One part Pokemon and one part Jurassic Park, Fossil Fighters replaces Pikachu and Squirtle with Alectrosaurus and Quetzalcoatlus but otherwise bears a striking resemblance to Nintendo's long-running series of role-playing games. This is no bad thing for fans of creature collection. Digging up old dino bones and battling it out with the not-so-terrible lizards you revive turns out to be a good deal of fun in Fossil Fighters.
The game begins as you arrive on Vivosaur Island to test your skills as a fossil fighter, sporting the spiky hair that's all but required of a hero in a game like this. The days of fossil fighters are largely taken up with three pursuits: digging for fossils, cleaning those fossils to revive the dinosaur those bones belonged to, and pitting their revived dinos against those of other fighters. Those revived dinos are referred to as vivosaurs, presumably to make it clear that this game doesn't offer a realistic portrayal of prehistoric pet behavior. A typical Ouranosaurus of the Early Cretaceous period probably did not use a fist jab in battle, but your vivosaurs employ all kinds of fun, goofy attacks.
Of the three activities, digging is the least interesting. To dig, you'll first need to travel to one of Vivosaur Island's dig sites. Once there, you'll use your sonar by tapping the screen or a shoulder button, head to any dots that appear on your sonar display on the top screen, and dig with your pickax. You may get a plain old useless rock for your trouble, but more often than not, you'll be rewarded with either a fossil or a jewel. There's not much to the digging process, which is why it's good that you're rarely just digging. Upon arriving at a new dig site for the first time, you'll quickly find yourself caught up in some quest or other, which likely involves getting your fellow fossil fighter, Rosie, out of trouble and foiling the plans of a nefarious purple-clad crew called the BB Bandits. So as you dig, you'll also be exploring the ancient pyramids, mines, pirate ships, and other locales where fossils are buried, engaging in fossil battles, and advancing the story. The story itself isn't anything special, and the way it's modeled after a typical Pokemon tale is shameless, but it's got a cartoonish sense of humor to it that younger players will enjoy. Particularly amusing is the banter between Vivian, the driven leader of the BB Bandits, and her bumbling cronies.
The fossils and gems you dig up are encased in rock and need to be cleaned before they can be used. This cleaning process takes the form of a fun touch-screen minigame. You're given 90 seconds to extract the bones and jewels from their rocky prisons. You'll start by using a hammer, which chips away significant chunks of rock with each tap but must be used carefully to avoid damaging the fossil or jewel underneath. Once you've cleared away most of the layers of rock, you can switch to a less powerful but much more precise drill. As you hammer and drill away, rock dust will fill the screen, obscuring your view, and you can eliminate this by blowing into the microphone or tapping the shoulder buttons. When time runs out, or you finish stripping away the rock from what lies within, you're given a point rating out of 100, with 100 being a fossil or jewel that is completely cleaned of rock without being damaged at all in the process. The higher the rating, the more powerful the vivosaur that's revived from the fossil, so there's incentive to clean fossils for vivosaurs you already have in your collection.
The struggle for perfection and the sense of pressure as the clock ticks down make the cleaning process compelling. Still, as fun as it is, you probably won't want to clean each and every fossil rock you find, and thankfully, you won't need to. You can hand them over to your robotic cleaning assistant, KL-33N, who does a decent job on his own and gets better over time as he watches you. You're also rewarded for any unneeded fossils you find--you can donate them to the museum for credit toward earning special fossils or sell them for cash at the island's shop, where you can upgrade your equipment.
Each time you dig up the head of a new vivosaur, that vivosaur is revived and added to your roster for use in fossil battles. Fittingly, the fossil fighting itself is the most involved aspect of the game. You control a team of up to three vivosaurs, placing one at the forefront in the attack zone and two in the support zones. Placement of your vivosaurs is important: those in the attack zone can strike the hardest but also receive the full brunt of any enemy attack, while those in support zones generally see the effectiveness of their attacks diminished but also receive less damage. (Some vivosaurs are blessed with long range and can attack from the support zone without penalty.) Most vivosaurs also carry with them support effects: bonuses or penalties to attributes like attack power and defense, which are applied to the vivosaur in the attack zone. Some vivosaurs clearly function best in an attack or support role, while others are more versatile. Putting together a team of vivosaurs that complement one another well is a simple but nonetheless engaging strategic process.
Once the battle kicks off, you and your opponent take turns spending fossil points to perform attacks. Each turn, you automatically regenerate a certain number of these points. A weaker attack might cost 50 points, while a devastating combo might cost 150, so the biggest decision you'll make in battle is whether to use your points to perform lesser attacks or save them up to unleash a bigger attack on your next turn. You'll also frequently want to swap the positions of your vivosaurs, shifting one from a support zone into the attack zone to exploit an elemental advantage. Like Pokemon, most vivosaurs have an elemental affiliation, making them effective against vivosaurs of one other element and susceptible to attacks from vivosaurs of another. All in all, the lightly tactical battle system will be enjoyable to fans of creature-collecting games, being similar enough to feel familiar while introducing enough new elements to feel fresh at the same time. Fossil Fighters is also very forgiving; there aren't any lasting consequences for losing, so you can quickly learn from your mistakes and bounce back from defeat.
Unfortunately, not every comparison to Pokemon is so favorable. When it comes to trading fossils or battling it out with others, Fossil Fighters leaves a lot to be desired. You can send and receive fossils or pit your vivosaurs against a friend's, but only over local wireless. Also, anyone considering getting Fossil Fighters largely for the multiplayer component should know that you have to spend several hours with the single-player game, achieving a Fossil Fighter level of at least four, before you have access to these options. Battling with friends is fun, and you'll likely get more out of the game if you have friends to swap fossils with, but the multiplayer options are still limited.
The visuals are lacking in detail, but the bright colors and big, expressive character animations are cheery and help make Vivosaur Island a pleasant place to visit. In keeping with the game's E rating, you'll never see one vivosaur sink its teeth into another or tear an enemy's limbs off. In fact, you'll never see the attacker and its target onscreen at the same time. One animation shows the attack, and then a second one shows the target's reaction. The animations are dynamic, but the vivosaurs themselves don't look very impressive. The sense of scale is way off, and what should appear to be towering lizards look like they could fit in the palm of your hand. Like the visuals, the music is bright and pleasant, and while the vivosaurs may not be much to look at, they do sound formidable.
Fossil Fighters blatantly cribs the concepts that have made Pokemon so successful, but it does it well, offering a charming adventure that you can happily spend a few dozen hours with. If you've got a penchant for creature collection and monster battling, this game is definitely worth digging up.