My kids are all in a weird stage in their gaming maturity. My youngest son, just turned 3 years old, is still finding his way around a controller while my Twins, 6 years old, are a tad too young for most PEGI 7 games but are turned off by most of the games aimed at their age bracket. As for my Jurassic World obsessed eldest son, he’s incessantly asking to play those games his friends brag about playing but are far too mature for him at the moment (I’m looking at you Call of Duty). It’s a rarity that a game releases that manages to appeal to all of my kids, especially one that’s got a PEGI rating of 3 AND has 4 player co-op, but that’s the first goal that Fossil Hunters, a game from the Canadian developers Reptoid Games, manages to hit.
Fossil Hunters puts you in the scuffed up boots of 1 to 4 archaeologists, each with their own distinctive look, who arrive at an abandoned dig site and are tasked with travelling ever deeper into the mysterious depths. To proceed past each level, the team (or single player, should you choose to play solo) have to find a blueprint etched into the floor for an ancient creature, dig up the appropriate bones which can be dragged around then pieced together to form the skeleton of a dinosaur. Outside of the blueprint progress, you can snap together bones to create your own creature shapes as big or small as you like which can then be submitted and sold in exchanged for gold pieces. It’s a simple but intuitive premise that builds on itself the deeper into the dig site you go.
In the first section of the game, you’ll be simple smashing up blocks of dirt to find fossils then dragging them to the appropriate place while watching out for cave ins. These occur when you’ve dug up too much ground in one particular area, the ground starts to shake and then the area you’ve dig up falls in (squashing you if you happen to be in the wrong spot) giving you more ground to dig away at. Eventually, you’re presented with new challenges like spiders which will damage and eventually destroy your fossil chunks but can be scared away by lights you can pick up (or buy from a handily placed retailer). In the next zone, in the Mushroom caves, a moss grows over your fossils if you touch a mushroom which makes the fossil slow down then stick to the floor when trying to move it. It’s here you’re also presented with struts which prevent cave ins when deployed in places when cave in’s happen often to bar your progress. Deeper still, you’ll meet lava beasts that smash through everything in their path as they proceed from one pool of lava to another, destroying everything (including your precious creations) in the process. Each and every level presents something a little different, whether that be a side-task to present a gem at a specific spot to open a door to a collectable or a level totally in the dark, forcing you to carry a light with you at all times.
There’s an optional narrative to Fossil Hunters that’s played out in a scrapbook which is populated each time you find a collectable. It tells the story of several other adventurers that delved into the subterranean worlds and the discoveries they made that’s light hearted and occasionally very witty. It’s not forced on you either, requiring a button press to view, which is a blessing when you’ve got a 3 year old Fossil Hunter who wants to do anything other than read someone’s thoughts on how a spider might see in 3D (a genuine entry into the scrapbook).
Fossil Hunters is a game that’s best played in co-op, making many of its tasks vastly more enjoyable having 2 or more pairs of hands at play as the camera scales out to incorporate their involvement. Unfortunately, this isn’t a game you can set your kids up to play alone without adult assistance. This is because pulling around the fossils and placing them in the right place can be quite tricky. It takes a shoulder button press to pull a fossil without turning it or turn a fossil without moving it, something that all of my kids (and I, to be honest) found unintuitive at times. On occasion, you’ll have to slot in a fossil between 2 that have already been placed and it can be onerous to dislodge all your already placed bones to put in another. There’s also a lack of clear signposting on some levels. There’s one level in particular that requires you to find a large skull that only spawns in certain locations around the map (something that wasn’t made clear until dying in at least 10 cave in’s) that stands out as needing to give the player a bit more of a nudge in the right direction. Lastly, there’s the punishment for dying. Coins, earned by piecing together dino fossils and submitting them, can be spent on struts, lights and TNT bombs to make things a tad easier – except, if you die, you’re harshly punished and a large chunk of change is deducted from your coin balance each time. Playing with kids, who just want to role about and inevitably tumble into a bottomless pit or insist on polishing fossils while the roof is caving in on them, means you’ll very rarely get a balance above zero and asking the younger player to adopt their play to try not to die (I know, I know, but they’re young and fearless) takes a lot of fun out of the game.
Then there’s the glitches. On 2 occasions, one of our characters managed to get stuck on a layer of the game that seemed to be elevated from the rest of the game. It’s like we’d clipped through the ceiling and were now walking on an invisible floor where it was impossible to influence the game any longer. We had to quit out and reload the game on both occasions to fix this. There’s also an odd bug which, when one characters falls off the map, draws the camera down with them into the murky depths below, leaving the other 3 players looking at nothing but blackness until the player respawns.
Fossil Hunters is, in almost everything that it does, good, clean family fun. My young tribe and I have had a real blast playing it together despite the technical hiccups and the fiddly nature of some of the controls. It’s a game best played in a team, when you can all have a responsibility, but it does require at least some gaming experience in the group to overcome its toughest challenges that’ll frustrate the younger gaming archaeologists out there. If you’re looking for a game to play with a bunch of Dinosaur obsessed children or with a couple of older friends who’re up for a laugh, it’s worth digging into Fossil Hunters during the upcoming Autumn/Winter nights.
Fossil Hunters is available now on PS4 (reviewed on a standard console), Xbox One, Switch and PC.
Developers: Reptoid Games
Publishers: Smiling Buddha Games
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we purchased a copy of the game. Please see our review policy for more information.