Review: Fossil Fighters (Nintendo DS)

DS_FossilFighters_Packaging_comp9Fossil Fighters
Developer: RED Entertainment
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: RPG
Release Date: 08/10/2009

I know that we have a lot of Pokemon fans here at DHGF. Pokemon Week was one of the biggest things we ever did, and any time Alex puts up a new post about anything even slightly related to the series, it means big numbers. There’s a reason why he does EVERYTHING Pokemon related for us.

In a way, it kind of makes for a nice parallel here.

Fossil Fighters is a game that clearly has its roots planted in the Pokemon style of collecting and battling. That very premise is plastered on the front cover of the game, as if to say “Look! A Pokemon-esque game until the next Pokemon comes out!”

So the fact that I, not Lucard, am handling this game is pretty funny to me.

Anyway, its time to find out if this is one of those games that pays tribute to Nintendo’s legendary series, or if this is another cheap knock off.

Story

This starts out much like any other collect-a-thon. You’ll start out as an unnamed boy who’s heading over to Vivosaur Island in order to start his life as a Fossil Fighter. There, you meet the quirky doctor who shows you the ropes and gets you started with your first Vivosaur. Then you start out on your wacky adventure and meet all kinds of people. There’s even a maniacal group bent on world domination via Vivosaur power.

That’s right. The parallels between this and Pokemon carry well over into the story and not just the concept. Thankfully, the game doesn’t just stop there. Unlike the plot of any Pokemon game I’ve ever played, there are several fleshed out characters here, and all of them matter to the plot. There’s Rosie, the friend/love interest that you need to save from danger every ten minutes, Captain Bulwort, the chief of police who calls on you when he needs help, and Duna, the strange woman who shows up out of nowhere and acts strangely. After the initial moments, the game had a bit more in common with Megaman Legends than Pokemon to me, and that’s a good thing. The story makes some pretty crazy turns as it goes, but it all ends up working out in the end. At the very least, you’ll start to care about a few of the characters.

fossil1That’s not to say there aren’t some odd things going on. For one, you infiltrate an enemy base at one point. In order to do so, you get a mask to disguise yourself. However, this mask doesn’t make you look anything like the people you’re around, and the rest of your outfit is still the same. You should really stick out like a sore thumb, which says a lot about the intelligence of this group. Also, most of the supporting character’s names are extremely groan worthy. The professor type is named Dr. Diggins. The wealthy grandfather is called Mr. Richmond. The lady who gives you instructions for your fist dig is named Bea Ginner. There are more examples of this and none of them are even as remotely funny as the developers seemed to think they were.

As far as how the game progresses, it is split into chapters. During each chapter, you’ll explore a new dig site and end up in some sort of subplot that helps tie the main story together. This usually leaves you with a few fetch quests to complete and some lengthy dialogue sections to view. At the end of each chapter, you’ll take a test to try and raise your fighter level. You’ll need to clean a fossil with a certain number of points, and you’ll have to defeat anywhere from one to three fighters in various conditions. It gives the game a good sense of structure without ever restricting it. Towards the end, you won’t need to take any more tests, but the game compensates by giving you a more involved plot line.

All told, the adventure isn’t quite up to Pokemon standards, but the plot is enjoyable enough to get you through the game. I just wish fewer of these games would sacrifice any dialogue on your character’s part for the ability to chose your name. The whole silent protagonist is thing is getting old.

Graphics

From a technical standpoint, the game looks pretty good. It utilizes 3D visuals for the most part, and the various Vivosaur models look quite good, even if they conform to the modern thought that raptors had feathers. (I like how they find feathers on one or two dinos and decide that even more had them without any sort of proof. Somehow, a predator loses a bit of credibility when it looks like an overgrown peacock.) Also, since these creatures aren’t meant to be exact replicas, they have all kinds of color. The special effects look good for the most part, and I rather liked the fire and water attacks in particular.

