The first thing that struck me when I first put Pokémon Diamond into that little slot at the back of my Nintendo DS, was that I was a grown man playing a game I first started when I was 11 years old.
The virtually identical developer title cards, the slow and ponderous intro, all the way down to the tediously patronizing tutorial phase. Sure, it was now in colour and had some slightly more slick animations, but this game was the same. On a platform like the DS you get used to your fair share of ports, but on a flagship title like Pokémon, you want evolution not revolution. But wait, what’s this? Fossil Fighters, an updated speedy Pokémon clone with enough features of it’s own to make it worthwhile? My goodness, yes!
The Nintendo DS, which has enough power for some pretty serious graphical and logical manipulation (despite its reputation as a dullard) is wasted on 2D Gameboy Advance style adventures. Imagine my surprise when I was presented with a vibrant 3D modelled world that seemed to fill the wee screens to the brim! Text bubbles come and go quickly, your character can SPRINT and the loading times (or even tedious pauses between screens) are held to a bare minimum. What a bane those slowdowns can be in a typically repetitive and revolving Japanese RPG - and how well Red Entertainment have distracted me from them. Kudos indeed.
The premise of Fossil Fighters is also (handily) my biggest fantasy as an 11 year old. Take 1 part Pokémon, add 1 part Jurassic Park and put them in a blender with some bright colours and (bordering on) witty dialogue. Your protagonist for this adventure is a young lad who travels to an exclusive island to revive fossilised dinosaurs into living, breathing (and upgradeable) fighting machines. Before we go any further – younger gamers will embrace this game on idea alone.
Vivosaurs (or revived dinosaur skeletons) are your reason for being in Fossil Fighters, and your quest calls you to not only exhume and resume them, but fight them against others in a bid to become a Master Fighter. Sound familiar? It is. But it’s a little more complex than those ubiquitous Pocket Monsters of old. Instead of happily clomping about in a field waiting to run into the Mankey you’re looking for, Fossil Fighters has you using sophisticated radar and mining gear to find special kinds of rocks. Which you then take back to your custom built lab to attack with a hammer and drill. If you’re successful at this mock palaeontology, you’re rewarded with a viable set of bones for your nefarious purposes. The whole process takes skill, and like many stylus dependant DS activities, really starts to grow on you when the timer begins ticking and it’s up to pure skill of hand to succeed.
Once you have scooped your pick of priceless bones from the soil and made Frankenstein-esque marvels of them, it’s off to battle other fighters around the island. My last foray into the world of Pokémon ended with a sigh, as Zubat #700 fell by the wayside and I could not face another. My zest for disabling cute pretend animals was almost out. Happily, Fossil Fighters pulls the second part of its moniker off as well as the first. Battle in this game is satisfying, and an element of tactical skill has been thrown in for good measure. Organising teams and playing strengths against weaknesses is augmented by a support system, with several Vivosaurs in play at once. It’s not quite what you’d class as compelling, but it leaves you with a more rewarding post-battle glow than the basic turn-based slap-fest that Pokémon has clung to.
Despite the good times, Fossil Fighters also comes with the bad. What the game gains in speed and colour, it loses in detail. The low-polygon character models leave a lot to be desired, and while they showcase the differences between your dino-buddies, they are a little bit Final Fantasy 7 for this day and age. The story-line is hackneyed to the point of regurgitation (not that you’re really playing an addictive monster husbandry simulator for an intellectual experience), and will grate on the more senior gamers out there. One thing the current generation of Pokémon has in spades is multiplayer. Over the internet, you are able to mangle opponent’s critters to your hearts content. Sadly, the increased strategic battling offered up by Fossil Fighters stops at ad-hoc wifi with people who are close enough to punch. Who, when you get to my age can be hard to track down.
Ultimately, this title takes a familiar concept, spruces up the looks and has a good crack at updating the genre. The fact that it does this so pleasantly makes it worth a look.