Fossil Fighters has no right to be good. It’s anchored by unoriginality; it mostly rehashes territory well-worn by other monster-collecting RPGs. Yet somehow it still manages to be not just entertaining, but an addictive guilty pleasure. Players take on the role of a fossil fighter, a kid digging up and reviving dinosaur remains so he can battle against other trainers’ “vivosaurs” in hopes of becoming a Master Fighter. It all resembles Pokémon, complete with some Team Rocket clones called the BB Bandits. But the mechanics for building armies seem stolen from Spectrobes, with players checking sonar for places to dig, pulling up fossils, and meticulously cleaning them. (Cleaner fossils produce stronger monsters.)
While the game isn’t objectively better than the predecessors it draws on, it does seem to have learned from their mistakes. Cleaning fossils might be fun for a little bit, but luckily by the time the challenge has worn off, you’ll have a handy robot that can do the chore for you. There are no random encounters you can’t easily turn down, and you often have the opportunity to choose when you’re ready to fight.
The game shines in its turn-based combat system. Teams of three vivosaurs start arranged in either attack or support positions, but can’t be swapped during the fight without sending someone out of the battle for a break. Players often face the dilemma of whether to rearrange combatants for optimal damage at the cost of losing vital actions and buffs. Battle also doesn’t necessarily favor the biggest and meanest team, as squads with fewer hit points get to go first, and when a fighter gets knocked out, the team gets a huge infusion of points that can be used for big counterattacks. Mastering tactics pays off in the campaign, but is most promising when facing your friends in multiplayer.
Fossil Fighters is at its most frustrating when it does try to be novel. A prime example is an early puzzle where an obvious clue notes that you must dig your way out of a dungeon. But figuring out where to put your pickaxe requires mindless trial and error. Players can’t progress without clearing the puzzles, and the resulting tedium and annoyance breaks the rhythm of play and can make turning off the game seem like the best solution.