The humans, on the other hand, are hit and miss. The main character looks, for lack of a better word, like a retard. Not only does he have ridiculously spiky hair, but that hair is sticking out of an ugly hat with the top ripped off! Are there people out there that actually dress like that? That’s a scary thought. Anyway, because the game takes place on a tropical island, there are characters wearing ugly shirts and shorts all over the place. How can you take a Doctor seriously when he’s wearing a lab coat over a bright orange t-shirt and shorts? Also, the way certain character’s bodies look just doesn’t feel right. They look stringy.

Environments are hit and miss as well. A few look pretty good, but several of them are bland terrain that look the same as every other bit of terrain around it. Thankfully, the town you use as a hub is pretty decent looking and features some nice buildings and set pieces to look at.

On the whole, the graphics are quite solid for a DS game, even if the art design is a little suspect.

Audio

The music in this game intrigues me. It sounds almost as if someone took the music from Pokemon Diamond and The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, and merged those two styles. At times, it’s bombastic midi music at its absolute best. Other times, its merely good background music. Rarely was a tune offensive in any way. All told, I’m not going to be rushing to find the soundtrack any time soon, but it fits the game nicely.

In terms of how the audio is implemented, the game scores a definite hit. The best example is in the cleaning sections. You’ll use tools to clear away rock either by the force of a hammer or careful drilling. Depending on what layer of rock you’re hitting or whether you’re starting to hit bone, you’ll get different noises, which makes the audio important when things get hard to see. In particular, you’ll know exactly when you screw up, thanks to the distinctive noise of fossil being ruined. Also, the music slowly picks up in these sections right from the beginning. By the time you’ve reached the time limit, the music will be moving you at a frantic pace. It really gets the heart rate up.

The rest of the package is pretty simple. At no point does it reach the level of the best stuff on the system, but it never slips into annoying or bad territory either. All around, it’s pretty solid.

Gameplay

There are three main types of gameplay in Fossil Fighters: digging for fossils, cleaning fossils, and battling with Vivosaurs created from said dug up and cleaned fossils. I’ll cover each one in depth to give you an idea of how the game works.

Digging for fossils is perhaps the least entertaining bit in the game, which is probably to be expected. You’ll travel to one of seven different locations (two additional dig sites are unlocked after you beat the game, bringing the total to nine.) and make your way through the level. Apart from a few sections, there aren’t any real obstacles to worry about. You just run around and hunt for fossils. On the top screen is your sonar. By pressing either of the shoulder buttons, you can activate the sonar. It will give you a little ping if it finds any fossils. Once you’ve found one on sonar, all you need do is travel to that location, which will be nearby, and either press the A button or tap that location with the stylus. If you’ve dug in the right spot, you’ll get either a fossil, jewel rock, or just a plain old rock. Occasionally, a fellow fossil fighter will pop out of the ground and claim they found the same fossil you did, and you’ll need to battle them to keep it. This happens every time you find a jewel rock as well. You’ll earn upgrades over time that allow you to find fossils that you couldn’t pick up before, and even the ability to tell what type of attribute the fossil has once you’ve grabbed it. If the fossil inside is one you’ve already cleaned, the game will let you know you’ve picked up a duplicate. You can carry only a finite amount of fossils, but thankfully this can be upgraded as well.

fossil2Once you’re ready to clean fossils, you’ll need to head back into town and go to the Fossil Center. Once there, you can chose any fossil you have and clean it. You’ll have about ninety seconds to clear off as much rock from the fossil as possible. At your disposal are three different tools. The x-ray allows you to get an outline of what’s beneath the rock. This works on all but one type of rock, so its very useful. Your primary tool at the start will be the hammer. This is used to crack the outer shell of the rock as well as break a large section at a time. You have to be careful though, as its power can hurt the fossil if the force is too close to it. Your final tool is the drill, which you’ll use by either tapping a section or holding the stylus down. This clears away a much smaller section of rock and has significantly less power. This makes it perfect for clearing away bits of rock that would cause damage to your fossil if you were to use the hammer. The drill and hammer can also be upgraded.

