Thirty years ago, a wise man once said, ”Boom boom acka-lacka lacka boom, boom boom acka-lacka boom boom”. When he had everyone’s attention, he imparted the following advice upon them: ”Open the door, get on the floor, everybody walk the dinosaur.”
For many, many years nobody had the foggiest idea what he was talking about – the wise man’s name has since been lost in the annals of history – but now, in 2018, the answer is clear. He wanted us to open the door to our lounge, get on the floor in front of our TV and walk around a video game environment collecting dinosaur fossils. Thanks to Fossil Hunters, the wise man’s dream has now become a reality.
Fossil Hunters is a top-down family friendly puzzler, that sees a team of up to four brightly coloured palaeontologists investigate a plethora of subterranean lairs. Their mission? To find fossils and assemble them into a completed skeleton.
It’s a simple and yet surprisingly fresh concept, devoid of any combat and full of creative possibilities. Each fossil exists on a tile that can be rotated at will and snapped together with another fossil to form a larger piece. The fossils are suitably varied, so while you’ll initially find a few basic heads, spines and feet, you’ll soon be adding rib cages, wings, fins and humongous, twisting necks to your dinosaur.
Each small and contained level has a ‘dinosaur diagram’ to be found. Once it’s discovered, the fossil hunters (up to four in local play) chisel away at the surrounding rocks to find the corresponding fossil pieces, before assembling them on the diagram. Challenge is added by the inclusion of various fossil destroying or damaging elements; little bugs that eat them, mushrooms that cover the fossils in fungus, cave-ins that crush them, or giant salamanders that stomp the unwitting fossils into rubble.
These dangers cause little stress, thanks to the infinite fossils to be found in each level, but they do encourage teamwork between the players. Perhaps one player chooses to brush away the mushrooms, whilst the other drags along the fossil behind them, or maybe teaming up to block the way of a giant salamander will prevent your precious partially constructed skeleton from being crushed. Several players can work together to move larger fossil tiles at speed, providing they can communicate well enough to all push it in the same direction. There are also items that can provide assistance, among them support struts that prevent cave-ins and lamps that discourage those pesky bugs from chowing down on your favourite bone.
These items can be purchased from shop keepers in your lab and, in a neat touch, must be placed in a lift and transported to the necessary level. This can lead to a precarious heap of fossil digging detritus being built in the elevator, the players doing the best to fit all of their gear – and themselves – in the lift before they can get their expedition underway.
Buying replacement items before tackling the next location is often absolutely necessary, but it does highlight Fossil Hunter’s issue with lengthy loading times. There’s a loading screen to get from the end of the level to the map select, a loading screen to get from the map select to the lab, a loading screen to get back to the map select, and then another loading screen to get to the next level. It’s a good thing the ‘lift music’ that accompanies each loading screen is utterly brilliant.
Constructing fossils in a prescribed manner to mimic each level’s Dinosaur Diagram is really just a lengthy tutorial to the main challenge of the game, that being the task of building fossils to appease the faceless overlord who contacts you via the lab radio. He or she will set you the objective of building bizarre fossils such as one with six spines, or a giant dinosaur built from ten tiles, maybe even a dino with more feet than you can shake a toe at. It’s here that Reptoid Games modular fossil building system is pushed to the limit, yet it passes the test with conviction, offering genuine brain scratching puzzling as you find the best way to construct the fossil from the pieces you have; all whilst fending off salamanders, mushrooms and cave-ins.
It is, quite frankly, delightful and charming fun. The game’s thirty-odd levels flashing by and leaving me wanting more. I must point out though, that I was fortunate enough to play through the entirety of Fossil Hunters in multiplayer, which is clearly the way the game was meant to be experienced. Single player is a rather solitary endeavour and much of the enjoyment of the game is lost without others to share it with.
There are issues to be found, as well. The frame rate can dip, particularly with a cram packed lift, there are also some bugs such as on one lava themed level, where players wouldn’t immediately perish if they fell in and the camera would follow them into the black abyss, ignoring the other players entirely. After thirty seconds the T-800 impersonating player eventually died – as did the others players, rather unfairly – and all of us respawned in a random part of the map. It was odd, frustrating and hilarious in equal measure.
Speaking of the camera, it does leave a little to be desired. It would have been ideal if the camera could pan out or switch to split screen, in order to enable players to explore different areas of the map, or for one to return to the lift to get another lamp while the rest could keep searching for fossils. Instead the camera remains at a set distance throughout, forcing the players to remain together the entire time.
Fossil Hunters is a game I’ve been looking forward to playing for the last six months and Reptoid Games have not disappointed me. This team based puzzler is superb and will be sure to unleash your inner palaeontologist.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4
Also available on: Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC