There was a time when child-themed RPGs were awesome and loads of fun. Pokemon is a great example of something that’s easy enough for a child to play and complex enough for older games to zone in on. Digimon World 2, although average, was addictive and featured enough unique bits to make it interesting and worthwhile. Monster Rancher is another great example. Fossil Fighter Frontier looked like another candidate, but after playing it, I’m not so sure.
The game starts off on a really bad note, by making you watch a really badly sung intro. The lyrics are terrible and cheesy, and it’s something you hear every time you start the game. Fortunately you can skip it after your first view. Let me give you a taste:
Adventure’s right around the bend
And the world’s got wonders to spare.
Prehistoric lore to restore and befriend
So get out there, Go if you dare.
If you dig enough, you’ll see
There is power old as time
Wonderous and thunderous creatures to free
Hit the road and Vivosaur! It’s your moment to shine.
Moving along swiftly. Once you actually get into the game, you’ll be asked to choose your character, either a boy or a girl and your name. Your standard RPG stuff. The story kicks off with you, a trainee Warden cadet, whose dream it is to become a Vivosaur Warden. What is a Vivosaur warden you ask? Well, they dig up dinosaur fossils from Fossil Parks all over the world and use some reviving mumbo jumbo to turn the fossils into Suedo-Pokemon dinosaurs called vivosaurs. These Vivosaurs are then trained to fight rogue vivosaurs in Fossil Parks and against other Wardens in Tournaments.
The gist of the story centers around you and a special vivosaur. The bond between the two is meant to grow and become somewhat the point of the story, however, the delivery isn’t very good. The script for this game is really bad. It’s almost written for a four-year old with no concept of intelligence. The dialogue is really bad and terribly dumbed down. There are smarter kiddie shows on the Disney Junior channel. Next comes the characters and their rapid character growth. One character, Roland, who is the standard “fat kid” is quite the klutz and falls and rolls everywhere all the time. Next is Dhalia, the speed junkie of the Warden cadets who somehow manages start a gang, get an entourage to follow her AND does illegal drag racing. After one mission with your hero, she learns the errors of her ways and vows to be a better person. Don’t get me started on the cowardly timid Viking leader of the Europe Fossil Park, who, like Dr Jekyl and Mr Hyde, has a dark side when fighting. However, his idea of violence is shouting: “I’M GOING TO TURN YOU INTO A HAMBURGER PATTY! AND THEN I’M GOING TO MAKE A SANDWICH OUT OF YOU! THEN I’M GOING TO EAT YOU!”
Bad dialogue and plot aside, most of the game takes place inside Fossil Parks. You explore these parks in an excavation vehicle called a Bone Buggy. The park itself is almost designed to resemble a natural racetrack, and most of the time it works. The design is brilliant, often mixing things up with obstacles, roaming vivosaurs and hidden fossils. The bone buggy itself is rather slow, even when upgraded, so it never really feels like you can race the track. The design aesthetic, is really good and looks even better in 3D. Controlling the vehicle is also easy, but it does take some time getting used to drifting and making hairpin turns.
The best part of the exploration, and possibly the entire game, is digging for fossils. It’s probably one of the best mini-games in a game that I’ve played. During exploration, you need to use your fossil radar to scan for fossils. When you have one in your sights, you need to dig it up. The process is simple, but you need to work fast and use the right tools so you don’t damage the fossil. You have access to a hammer, a drill and chisels (if you choose to buy them). Hammers are used to chip away large amounts of rock, while the drill is needed to refine the digging. All of this is done on the touch pad, giving you the illusion that you’re really digging for fossils. Your attempts are scored and graded. If you’ve discovered a new fossil, be it a skull, arm, leg or torso fossil, it will be turned into a new vivosaur. If you dig up the same fossil, but with a better score, that vivosaur’s stats will improve. If you collect all four fossil parts, you’ll have a strong vivosaur with all of its attacks (one attack for each fossil type). This mini-game is a great way to strengthen the connection the game has to its archaeological roots.
As fun as that might be, it doesn’t get better. The fighting, oddly, is one of my least favourite parts of the game. Unlike other games, where you control a team of units, in this one, you can only control one vivosaur. However, you’ll always be part of a team of three, meaning you’ll have 2 AI controlled vivosaurs. These AI vivosaurs come from your game friends, or Paleo Pals. The problem is that the AI is dumb. More often than not, it will use the most inconvenient attack and chose the enemy that isn’t a priority. This lack of control is frustrating and cost me many in-game tournaments. To add insult to injury, the fights are so slow! The only time you get to do something in a battle is when it’s your turn and if you’d like to strengthen your paleo pals with support shots – steroid pellets that temporarily improve certain stats. However, the battle system isn’t without its own genius.
Other than the elemental advantages and disadvantages (which should be self-explanitory by now), the game features a “stance” system. Certain moves will change the stance of a vivosaur, giving you the opportunity to strike their weak points. It’s brilliant, but takes a while to figure out and a lot longer master since you’ll rely on your Paleo Pal’s idiotic AI to use the right moves. Such a great concept that is watered down by slow, weak and boring fights.
I have to give Fossil Fighter Frontier some credit for changing things up now and then. Although laughable, the game also features Time Attack races. Your Bone Buggies are very slow, so it never really feels like a race, but kudos for trying to shake things up a bit. The races would’ve been killer if only the cars moved faster. There’s also added value in all the additional missions, which are accessed through the “Missionator 4000,” the challenge levels in each fossil park, in-game tournaments and daily bonuses.
There’s also multiplayer, co-op support and streetpass support, but I can’t give you any details as I’ve never actually managed to get into a game. I’m not sure if the local servers are open, as the game isn’t out yet, or if there’s no one in the world that’s playing it.
Fossil Fighter Frontiers could’ve been a great game if the limitations on the battles were less strict and a lot faster and if the script and characters were take more seriously. I get that it’s aimed at children, but it doesn’t need to be childish to appeal to children.