Right in time for the release of the new Jurassic Park film, we have a non-Jurassic Park game to review. But it still features dinosaurs. It’s like what would happen if you combined Pokemon with dinosaurs. Except the dinosaurs are called vivosaurs for no discernable reason. Sounds fascinating? Hop into the Bone Buggy and let’s go for a ride down to the corner of Archaeology Lane and Catch-em-all Avenue.
Fossil Fighters Frontier is the third entry in the Fossil Fighters series. The first game, released in 2008 (that’s almost 10 years ago, kids! Do you feel as old as a fossil yet?), met with some decent acclaim and the second game, 2010’s Fossil Fighters: Champions, featured even more vivosaurs than the first game. In all honesty, I’ve played neither game, but they were popular enough to spawn a manga series and a TV show. And that brings us to the third game, and its first outing on the 3DS.
Picture this. You chortle in glee at the prospect of prospecting and battling in soaring dinosaur battles. You pop open the game, insert the cartridge, and you’re greeted with…the opening theme of what looks like a 90s Saturday morning cartoon. If you don’t believe me, here, have a listen.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you. It starts to become clear who the target audience is: pre-teens and young kids. The character design and writing confirms this hypothesis. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, it’s just something I want you to keep in mind till a bit later.
So, Fossil Fighters: Frontier is the story of a kid who joins the Wardens, an organization dedicated to the study of vivosaurs, the reanimation of vivosaurs, the battling of vivosaurs, and of course, making sure that no one in the various vivosaur parks makes a nuisance of themselves. You know…like an evil organization hell bent on causing mayhem. How do the Wardens do this? By defeating them in deadly sauro-a-sauro battles. For the greater glory of the the fossil parks. And you’re going to need a lot of vivosaurs to do this much battle.
The main way of obtaining new vivosaurs is by excavating their bones. The excavation segment is a minigame of its own, where you use your assortment of drills, hammers, and chisels to free the fossilized bones from their stony prisons. You have a specific amount of time to free a specific percentage of the fossil, but you need to take care not to damage the fossil too much either. Your cues are all auditory, so if you need to play with the sound down, you had either get some headphones or engage in an activity that requires other senses. Upgrades to your Bone Buggy (more about which later) can make it easier for you to get the fossil out, but you still need to be careful. Obtaining multiple bones from the same vivosaur gives it upgraded abilities in battle. While all this sounds fairly awesome, it loses its appeal after the first twenty or so bones, and what keeps you going is a combination of Stockholm syndrome and the hope that you’ll dig up a bone that you don’t already have.
Of course, getting around the various parks on foot is not an option, and here the game gives you a Bone Buggy to drive around. The Buggy is more than just transport, though, since it carries all your equipment and vivosaurs. Driving the Buggy is fairly easy, and I found no big control issues there. You can drive the Buggy into free roaming vivosaurs to begin a battle with them, and battle is a simple turn-based affair. You choose a vivosaur prior to battle, and once the fighting commences, you choose the attack and afterwards have a short time window in which to select a support ability, which range from health recovery to improving your attack and so on. Once battle has started, that’s pretty much all you do. If you’ve only found one bone for your vivosaur, then that’s the only attack available to you, which I think is meant as incentive to go dig for more bones. Battles work on the Captain Planet system (fire, earth, wind, water, and heart neutral), so it’s in your interest to get to know which of your vivosaurs have which quality to better select a fighter in any given battle. Still, the strategic requirement is low, so you can head into most battles with a decent assurance of winning. MOST battles. Once again, I’ll touch on this later.
The game has two big problems. The first is that the two main attractions–digging up fossils and battling–become tedious after a very short time. You eventually start to dread going into battles and hunting down bones. It might be saying something that there’s a nod to how boring the battles can be, because there’s an option to automate the fights. Yep! You don’t even have to do anything. The second problem is that, while the game is aimed at younger gamers, there are some insane difficulty spikes later in the game. This is the kind of thing that would likely frustrate younger players (and I should know…I have younger players around me all the time being constantly frustrated by sudden, wild difficulty spikes appearing in the long grass). The idea, I think, was to make players go farm for experience points in the various parks, but I don’t know if that’s what will happen. The game also takes no advantage of the New 3DS controls, so don’t expect to have much control over the camera.
On the other hand, there are a number of things that the game gets right. The story is something that would appeal to younger gamers; there’s no real depth to it, but that’s OK too. Young players aren’t here for the deep story. Graphically, the game developers took great pains to make the vivosaurs bright and attractive, and their animations are fun to watch. The environments aren’t as lush as, say, Xenoblade, but I don’t think that was to be expected. The anime-based character designs are also bright and colourful, and the kind of thing that would attract young gamers.
Overall, though, the game is fairly bland. Adults would do well to keep away, and even dinosaur lovers would find the vivosaurs a bit of a stretch. Kids might enjoy it up to a point, but those difficulty spikes will likely be enough of a problem to make someone less driven put the game down forever. The game isn’t broken or buggy, and the translation has been fairly well handled, but that sort of thing cannot rescue a game that eventually becomes tedium. Your best bet, really, is to hunt down the original DS version of Fossil Fighters, because you’ll have a far better time with that.
Final Score: 6 fossilized prawns out of 10
Developer: Red Entertainment, Spike Chunsoft
Distributor: Nintendo South Africa
Platform: Nintendo 3DS family
Age Rating: 7+