Fossil Fighters: Champions starts with a rather life-threatening disaster when an Allo, an Allosaurus-type Vivosaur, appears out of nowhere and threatens the hero and his friend, Todd. It doesn’t really help that Todd is a nervous wreck, but things end up fine when Joe Wildwest sails down from the sky on his Ptera (Pteranodon-type Vivosaur) and saves the both of you. So, inspired by this mastery of Vivosaurs, both decide to become champion Fossil Fighters and, indeed, two years later, both arrive to compete at a tournament held at Wildwest’s own Fossil Park.
Vivosaurs are dinosaurs with special powers revived from their fossils, which you find and excavate through the course of the game. Fossil Fighters is as much about fighting as it is about palaeontology skills.
The game mostly focuses on the tournament, but there is plenty of mayhem that happens on the side. For example, there are hints of some ancient ritual involving the winner of a “tournament,” and there is plenty of meddling by a rather slapdash wacky pirate gang intent on stopping the matches. (Interestingly, they purposely avoid injuring any of the participants)
The Fossil Park is split into three islands, and each island has three areas (that are gradually unlocked through the course of the game) where you can dig for fossils. Areas include places like the base of a volcano, a snowy field, a lush jungle, or an open field. Each location has unique fossils to obtain and is nicely detailed. You won’t find minute details such as footsteps in the snow, but the game certainly pulls off the feel of a national park well.
You first locate fossils by using the sonar. Press one of the shoulder buttons and a shining green dot will appear. Just approach that dot and press A to pickaxe it out of the ground. That’s literally all there is to it. Whenever you find a rock, you are told if it contains something you already have or if it’s new, so you can make your decision on the spot.
What are in the fossils? “Bones” would be the simple answer, but it’s a tad more complicated than that. There are four types of bones — head, body, arms, and legs. You have to find the head of a Vivosaur species before you can use it in battle, but you can, for example, uncover a body skeleton before you find the head.
You just won’t be able to use the dinosaur until you find the head. (I say skeleton, but don’t it’s more like a piece of its ribs, usually) To clean the fossils, you are given three tools: an X-ray to scan where the bone or item is hidden, a drill is for precision work, and a hammer is for pounding off chunks of rock at once.
You can upgrade each of these once for quite a sum of money, but once you do, they become more powerful. This is problematic because fossils can be harmed during cleaning. Damage them too much (past the 50% mark) and they’re unusable. On the other hand, the more you uncover, the higher your score becomes (with the max possible score being “100 – % damage”). There’s also a 90-second time limit to keep track of.
Scores are critical to determining the strength of your Vivosaur upon revival. The higher the score, the higher the Vivosaur’s base EXP is, and this is summed over all body parts belonging to that dinosaur. This is the easiest way to level up. In fact, it’s extremely hard to use new Vivosaurs because they’re at a very low level compared to the rest of your team.
Bones aren’t the only things hidden in fossils. There may also be jewels, which you can sell for money, and dropping fossils, which you can exchange for rewards. There are also “Wonderful Fossils” and “Miraculous Fossils,” which can be used to strengthen your Vivosaur without leveling them up. Sadly, only one can be used on each dinosaur. Sometimes, if you use the right fossil to strengthen the right Vivosaur, your dinosaur will evolve into something powerful.
Then there are other fossils, which are special in different ways. Usually, you just chip away at one side of the rock to clear it away, but there are also “Curious Fossils,” which are two-sided (you press a button to flip the fossil). You have to clear away both sides to complete the cleaning. “Dark Fossils,” which are impervious to X-rays and have a hard outer covering that can only be removed by a hammer, are in the game, too. Finally, there are “Giant Fossils” that contain all four body parts in one fossil…but are so huge, you have to scroll around to clear everything.
It doesn’t matter if they’re herbivores or carnivores, all the revived Vivosaurs pack quite a punch. Different groups of Vivosaurs excel in different areas. Sauropods (long-necked herbivores like Brachiosaurus and Apatosaurus) specialize in long-range attacks and support but are very slow. On the other hand, Carnosaurs (like Allosaurus) and Tyrannosaurs (no explanation necessary, I trust?) are all attack and no support. Ankylosaurs, Stegosaurs, and Hadrosaurs are all support-heavy. There are several more types not listed here.
Further broken down, each species has its specialty. For example, of the Pterasaurs — which excel in long-range attacks but are very fragile — Dsungaripterus (Sungari, in the game) specialize in decreasing opponent’s stats when delegated to support, and Quetzalcoatlus (Coatlus) has skills with very low cost.
In addition, each species is delegated an element type. There are Fire, Water, Wind, and Earth, and each is weak against one type and strong against another. There are also Neutral-type dinosaurs as well.