There are several layers of rock that you’ll need to go through. As you start to clear it away, you’ll notice that each layer has its own color. This gives you a pretty good indication on how close you are to the fossil, so its important to memorize the different color variations as you go. Also, any time you cause damage to the fossil, you’ll see your meter at the top of the screen fill up with red. If that red crosses the line on your meter, you’ll lose the fossil, and there aren’t any retries. Some fossils also have much thinner layers of rock to dig through, and these can be cleared easily enough with the drill alone. You’ll need to test each fossil you come across, because using the hammer from the start can cause damage before you even know what’s happening.

Your goal is to clear away rock until the blue meter rises above that same line. If the blue touches the red, you can’t get any more points for clearing away rock, so its best to let time run out. Generally speaking, you need to get about fifty points out of a hundred to pass the cleaning. The number of points you get are directly responsible for how powerful the Vivosaur created from the fossil is. There are four points to each creature: head, arms, legs, and body. Also, Vivosaurs can’t be revived until you find the head piece. In addition, there are rare red boned fossils that give you a bonus twenty five points for successfully cleaning them. That means that your parts can be anywhere from 50 to 125 points strong. Thankfully, if you get a new copy of a fossil you’ve already cleaned, you can clean it again. If you do better, that new score will replace your old one, and the old one will will be donated to the Fossil Center. You can only have one of each Vivosaur, so you only need one of each fossil, and there are well over four hundred in the game.

Donations to the Fossil Center reward you with donation points. These can be spent to acquire rare fossils that you can only acquire via the donation points. There are four Vivosaurs you can get in this manner, and they’re expensive, but worth it.

To save time, you can also drop off fossils to your robot for him to clean. He can take as many as you can give him at once, but you’ll have to wait for him to clean them before you give him anymore. There is one setback to dropping off stuff for him though: he can only earn points up to a certain amount. The more you clean, the more he’ll learn. Thus, you have an incentive to clean a lot of fossils yourself in order to level him up. The amount of donation points you earn per fossil is dependent on how many points you got on a fossil, so that is also something to remember when turning fossils over to your robot. Also, if he manages to beat your score (something that happens only really late in the game or if one of the fossils turns out to be a red bone), then he’ll automatically integrate it. He can’t clean new fossils for you. Parts you can’t use will be stored by this robot.

At last, its time to get to the fighting.

You can carry a team of five dinos with you at any time, however, you can only use three in a battle. You can preset up to three teams, but you must go to a special point in order to switch teams, so you’re better off just keeping one and making changes as you go. Before the battle, you’ll be able to see what Vivosaurs your opponent has, but not in what order they will be placed. You’ll need to chose what to put in you attack zone (AZ), and which two to go in your support zone (SZ). A creature in your AZ can attack your opponent’s AZ or SZ. Your Vivosaurs in the SZ can only attack your opponent’s AZ. You have both a top SZ and a bottom SZ. For the most part, there isn’t a difference, but if your AZ monster is KO’d, then it will be your top SZ monster that takes its place.

I’m just going to type monster instead of Vivosaur for a while because its easier, by the way. Also, some of the Vivosaurs aren’t dinos, but prehistoric animals such as the mammoth or sabre-toothed tiger, but there are only a few of these, so your Vivosaurs are mostly dinosaurs.

Anyways, in order to perform attacks, you’ll need to spend fossil points, or FP. At the beginning of each turn, you’re given a set amount of FP based on your fighter level. Also, if one of your monsters falls, then you’ll get a huge boost of FP to try and help your recover. The same rules apply for your opponent, so it adds a nice layer of strategy. Each Vivosaur has three primary attacks, one support attack, and one team attack. You start out with one attack, and you gain new ones with each fossil you add to that monster. The final fossil will grant you a support attack. Team attacks are unlocked during the course of the game, and these can only be used if your party consists of monsters with either the same element or eating habit. For instance, if all of your monsters are fire types, or all are carnivores, then there are team attacks they can use.

fossil3Speaking of elements, there are five different elements in the game: earth, fire, wind, water, and neutral. (I had to fight myself in order not to make a Captain Planet joke just now. You’re welcome.) This offers further strategy to the game, as types will earn bonuses to attack against types they are strong against, and negatives to attacks against types they are weak against. Fire beats earth, earth beats wind, wind beats water, and water beats fire. Neutral is the only type without an affiliation, so monsters of this type are useful to keep around. It becomes important fairly early on not to keep too many of one type around so that you have options. Trying to win in a battle where you’re using all wind types and your opponent is using all earth is nearly impossible.

