Palaeontology seems to be one of those careers that every child, at one point or another, thinks is incredibly cool. You know the ones – things like doctor, or game designer, or police officer, which sound like they must be the most exciting thing in the world right up until you become an adult and realise that they’re actually all just work? Dinosaur Fossil Hunter is that crushing realisation in a nutshell.
First, I have to clarify that this game is only available as an alpha demo and isn’t yet on sale, so bugs and unfinished elements are inevitable and not at all a sign of how the game will ultimately turn out. While I had quite a few problems, particularly with unclear or absent directions and the controls – most notably when driving the jeep whose only goal in life appeared to be defying physics in any way possible – it’s likely safe to chalk this up to the development simply being unfinished, rather than the game being intrinsically bad. So, skipping over those technical issues, what exactly are we left with?
The core gameplay loop is exactly what you’d expect: go to a dig site, find some fossils, take them back to your museum to clean up, and put them on display. The short demo also hints at some level of the story, although it’s unclear how big of an impact this could have on the game; more likely the focus will be on expanding your museum collection and building ever bigger and more impressive exhibits.
As a basic premise, this is fine. Not all games need a grand, overarching narrative to keep things moving and collectathon games like this can be hugely successful as relaxing single-player experiences. In this regard, Dinosaur Fossil Hunter has a lot to recommend it. The game is beautiful if lacking in a little variety, and it’s abundantly clear that a lot of work and care has gone into making it look as good as it can. The dinosaur bones, in particular, have seen a huge amount of effort, with carefully modeled shapes and textures that change as you clean them up and put them on display. It speaks of a tremendous level of not just knowledge of paleontology, but of love for it too.
That passion, combined with a decent soundtrack that is sadly currently lacking – likely due to unfinished development – could make for an interesting game, and it’s because of that promise that I will probably revisit Dinosaur Fossil Hunter once it’s fully finished. Unfortunately, that day is still a long way off.
For all its promise, Dinosaur Fossil Hunter has one fatal flaw: it’s boring. Really boring. Any game that relies on the gameplay cycle seen here has to strike a delicate balance between the ‘work’ aspect, in this instance finding, transporting, and cleaning bones, and the ‘reward’ side of things, here is completing the skeletons and setting up museum displays. Without that balance, the game will edge towards the line of going from satisfying busywork to an unappealing slog; for me, Dinosaur Fossil Hunter went so far across that line, I eventually found it living three cities over. The demo is only about an hour-long, but even within that time, I wished I could turn it off to play something more interesting.
Finding and transporting the bones was made far more tiresome than it needed to be by the aforementioned wonky control system, but even if you set that aside, the cleaning mini-game is unbearably dull. Each bone has to be individually brushed, sprayed with some sort of chemical, burned – possibly? None of the steps are explained and I’m no paleontologist – sanded down and sprayed again. You’ll be doing this for around 14 or 15 small bones at a time, and in each case, you must be continually rotating them to make sure you get into all the nooks and crannies. Some stages are more forgiving than others, but the process still takes around 10 minutes to get through a single fossil, dragging the already thin interactivity out into what can only be described as a chore. This might have been an intentional design choice to show the time commitment that goes into fossil preservation, but, if that is the case, it’s a gimmick that gets old quickly.
In its current form, I consider this section of gameplay to be irredeemable, but one thing that would have helped to soften it would have been a more educational slant. Players are tasked with going through the motions of cleaning up the bones, but there’s nothing on screen to explain what each stage is or what it’s for – even something as simple as a text box in the screen’s corner explaining what tools are being used would have been a brief reprieve from the monotony. Given how much thought and knowledge has clearly gone into the game, I was incredibly surprised to find that information lacking.
Having seen how much the creators of Dinosaur Fossil Hunter care about their game, it really is a shame that I can’t recommend it to others – I think there is a good premise in there that could work with enough time and development, but it isn’t there yet.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Dinosaur Fossil Hunter Review
Gameplay - 3.5/10
Graphics - 8.5/10
Sound - 4/10
Replay Value - 2/10
This game has a lot of promise, but without further development there’s too little gameplay to make this a worthwhile endeavour.
- Interesting premise.
- Appealing visual style with some impressive detailing.
- Primarily consists of slow, uninteresting mini-games.
- Development is still unfinished in a lot of areas.