As you can probably tell, there are plenty of dinosaurs to choose from and I had lots of fun unearthing new species. I’m a little sad that there isn’t a tiny paragraph about the dinosaur species included in the status screen (but in exchange, there’s a bit of nice trivia on the official Nintendo site!).
I do like the amount of detail contained within the cartoony graphics, though. While the fossils aren’t designed specifically for each species, each of the dinosaur’s traits are demonstrated quite clearly — the crests over Allosaurus’ eyes and his three front claws compared to an Albertosaurus and its two tinier claws, or a Lambeosaurus’ crest versus a Tsintaosaurus’ crest. This isn’t to say that each dinosaur has its own highly individualized model, but the most identifiable characteristics are there. (Now if only something could be done about the jarring coloring scheme… There are even music notes painted on one’s back!)
After you’ve decided on a team of five Vivosaurs, you can choose three to participate in a battle. These three can be arranged in the front row (the attack zone or AZ) or the back row (the support zone or SZ) on a hexagonal arena. For example, you can put two dinosaurs in the AZ and one in the SZ, or two in the SZ and one in the AZ. On the other hand, it’s impossible to stuff all three dinosaurs into the AZ. You can spend 5 FP to rotate the Vivosaurs any time during your turn.
FP are points that you spend to use techniques. Each technique uses up some FP and rotating your team takes some more. Each turn, you recover a preset amount that is determined by your Fighter Level (i.e. How far you are in the game). A turn ends when you run out of FP or when you decide to end your turn.
Fossil Fighters: Champions encourages you to think strategically. Only those in the AZ can receive support effects (usually stat bonuses) and only those in the SZ can provide support. If there are two dinosaurs in the AZ and only one in the SZ, the support effect of the one in the SZ is split evenly between the two dinosaurs. If there are two dinosaurs in the SZ, then the one Vivosaur in the AZ gets the benefit of both support effects. This becomes especially important when, for example, Carnosaurs typically provide no support whatsoever and some dinosaurs even have negative status “bonuses.”
There are also plenty of other support effects that have nothing to do with formation, such as FP Plus which increases the amount of FP recovered each turn or Harden Plus which makes that Vivosaur enter the battle impermeable for a turn or two.
In addition to this, each type of dinosaur (not species) has a distance where they’re most powerful. Sauropods are best as far as possible from their opponent, and Carnosaurs are best in the front row. The added benefit that comes from entering into a Vivosaur’s preferred range is enormous, so you have to take this into account as well.The only problem is that, although it’s simple to tell what the effective range of a Vivosaur is by rotating your team around (you don’t waste any FP by rotating more than necessary), there is nowhere to tell in their status screen.
In addition to blazing through the tournament on your own, there are also many multiplayer options available. You can play locally with your friends and trade fossils, as well as battle them. Also, you can clean fossils with friends (this is especially handy with Giant Fossils). You can also battle over the Wi-Fi Connection and fight other registered teams online. You can choose to fight any random team or you can choose one whose Vivosaurs are about the levels of yours.
Fossil Fighters: Champions is slightly silly on the surface. People talk with funny accents and the story is simple. However, the story has its twists and its characters have personality. I especially liked collecting the different dinosaurs and fighting with them. The game may seem repetitive because it mainly alternates between drilling and hammering (carefully!) at rocks and battles. However, options like being able to skip the animation of attacks with the press of a button or being able to deposit fossils you’ve cleaned once before for automatic cleaning make the game run smoothly. There are no random battles in the game. Battles occur with other Fossil Fighters when you wander around the park, and you can approach them at your own leisure.
The only time they actively attack are when you’re fighting over a fossil. Sometimes a trainer will pop out of the ground and challenge you for fossil rights, during which you can either trounce him or decide it’s not worth the fight and give up on the fossil. (This is especially weird in canyon-side excavations, where the challengers literally slither out of the wall. Yeech!)
Food for Thought:
1. Every time you use the drill, dust particles fly all over the fossil and cloud your vision. The easiest way is to just blow them off using the DS microphone, but you can also pound your hammer in an empty spot. I was really impressed with the effort put into detailing where the dust flies.
2. I keep saying “dinosaur” and “Vivosaur,” but this game also includes mammals like the Smilodon and the Mastodon. It also has early birds like the Archaeopteryx and nautili, snakes, and ancient crustaceans.
3. The system is mostly the same as from the previous game, Fossil Fighters. There are slight changes and you can use items this time around. The stories are not connected, but there are references to the first game. I’ve heard you can send fossils from the first game to Champions, but I haven’t tried to do so. Also, there are 50 more Vivosaurs for a total of 150, plus at least 20 more that you can get from special events and Wi-Fi downloads.