In addition to elements, each Vivosaur also has support effects that activate if they are in the SZ. These can help lower or raise the attack, defense, speed, and/or accuracy of you or your opponent’s AZ monster. These become essential in building a well balanced team and help add more depth to the game. Some monsters are clearly designed to work from the SZ position and offer you incentives to put them there. For instance, Pachy doesn’t suffer and negatives for attacking in the SZ row.

Whoever has the lowest total Life Points, or LP, available to them at the start of the battle is the player who goes first. Winning battles will grant you battle points which are the experience you need to rank up your Vivosaurs. For the most part, your monsters will gain life points for these extra Battle Points, or BP, as well, so it becomes important to keep track of how much LP you have at one time.

A couple of last things to talk about: the escape zone (EZ) and status effects. The EZ is the fourth zone on the battle field, and from here, you can swap one of your SZ monsters for one in your AZ. However, the AZ monster will head to the EZ instead. Any bonuses they offer won’t be in effect, but they can’t be attacked or attack either. They must sit there for two turns. If there is someone in the EZ, you can’t swap again. After the two turns is up, they’ll head to a vacant EZ zone. If you’ve got a mismatch in the AZ, don’t hesitate to use this. There are also status effects. These range from you’re typical poison, berserk, and confuse effects, to more nifty ones like frighten. If a monster is frightened, they might lose the ability to use some of their attacks. Many of these abilities affect what options you have. Excited monsters can’t retreat to the EZ, and confused monsters might swap out when you don’t want them to.

I haven’t touched on every facet of the game mechanics here, but I’ve rambled on for about three pages in Word, so I’m going to stop here. If you have any more questions, go ahead and leave a comment or e-mail me and I’ll be happy to answer them. Basically put, this is a streamlined game in terms of finding and cleaning the fossils. However, the battles have a ton of depth in strategy. When you get to the post-game stuff, you’ll be amazed at how engrossing it can be.

The controls work good either with the stylus or the buttons and there’s enough variety to keep you from getting bored. This isn’t as good as Pokemon, but it carves out a pretty good niche for itself and does what it does pretty darn well.

Replayability

If you’re the kind of person who has to collect everything in game in order to feel that you’ve beaten it, you might be saddened to know there are only about a hundred or so different Vivosaurs as compared to the ridiculous number of Pokemon you can catch. However, since there are four different parts you need to find for each one, this still adds up to about four hundred different things for you to search for.

On top of that, there are several sub-quests you can undertake in order to get extra cash or find rare fossil. These can be lucrative to complete, so its worth your time.

The game took me about twenty two or so hours in order to complete the story. That might seem kind of short, but the game offers many many more hours in post game activities. You unlock two more digging sites, you can unlock a time machine that will let you go back and have rematches against bosses (they’ll be harder this time around too) in order to get Vivosaurs you can’t possibly get anywhere else, and of course there is always mutliplayer.

Your multiplayer options aren’t that robust, but are definitely welcome. You can battle or trade with anyone via a wireless connection, but sadly, there is no Nintendo Wifi support. Had that been included, this would have gotten much higher marks. Still, the depth of the combat makes this an easy game to recommend for multiplayer goodness.

In all, the game offers dozens of hours of single player content, and several hours more in multiplayer. This isn’t the kind of game you start over from the beginning, but you’ll get your money’s worth if you get into it.

Balance

One problem that I have with the game is that, until the post game, the battles are far too easy. You can keep roughly the same team you started out with and level them up to win nearly every battle. The first Vivosaur I got was a Spinax, and he almost never left my squad because he was gaining so much LP and strength due to leveling that he was far too much for the computer to handle. I wasn’t even afraid to use him against types he was weak against because he could still come out on top. The only reason I ever took him out is because I maxed out his BP and he couldn’t gain anything more. Once you’ve beaten the game, the amount of strategy required as opposed to brute force increases exponentially, but in the entire main story, I lost maybe once or twice.

