is robbing innocent fossil fighters and causing general havoc on Vivosaur island. Very quickly they realize a more powerful and sinister presence is using the BB’s like puppets, planning to destroy humanity through the use of four mysterious idols. Finally, they face off with a galaxy-sized creature bent on swallowing the Earth whole. Throughout these trials, they meet a series of utterly bizarre characters from a tribal chieftain bent on performing a disturbingly “vigorous and passionate hip-shaking dance” to an ahem…flamboyant hotel guest with an insatiable appetite for improper word usage and ugly knick-knacks. What’s refreshing is that the story isn’t just an afterthought - it’s integral to the game.
The story will take you quite a while to complete but beyond that, it’s worth it to spend some time exploring the environments which vary from lava-filled volcanoes, forests and plains to a haunted pirate ship under the sea. Each area contains different vivosaur fossils and is worth revisiting for rare fossils that only become discoverable once you’ve upgraded your equipment. The environments and character art, while simple, are humorously well done. Its simplicity may disappoint players looking for realism but the consistency of the art style throughout points to its angular cartooniness being a choice, rather than a defect. Regardless of taste, the simple shapes and colors communicate clearly onscreen, taking a modest back seat to the gameplay, something many gamers will appreciate. The sound is correspondingly simple, consisting mainly of a handful of likable musical themes and comical sound effects that fit the visuals perfectly.
Regardless of previous titles featuring a similar style of gameplay, Fossil Fighters has a lot to offer. Not only does it do a stellar job of walking new players through what for them could be some overly complex mechanics, it pulls them through the game with an interesting storyline and a satisfying reward system. The game is extremely polished from start to finish, and even after the finish. During the credits you actually revisit each character you’ve met through a series of humorous sequences that shows you what happens to them all post-narrative. This attention to detail extends beyond the single player campaign, to include new fossil areas unlocked upon finishing the game and multi-player combat via DS wireless. Fossil Fighters has exploration, tons of team-building options, a fun turn-based combat system and a good story so feel free to ignore the jaded gamers and join the Fossil Fun.