Who would think that paleontology could be so violent?
Monster collection games are a dime a dozen on the Nintendo DS. Beyond the Pokemon games, there is a litany of titles that try to eek out their own unique niches. Fossil Fighters, developed by Red Entertainment, is one such title. As the name implies, Fossil Fighters asks you to dig up and reanimate fossils in order to fight.
You arrive on Fossil Island, a resort island devoted to fossil fighters, where you meetyour mentor Dr. Diggins. He invented the process for reviving fossils into creatures calls vivasaurs that are used for battles.. Your character, a young aspiring fossil fighter, is tasked with making a name for himself in the Battle Arena. Not only do you need to polish your battle skills, but you also need to dig up and revive fossils, and create the perfect team for every occasion. While the game is simple, there is a surprising amount of depth in Fossil Fighters.
There are three types of gameplay: exploration, fossil reviving, and battle. Throughout the game, you explore the various sites on Fossil Island. During exploration, you can use your radar to find buried objects. The majority of things you dig up are fossils. Contained within are vivasaur parts or precious treasures.
Once you've got a collection of fossils to be reanimated, you return to the Fossil Fighters lab. There, you are able to extract the contents of the the rocks you've picked up in a mini-game.
The challenge is in the limited time you have to extract your prize. The mallet goes a long way to removing the layers of rock, and does it over a wide area, but it is a more dangerous proposition. If the force of the mallet makes its way to exposed fossil, it will cause damage. The drill is much safer, but it is very slow. The goal is to remove as much of the stone from around the fossil before time runs out. In order to be successful, you have to expose half of the fossil. Any damage to the fossil counts against the excavation score, which affects your vivasaur's stats.
Once you extract a skull, you can revive that vivasaur. There are other parts (arms, legs, body) that you can also find. If you extract a fossil once, you can try to improve your previous score. If you do better, your vivasaur will be upgraded with your newest find.
Of course, all this extraction is meaningless without the battling. While in many ways simpler than many of its monster-battling rivals, Fossil Fighters has some interesting depth that may not be immediately apparent. With only four elemental types (and a fifth neutral type), there isn't much to the system. However, the party structure offers some unique ways to use elemental types. The battlefield is shaped like a cross, and each position around the cross has a different effect on your vivasaur's role in the battle.
At any time, you can carry five vivasaurs; I usually brought one of each type, but only three at a time can fight. Before each battle, you see your opponents' vivasaurs and how they have arranged them. Armed with that intelligence, the game asks you to pick from your party and do the same. How you arrange your vivasaurs offers the most opportunities for strategy. It forces you to anticipate how the enemy will react to your formations, and how you can react to their actions. It all feels trivial at first, but it quickly became second nature as a way to expedite the battle resolution.
The actual fighting is equally simple. Every turn, you get FP (Fossil Points) to use your vivasaurs' skills. All of your vivasaurs pull from the same pot of FP, so deciding who should attack, and if you need to swap your formations, allows for some light tactical decisions. Battling does sometimes feel shallow and dull, but some of the story battles are a lot of fun, and seeing new vivasaurs in battle can be enjoyable.
Fossil Fighters isn't nearly as long as many similar titles. Clocking in at between eleven and fifteen hours, the game is very linear. Breaking up the story into days, each with its own new area to explore and battles to fight, offers the player a guided tour of Fossil Island. While the story isn't going to win any literary prizes, it does take a few interesting turns and is full of strange and amusing characters.
The game does feature an online mode (called the “Fossil Cannon”). Given the relative simplicity of the combat the online mode only has short-term appeal.
The game is presented from an isometric perspective, set in a 3D world. It resembles a more pastel version of The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. The island's various regions are presented well, each having a unique look and feel. The only noteworthy issue with the graphics are the models, most of which look flat. The character models are not spared the flat presentation, and their movements are awkward.
The controls work nicely and offer a few options. The entire exploration and battle phases can be controlled either with the D-Pad and face buttons, or via the touchscreen (much like Phantom Hourglass). The fossil extraction is controlled exclusively with the stylus; it feels natural and allows for some dexterity in the rather sensitive process of cleaning your fossils.
I enjoyed Fossil Fighters. While it certainly isn't the best example in the crowded monster collection genre, it has some unique ideas. The best thing about the game is that it doesn't try to be Pokemon. Going for more simple gameplay allows Fossil Fighters to be a unique experience. Often times, I'd find myself playing it for hours at a time, while doing something else such as watching TV. Fossil Fighters isn't perfect by any means, but it is a good game.