When it comes to a balance between Vivosaurs, there are some that are definitely better than others, which should be the case, much like any other game with so many different creatures to chose from. Generally speaking, the more rare the fossil, the stronger the Vivosaur created from it. You don’t want to mess with a T-Rex if all you’re using is a Shanshan. Trust me.

Originality

There’s no question that this game borrows heavily from games like Pokemon and Spectrobes. Anyone trying to deny that will find their nose growing at an alarming rate. Still, there’s enough here that keeps the game from feeling too familiar, and most of that boils down to the combat system.

Dinosaurs have been getting pretty popular in terms of games on the DS recently. You’ve got Battle of the Giants: Dinosaurs and Dinosaur King both coming out not that long ago. In fact, when the game was described to me it was suggested that it was Pokemon meets Battle of the Giants: Dinosaurs. This seems to be a new trend, and I like it.

All told, if you’re looking for something wholly original, then don’t look here. But, if you’re willing to overlook the sense of familiarity you get when you turn it on, then by all means go ahead.

Addictiveness

I think I dropped around four hours in one sitting playing this before I took a break. For me, that’s a great deal of time. My average is somewhere between an hour and an hour and a half with most games. The bar was raised here, and not just because it was a long game that I needed to finish quickly in order to write a review.

fossil4You’ll find that once your case can carry a lot of fossils at once, you’ll have the urge not to go back into town until you’ve filled it to the brim. Once you’re back, you’ll also want to make sure all of the fossils are cleaned, that way your case is empty and ready to be refilled when you go back out. This can suck hours of your time up without you even realizing it.

That’s not to say that this game can’t be enjoyed in small bits. Cleaning a fossil only takes about a minute, and battles rarely last more than two or three themselves, so if you only have a few minutes to spare, you can get some work done in that time, making it a great choice for portable play.

To put it plainly, this is the kind of game that can suck you in and make you lose track of time. Don’t be surprised if you forget to do something because you were playing Fossil Fighters.

Appeal Factor

I’m at an impasse here. Personally, I think that anyone should be able to have fun with this unless it simply isn’t violent enough for them. Collecting and battling dinosaurs is probably something that we’d all like to do.

Still, there are no doubt a lot of people who will pass this up as nothing more than a Pokemon knock off. Considering it also goes for the same price as Pokemon, it can seem like a rip off. Still, chances are that if you like that kind of game, you will at least get some enjoyment out of this.

If you’re looking for a good game to buy a kid, this is a no-brainer. It may not have a hip anime to go along with it, but it is a lot of fun.

Miscellaneous

Let me just say that this game isn’t great, but it is definitely good. There are times, especially at the beginning, where it feels like a complete rip off of Pokemon, but thankfully that feeling goes away once you really start to dig your way through it.

Personally, I hope this game does well enough for a sequel, because with a few additions, such as being able to have more than one copy of a Vivosaur, items that you can use in battle, and online multiplayer, this game could sit right next to Pokemon and not be overshadowed.

If collecting and battling is your thing, you can’t go wrong with this.

The Scores

Story: Enjoyable
Graphics: Enjoyable
Audio: Good
Gameplay: Very Good
Replayability: Great
Balance: Below Average
Originality: Below Average
Addictiveness: Great
Appeal Factor: Very Good
Miscellaneous: Good
Final Score: Enjoyable Game!

Short Attention Span Summary:
diehardjackFossil Fighters isn’t perfect, and it certainly doesn’t reach the level of Pokemon, but that doesn’t stop it from being an exceptionally solid game. The game mechanics are streamlined, though not lacking in depth, the presentation is solid, and the battle system is one of the best I’ve seen for a turn based game of this sort. If you’re looking for a great portable RPG fix, you can’t go wrong wit this title. I’m hoping a sequel comes out so I can see what else they can pull out with this solid start.

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