Another addition to the ever-growing stockpile of inferior Pokémon copycats, Fossil Fighters: Frontier is the third entry in a series that has been playing second—scratch that, fourth—fiddle to Game Freak’s subgenre-dominating catch-train-battle creature RPG for the better part of six years. Dinosaurs will forever maintain their rightful place in the pop-culture zeitgeist, yet their appearances in video games have been less than remarkable as of late (save for, maybe, sporadic encounters in Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate). Sure, there’s always good ’ol Yoshi to bank on (see the upcoming Yoshi’s Wooly World), but the next coming of Primal Rage, Turok, or Star Fox Adventures seems to be something of a remote fantasy. Of course, Frontier, like its predecessors, is primarily aimed at children, but even the least impressionable of youngsters will likely find themselves bored to tears by the uninventive gameplay and bland visuals the game exhibits.
The cardinal alteration in mechanics that Frontier offers is the introduction of a travel vessel dubbed the Bone Buggy, which allows players to carry out their tedious task of exploring miscellaneous dig sites and unearthing various prehistoric remains from the ground, then reviving them into cultivatable beasties termed Vivosaurs. Remnant excavation is simple enough, controlled via touchscreen and stylus, with an assortment of tools like chisels, drills, and hammers to aid in the process. It quickly becomes clear, though, that continually exhuming ancient bones is a far less enjoyable critter recruitment procedure than the options pioneered by Satoshi Tajiri and company nearly two decades ago. (Tellingly, fossils have played a key role in Pokémon games since Generation I.) Moreover, controlling the buggies themselves could have been a uniquely satisfying feature in the field, but navigation frequently feels sluggish, even with the application of so-called enhancements like upgraded batteries, acceleration boosts, or other trivial customizations.
Battling in Frontier, online or off, has its positives, the main highlight being detailed attack animations that actually show realistic contact being made between combatants, an aspect Pokémon still hasn’t quite nailed down. Aside from that, however, pitting acquired Paleo Pals against each other largely consists of commonplace turn-based RPG move selection, which is rather limited, and the awkward implementation of sudden difficulty spikes during later waypoint park-issued tournaments. Meager attempts at a comprehensive narrative, involving a goofy villain’s pursuit of superorder supremacy, fall flat, and the sidequest-style objectives like stereotypical grand prix races proves underdeveloped in light of their repetitive nature. Truthfully, much of Fossil Fighters: Frontier seems par-cooked, content to haphazardly toddle in the footsteps of genre trailblazers, ultimately lost in a cloud of relic dust kicked up by its own erroneous design.