Fossil Fighters First Impressions

We revive an army of dead prehistoric reptiles to fight battles for us.

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Resurrecting dinosaurs is something we've been fantasizing about for ages, even though we know it's never going to happen. These gargantuan beasts seem to come to life only through the imagination of film directors and, in some cases, video game developers. Fossil Fighters is exactly what you would expect the game to be about--fighting with revived fossils, also known as vivosaurs. We had an opportunity to play through the first several hours of this fossil-digging role-playing game and found that even though the game seems to be a collaboration of ideas taken from several other Nintendo DS games, the entire package comes together quite well and is surprisingly fun.

Bringing dinosaurs back from the dead is one way to spend your time.
Bringing dinosaurs back from the dead is one way to spend your time.

You play as a young boy who is on his way to Vivosaur Island, a resort location funded by a rich old man with a perky granddaughter. The main attraction on the island is the fossil stadium, where people watch ferocious turn-based vivosaur battles. Those who really want to get in on the action, such as you, become fossil fighters and work their way up to a master fighter rank. The game won't immediately strike you as a linear role-playing game, because you spend most of your time digging up old bones with your beeping fossil detector, cleaning them carefully afterward, and then reviving your long-dead dinosaur to fight on your team. But just when you're wondering what else you should be doing, you'll trigger an event to move the story forward.

New features, locations, and gameplay mechanics are introduced to you as you progress through the game's chapters. Once you've been shown the basics of fossil cleaning and obtain your fossil fighter license, you're given a sonar detector and shovel and then set loose to dig. At first, you'll explore the different structures by the port, but as time goes on, you can travel to other parts of the island to look for new fossils. You're limited to how many fossils you can carry in your inventory, but you can upgrade this, as well as your cleaning and detecting tools, later. When your bag is full, you bring your findings to the Fossil Center so that you can clean off the fossils with a hammer and drill.

Using the hammer on the touch screen, you chip away at the layers of dirt until you get close to the fossil, aiming carefully so that you don't damage the bone. When most of the dirt is removed, you switch to the drill to slowly remove the rest of the hard soil. The drill will smear dust all over the place, but blowing into the microphone will clear your workspace. A meter on the top screen will indicate how much you've uncovered and how much damage to the fossil you've caused. You're given a score once the fossil is clean or when you run out of time, which will determine how strong your fighter is going to be. Only the heads of dinosaurs can be revived, but if you happen to uncover a leg, arm, or body, it will be stored until you find a matching head. This whole fossil-uncovering business can get addictive, especially if you want to excavate the fossil perfectly without damaging it. The process is not difficult, but it takes patience and extra care with the stylus to clean off the fossil without chipping off chunks of it, especially when the clock is ticking. But if you do mess up, it's easy to head back out into the field and collect more fossils, so you can gather all the body parts, which will yield an even more powerful vivosaur.

With a team of vivosaurs at your disposal, you can choose to fight with other fossil fighters, which will increase the rank of your prehistoric gladiators. As the story continues, you will be tested and go up in rank as well. Battles are turn-based, and you can have up to three vivosaurs on a team, with two in reserve who will still gain experience. Your creatures are lined up on the left--one in front and two in the back row--standing on colored hexagons. The vivosaur up front will take the brunt of the damage and be able to dish out the most, but you can swap it out to a safe position in the back when its health dips. You have a certain number of points per turn that can be used to execute a special attack. When you're out of points, you manually end your turn so that your opponent can take a turn. Fighting is pretty basic for now. Since we can't share much beyond the first few hours of gameplay, we're sure that more mechanics will be introduced and that some strategy will be involved in order to win.

Damaging the fossil will yield a less powerful vivosaur.
Damaging the fossil will yield a less powerful vivosaur.

Fossil Fighters doesn't feel like a traditional RPG at times, because you're not forced to continuously go into random battles with fellow fossil fighters. You still want to level your creatures, but you're usually given the opportunity to decline when faced with an opponent. If you don't want to proceed with the story, you can spend your time perfecting your fossil-cleaning skills, but if you don't progress, you won't get access to more dig sites, which yield new fossils. Other than the gameplay, we also liked the charming atmosphere of the game, and the awkwardly animated polygon characters are amusing. This could be a great game for kids (or the kid in you) who like dinosaurs and collecting. In the main menu there is the option to play with another person, but we weren't able to test out how this multiplayer option will work. Keep an eye out for Fossil Fighters, because the fossil hunting begins on August 10.

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