Ask any little boy what his favorite thing in the world is, and he'll probably say dinosaurs. For generations, we've been fascinated by the monstrous reptiles that used to roam the earth, and just about every kid has a healthy collection of plastic dinos that he uses to re-create some pretty epic battles. Fossil Fighters takes the concept a step further and asks, "What if you could revive these long-dead creatures and pit them in battle against other gargantuan beasts?" The answer is that you have just created a recipe for a ton of fun.
Fossil Fighters casts players as a new arrival on Vivosaur Island. As an aspiring fighter, you must dig up fossils and revive the dinosaurs trapped inside. Upon awakening, you can create a team to battle other trainers and eventually attain the rank of master fighter. The road won't be easy, though; there are plenty of other fighters that are trying to make a name for themselves, and a nefarious group known as the BB Bandits is also running amok. Even so, the path to dominance is so entertaining that you likely won't mind any speed bumps you may encounter along the way.
The first step to assembling your dream team of dinos is to scour the island's various dig sites and unearth some fossils. The fossil-hunting portion of the game is very simple; you merely tap one of the shoulder buttons on your DS and watch your radar for pings. After zeroing in on a fossil, you dig it up with a quick swing of your pickax, and then you're all set to move on to the next rock. At first, things can be a bit challenging simply because you're carrying weak sonar and a small fossil case, but over time, you can upgrade your equipment to search a larger area, filter out useless rocks and carry more fossils before you need to unload. It's not the most exciting aspect of the game, but it's simple and painless, and you're normally hunting for fossils while fulfilling other objectives so it rarely ever gets in the way of the action.
After digging up a few fossils, you'll need to revive them, which is handled through a simple yet exceptionally addictive mini-game. Players are given 90 seconds to break through the rock and grit in order to clean the actual fossil. For this task, you're given a hammer and a drill (the hammer clears away large chunks of rock, and the drill does the precision cleaning). At the end of the allotted time, players are scored based on how thoroughly and carefully they cleaned the fossil, with pristine remains yielding the highest possible quality "vivosaurs." Once players clean any particular dino's head fossil, that creature is revived and can be used in combat; subsequent body parts (the torso, arms and legs) can be added to enhance attributes and unlock new skills. Even better, finding duplicates of fossils that you already have allows you to attempt and best your previous high score, and even if you fall short, you'll earn donation points that can be used to purchase fossils of rare and powerful vivosaurs. The whole mini-game is simple yet brilliant, and the constantly shifting challenge (some rocks are soft, others are super-hard; some dino bones are brittle and damaged easily, others shrug off nearly anything) keeps the experience fresh even after you've played the game for many hours.
Once you've actually gotten around to reviving a good number of dinosaurs, you'll want to put them to the test in battle. You can place up to five creatures on a team, and three of them are allowed to participate in battle. The dinos all have different attributes, with some being bred purely for attack while others play a more defensive or supportive role. In addition, the battlefield has three different "zones": the attack zone, where you can dish out the most damage but also receive the most in return; the support zone, where your vivosaurs will apply statistical buffs or debuffs on the other fighters in the match; and the escape zone, where you can pull back a certain vivosaur and let him lick his wounds in safety for a couple of turns. On top of all this is the fact that most of the creatures have a certain elemental affinity, which then adds a bit of rock-paper-scissors flare to the proceedings. While the basics of battle are pretty simple, it takes real skill and dedication to put together a truly unstoppable team.
If a lot of the game's elements sound familiar, that's because they've already been done before. One thing about Fossil Fighters is that it's not exactly an original game. The fossil cleaning mechanic has been a staple in Disney's Spectrobes franchise, and, of course, any game that uses monsters fighting one another as a central mechanic will automatically draw comparisons to Pokemon. Even so, simply because this game is so much like those others doesn't make it inferior in any way. The fossil cleaning here is much less complex and significantly more forgiving than Spectrobes, and the Pokemon roster has gotten so large that it's difficult to imagine taking the time to "catch 'em all" anymore. With respect, I'm more likely to try and track down all the body parts of the few dozen vivosaurs in Fossil Fighters than I am to hunt down and trap all the 100+ Pokemon, some of which are so rare you only get one shot at them.
The other perceived shortcoming of Fossil Fighters is its lackluster visual presentation, but I really feel that this is one case where beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The human character models are nothing special, but the developers embraced their limitations and made a lot of goofy animations that only work when your characters are rigid and stiff. The vivosaurs are big and colorful, but very few of them manage to look all that menacing. Still, this game is targeted at kids, and in that sense, it's better to go for vibrant and overdone than muted and menacing. Yes, I know the T-Rex wasn't bright red, but who cares?
The bottom line is that Fossil Fighters takes the formula established by games like Spectrobes and Pokemon and improves on it in nearly every way. The title is deep, engaging and, most importantly, fun for gamers of all ages. Even if you've traded in your dreams of riding a Stegosaurus for a briefcase and cubicle, this game will remind you why dinosaurs have always been so cool. Just remember, if "Jurassic Park" taught us anything, it's that even the tiny dinosaurs can kill you if there are enough of them around, so watch yourself out there.Score: 9.2/10
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