After an unusually long time, the latest chapter in the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series has finally made it’s way to Europe, and being the die-hard Pokémon fan I am, I just had to play it. In the past, I had mixed feeling towards the series, while the overall idea was great and certainly a dream come true for many Pokémon fans, the execution has sometimes been a bit lacklustre and often held back by game design problems.Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon has a lot to make up for.
Developer: Spike Chunsoft Co., Ltd, The Pokémon Company
Reviewed on: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: 20. November 2015 (US), 19. February 2016 (EU) / Out Now
Diving straight into the game and the first thing you have to complete is a personality test to determine which Pokémon body you will inhabit. However, if you are unhappy with the choice you can just select the little pocket creature of your choice, all starters are available from the beginning. It’s at this stage that you can also select your partner in crime, and even name both creatures, so if you want to play the adventures of Batman and Iron Man, by all means, go for it.
Once the choices are made and you’re thrown into the exciting world of talking Pokémon, you are assaulted by some menacing Beheeyems and have to flee, only to run into Nuzleaf who helps you escape. After the somewhat exciting intro, it’s school time, no I am not kidding, you actually have to go to school every day and learn the basics of dungeon exploration and by basics, I mean basics, and that’s pretty much the next five hours of gameplay. It’s throughout this creepy handholding sequence that you meet your partner and the two of you become friends. But while you’re tucked away honing your skills, a dark threat looms on the horizon, with Pokémon being turned into stone and the mystery of your past unresolved.
While the story may have a slow (far too slow) start, it does get better as you progress. In fact, it is in a constant upward movement in regard to scale and stakes, there is some actual character development going on and you may sympathise with the agendas of certain characters. So while it may be a slow boil at the start, the ending will have you at the edge of your seat and really outclasses the other titles in the series and even ending sequences of other more action oriented games. This is still a game made for children, so the motivations of characters are obviously not that diverse and always easy to grasp, they may fit stereotypes, but always provide an interesting twist to the formula. Think comic book characters, but with some actual talent and diversity behind it.
A the heart of the series are, of course, the mysterious dungeons, these procedurally generated labyrinths populated with wild Pokémon will be your main point of interest with various missions taking place inside these walls, be it rescue, retrieval, or even boss fights. Where this hasn’t changed from its predecessors, Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon has made significant improvements with recruiting. In the previous titles, you would fight an enemy in the dungeon and then there was a percentage-based chance that he would join you, now all Pokémon are acquired through missions. A welcome change indeed, since you could easily spend a lot of time grinding for a single Pokémon in the past. As an added bonus is the fact that you may get high-level Pokémon early on and while this might sound like a balancing issue at first, since a Pokémon that is a vastly higher level than your starter is unavailable for a few days afterwards the balance returns.
Speaking of balance, however, I must address the difficulty because to say it fluctuates would be an understatement. There are dungeons that are flat out no challenge and then there are areas that will make you rue the day you didn’t spend more time in the first dungeons picking up every reviver seed. As a matter of fact, you may not even want to start a dungeon without at least five of these instant revivals, since they count for all members of your team. Even prepared, though, there seem to be so many one-shot attacks and there is literally nothing you can do about it except grind, grind, grind. Even with the high-level Pokémon there are some fights that seems impossible at first and Charizard being killed by Glameow is just a weird sight in general.
While all of this may sound bad, it’s actually a welcomed change with Pokémon games getting progressively easier over the last few years. Maybe I simply went into Super Mystery Dungeon with the wrong attitude and expected another unchallenging, but fun experience and consequently it wiped the floor with me after the tutorial stages. But what matters here is the fun and Super Mystery Dungeon is fun and has a lot to offer even after the credits have rolled.