Though video games have now emerged as another mainstream outlet for blockbuster entertainment, there was a time when the medium was considered to be mainly for kids. When did that change? These days, if a game doesn’t include graphic violence or incredibly complex puzzle solving, it’s likely to get panned for being “too kiddie.” Nintendo, however, hasn’t forgotten their core audience, though it seems the “hardcore” gamer thinks otherwise. Fossil Fighters makes no bones (sorry for the pun) about who its target audience is, and if you like dinosaurs and Pokemon, you’re likely to have a great time with this pocket companion.
You begin your adventure as a young boy (of whom you name), and your ultimate goal is to become the best possible Fossil Fighter you can be. Sound familiar? Sure, the game borrows heavily from Pokemon, as well as Dragon Quest Monsters, but it’s a melding of ideas that’s undeniably fun.
Without a doubt, the story on offer here is most certainly geared toward a young audience, and the adventure will take you on some oddball quests that can be downright silly. With that in mind, the writing is generically clever, and the presentation is top shelf. The pacing of the story is spot on, though you won’t traverse a great expanse as you might in other similar RPGs.
As a Fossil Fighter, your time is consumed by three main tasks: searching for and digging up fossils, cleaning fossils, and battling your dinosaurs – vivosaurs, to be precise. Once the cleaning process is complete, the parts you uncover will then be used to revive new dinos. Each vivosaur is comprised of a head fossil, arms, legs and body. As you discover new fossils and add on parts, your vivosaurs will become stronger.
The game also takes a nod from Yu-Gi-Oh on DS, and rather than throwing endless random encounters at the player, you’ll find other Fossil Fighters in the field of whom you can opt to battle against. It’s pretty much left up to the player to set the pace of progression.
Battles are a somewhat simple affair, though there’s a surprising amount of depth in terms of strategy. You’ll build teams of up to five vivosaurs, but only three are taken into battle, leaving the others as back-ups that can mooch experience.
The battlefield is made up of two grids, with four spaces for each Fossil Fighter. The front space is reserved for your battle vivosaur, and he’ll be able to execute full damage from this vantage point. Your battle vivosaur can be accompanied by two support vivosaurs on either side, and they can add status effects to the equation, as well as attack for lesser damage to opponents. The final space on the grid is where you can retreat a vivosaur, and though they can’t perform any actions from this position, they are protected from taking damage.
Battling vivosaurs is obviously a main attraction in Fossil Fighters, but you’ll also spend a fair amount of time scavenging for fossils and then bringing them back to a lab for cleaning. From the outset, you’re given a radar (upgradable, of course), which will allow you to sniff out fossils in the field. Sometimes you’ll come across ordinary rocks, but scouting gems and rare fossils will earn you the bread and butter needed to progress through the story. Using your radar amounts to little more than surveying the land whilst pushing on the right shoulder button to ping for hidden treasures. There’s a distinct Animal Crossing quality to the process that should prove addictive for folks who love to scrounge endlessly.
Cleaning fossils, however, is a bit more interesting, and though it works along similar lines to the excavation process in Spectrobes, the mechanics here are lot more intuitive and functional. You’ve got three main tools at your disposal – a hammer, a drill, and your own hot air – and audio cues and tight controls make cleaning fossils a lot of fun. You’re also graded on how well you do, and repeating the process in order to get a better grade will reap rewards in the form of making your vivosaurs more powerful.
Tying everything together is a presentation that is truly Nintendo. Everything from the word bubbles, to cinematic camera pans make for one very slick production not commonplace on DS. The game exhibits some of the smoothest texture work we’ve seen on the handheld, with character models and environments that look excellent. Unfortunately, whether intentional or not, the character animation is quite stiff at times. Vivosaurs also make some fairly silly gestures while in battle, but considering the audience the game is aimed at, it’s probably a good fit. The music isn’t all that memorable, but the fidelity is crystal clear, with a wonderful stereo separation. The sound effects are also a real treat, and add a great layer of shine to the game’s overall polish.
There was a time when it was okay to make games for kids, though the pickings weren’t always that great. When I was cutting my teeth on the Atari 2600, our selection included such masterpieces as E.T. and a bastardized version of Pac-Man. These days, many publishers do their darnedest to make quality titles younger folks can enjoy, yet these games are often blasted for skewing too young. Let’s be clear – Fossil Fighters isn’t for the self-proclaimed “hardcore gamer.” No, it’s for kids – no doubt about it. That being said, it’s a quality title that, though somewhat shallow and straightforward, is a great fit for budding gamers.