"Gotta Catch’em All!"
It would probably be more accurate to say "Gotta Dig Up and Revive'em All!". Indeed, Red Entertainment's Fossil Fighters: Champions does adhere a little too closely to Nintendo developer Game Freak's own vaunted series, Pokémon, about finding, training, and bonding with whimsical and fascinating creatures in an effort to become the very best. With the ability to choose between a boy or girl main character (a largely superficial experience that has little bearing on the game as a whole), an exasperating childhood friend along for the ride, a jaded rival as a prominent obstacle, a team of antagonists that pose amusing, but little threat, and plenty of life lessons to be had (of the "power of friendship" and "believe in yourself" variety), Champions maintains all the regular trappings of a Pokémon game.
Fossil Fighters: Champions' prologue provides an efficient introduction to your charming paleontological fantasy world where dinosaurs can be revived from their fossil remains through unexplained advance technological wizardry. Taking traits from the natural elements, these colorful, towering beings evolve from their dinosaur roots into what the game calls "Vivosaurs". At the outset, you are given the opportunity to choose between four different types of Vivosaurs with various strengths and weaknesses (eg. Strength, Defense, Support, Technique, etc.), as well as elemental-based characteristics (ie. Earth, Water, Fire, and Air). Eventually, your main objective is set: participate in the Caliosteo Cup, an renowned tournament wherein Fossil Fighters try to earn a place in the annals of the world's greatest.
This is all familiar territory, but thankfully, Champions does more than enough through unique gameplay mechanics to separate itself from the blockbuster creature-capturing franchise. During combat, every action you take – attack, rotate formation, etc. – relies solely on Fossil Points (FP). Battles are turn-based, and each turn lasts only as long as you have FP. This is where deeper strategy comes into play: FP replenishes at a steady rate between each turn. If you did not deplete your FP completely in the previous turn, your FP rolls over and stacks. You will find your FP significantly higher the next time around, giving you access to more powerful techniques that were previously inaccessible. (Your max FP and FP replenishment rate rise when you and your Vivosaur level up.)
Outside of your many battles, the substance of Fossil Fighters: Champions is devoted to adding to and strengthening your ever-growing team of Vivosaurs. You accomplish this by exploring the three large islands that comprise Fossil Park, excavating dig sites with the aid of a sonar gadget and pickaxe, and extracting rewards like Vivosaurs and valuable jewels in the Cleaning Room. The dig sites you have access to are paced consciously. You gain admission to newer sites, and thus, newer jewels and fossils as you advance through the tournament.
Take any fossil or jewel rocks to the Cleaning Room and a brief, but engaging mini-game takes place. With the aid of a hammer to break away large chunks of rock from your object, an x-ray machine to guide your progress, and a drilling tool to carve away with finesse, this procedural mechanic is simple enough to get into, but it's also multi-layered and clever enough to be entertaining and rewarding (you even use the DS's microphone to blow away excess debris while you are cleaning). You must use each tool in concert to not only clean the fossil or jewel in the allotted amount of time, but also ensure that you don't damage your prize, as that affects its value. Reviving a Vivosaur requires a fossil of the head, while acquiring and integrating the body, arms, and legs of a specific species augment that creature.
If you are having trouble finding a particular Vivosaur through manual means, you can always pop into the shop and buy a Fossil Rock. They even let you know if they're carrying one you haven't found yet, but expectedly, these come at a steep price. While at the shop, it's also recommended you purchase upgrades to your case. Increasing the amount of items you can carry around will reduce the amount of backtracking from dig sites to cleaning rooms (something you will be doing a lot of). It's expected that you'll end up digging up duplicates of fossils. Cleverly, these don't have to go to waste. After cleaning superfluous fossils, you can earn points to use for rewards. It's a smart mechanic that keeps even the threat of tedium at bay.
Though unabashedly a duplicate of the Pokémon series, crafty and addictive gameplay elements ensure that Fossil Fighters: Champions is a great game in its own right.
GameDynamo's Score for Fossil Fighters: Champions (DS/DSi)
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