I used to love dinosaurs. Growing up I watched The Land Before Time nearly daily, and I really wanted to be a paleontologist just like Alan Grant. If there was a video game with dinosaurs in it, I experienced it it, from Turok, to Dinosaurs for Hire to Dino Crisis, just for the sake of seeing dinosaurs in action.
Naturally, I played the original Fossil Fighters on the Nintendo DS. It wasn’t remarkable, but it was at least an original take on the collect them all and battle formula. Digging up fossils to revive dinosaurs sounded great on paper but the digging mechanics wasn’t the strongest, tedious even. So I skipped the sequel but decided to give the third game in the series another chance for review. Perhaps Fossil Fighters: Frontier would renew my love of the creatures.
I fucking hate dinosaurs now.
Fossil Fighters: Frontier (3DS)
Developer: Red Entertainment, Spike Chunsoft
Released: March 20, 2015
Fossil Fighters: Frontier is the third game in a series of Nintendo published titles that have flown under the radar. Many would say this is a Pokémon ripoff, but that isn’t fair, as Frontier has far simpler mechanics that vary the formula in its own way. There is no evolution apart from the adorable sidekick dinosaur named Nibbles, and each creature has a defined set of eight moves that are unlocked via finding each piece of its fossil. There are far fewer elemental types of creatures to deal with. It makes for a dull experience.
Players take on the role of a young male or female warden who watches over dig sites, tasked with driving the aptly named “Bone Buggy” around digging up dinosaur fossils to revive them as vivosaurs, as well as protecting the parks from rogue vivosaurs and mischievous persons. Along the way you meet some “Paleo Pals” of whom you can choose two at a time to battle alongside you with their vivosaurs. The story is pretty light until about halfway into the game when a very Dr. Robotnik-like character shows up with an evil scheme that you have to put an end to.
Battling feels very different from other games in the genre as your Pals’ two vivosaurs automatically fight alongside yours. Similar to Pokémon you get to choose from four moves of the eight unlockable per combatant, and which enemy to attack. During the animations for the attacks you’re able to use a limited number “support shots” to increase the statistics of your vivosaur for that turn. Support shots include more defense, speed, chance of critical hits or refilling health; support shots are critical to battle. A majority of your time will be spent watching your Paleo Pals battle while deciding on how to use your support shots to affect the battle, which isn’t very engaging.
Vivosaurs look great on screen and their attack animations actually show them connect with the enemies, unlike Pokémon. Anything that isn’t a core character model though looks very jagged and ugly due to the 3DS’s dated graphics. The amount of vivosaurs in the game is low, the majority of which are just reskinned of the most recognizable dinosaurs such as longnecks, raptors, T-rex and triceratops. There’s only so many times you can watch the same vivosaurs do the same moves before you get tired of the tedious waiting and repetition, a running theme for Fossil Fighters: Frontier.
Between battles you’ll be driving around to the different dig sites finding fossils to excavate and revive. Digging up fossils is controlled by using the stylus on the touchscreen to use drills and hammers, which amounts to scribbling. A limited amount of time is given based on what battery you have equipped to your Bone Buggy, as you can purchase larger batteries that grant more time. Uncovering fossils is as tedious as in the original game and can’t compare to the thrill of catching a Pokémon. Each piece of a fossil grants your vivosaur a new move, and each piece has a rare variation that grants a different move. These can be mixed and matched as you see fit prior to going into each park.
Driving Buggies feels rather slow, even with a fully customized vehicle, and only ever really feels entertaining in the late game where you can run over speedboosts to attempt to jump a canyon. There are some grand prix time trial races that you have to compete in, which equate to driving from one end of the park to the other, and are quite easy. The grand prix races seem included just to artificially extend the game, as it is rather shallow.
Early on you’re forced to enter each dig site only to have to go back to it as soon as you leave for some story event that is taking place. This happens numerous times and only serves to extend the playtime. The same could be said about support shots, which are limited in number but can be refilled after a battle by driving to stations throughout each park, even though your vivosaurs stats reset after each battle automatically.
Multiple times I found myself in battles where the difficulty suddenly spiked, our vivosaurs were no match when the battle just before they had easily wiped the floor with the enemy. This led to grinding at the tournaments you can enter in each park. The tournaments consist of three or four battles in a row with a limited number of support shot refills, and are vastly easier than any of the late game battles. Luckily there is an “auto” option on the bottom screen that allows the computer to take over for your vivosaur as well as your Paleo Pals.
I was relieved when I didn’t have to manually grind, but I shouldn’t be relieved to have a game play itself constantly! I’d say around 10 hours of my 26 hour playthrough was dull, automatic grinding. Those also looking for a game to play with their friends will want to seek help elsewhere, as online play only consists of ranked battles versus strangers, although you can see your friend’s rankings. Local co-op only allows players to enter dig sites together, though I wasn’t able to test this out as it requires two consoles and two copies of the game. Overall multiplayer seems rather tacked on.
For a game that is clearly geared towards children, the difficulty spikes and grind in the later part of the game didn’t really make sense, nor did teaching kids to win their battles with what equates to a mean steroid habit. Fossil Fighters: Frontier feels like a basic idea of a game surrounded by hours of repetition just to artificially extend the length. The battling isn’t fun, the driving is dull, the graphics aren’t easy on the eyes, the story is predictable, the characters are all tropes based on their ethnicity; in the world of Fossil Fighters: Frontier entertainment is extinct.
[This review is based on a digital copy of the game provided by the publisher.]