I’m not one of those Nintendo stalwarts who fill their 24 hour cycle speculating about finite details of upcoming games. To be honest, my interest in the main titles of the Pokémon franchise has started to wane. They are essentially the same ‘collect 8 badges,’ ‘save the world from a misguided organisation’ adventure every time- albeit with a reskin and a few more monsters to collect (there are now 720. Do you feel old yet?). I am, however, a fan of the Pokémon franchise in general, so I appreciate the support Nintendo throws behind Pokémon spin-off games.
One spin-off series that has found success on the international market is Pokémon Mystery Dungeon- quite simply an adaptation of the Mystery Dungeon games, featuring Pokémon. Beginning with Red Rescue Team and Blue Rescue Team in 2005, the spin-off series now includes seven different games (ten including Japan-only releases) as well as some reasonably successful manga and anime specials.
This time the creative minds at Nintendo (who also brought you genius game and hardware titles like Super Mario Bros- successor to Mario Bros- and the New Nintendo 3DS) have pushed the proverbial envelope with the name for their latest game (macho brace yourself)… Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon. Just like the title, the gameplay of Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon lacks any real originality- instead it seems as though the developer, Spike Chunsoft, has extracted all the quality elements of the previous games and inserted them into one game cartridge. The result is a tier 1 version of the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon games. Almost like a super version…
The game begins with a personality quiz reminiscent of Facebook click-bait, that serves to determine which Pokémon (from a roster of starters and a few other basics) you share similar qualities with. Nintendo obviously employed some kind of Voodoo witchcraft or employed an out-of-work Psychology post-grad for this element of the game because the summarised results of my answers to the quiz seemed to reflect my personality quite well. This is surprising given that I answered questions about cakes, and perseverance while mountain hiking. Perhaps I just have a really strong connection with anthropomorphic tree snakes (context: my designated Pokémon was Snivy). Anyway… this is a really fun feature that existed in Red/ Blue Rescue Team and Explorers of Time/ Darkness but was dropped from Explorers of sky and Gates to Infinity. What’s novel about the quiz in this edition is the ability to reject the Pokémon you are assigned and pick your own Pokémon.
We are then thrown into the typical human-transformed-into-Pokémon amnesia story line, for which the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon games are now infamous. After some mandatory and no less lengthy exposition, the tutorial-line continues. Tutorial-line? Now for my own lengthy exposition. Though it is fairly obvious when a new concept is being introduced/ taught, the tutorial elements are woven into the main plot artfully. Never was I spamming A to get through an explanation about a new item or mechanic being made available. It just seemed to flow. In this way, the game should appeal to newcomers AND Indiana-Jones level explorers.
On-point characterisation and plot devices explain some of Spike Chunsoft’s success in this regard. The story plays out like a typical Shakespearean farce, at times. There is the ever-cheerful, naive companion Pokémon, the slapstick, dithering NPC fools (see: the Drillbur), the misguided villains with tender hearts, and some good use of comedic timing. There is something light-hearted and fun about this game. I mean, most of the Pokémon you interact with in the first few hours are schoolyard stereotypes, and you are literally a school child going on harmless adventures with your friends. Then on more serious adventures.
Then the fire nation attacked. Ok, not quite. Things do become dark and twisted, though. In true Pokémon style, there is an over-arching narrative centred around more sinister, globally impactful events that is hinted at throughout your adventures. It is a decent storyline, which makes the game worth playing until the end. No spoilers. #DumbledoreDies
To progress the storyline, for whatever reason, you’ll be forced to enter a dungeon or two… or twenty… thousand. Similarly to the dungeons in the previous titles, the maps and layouts of all the dungeons are randomly generated. They are a mystery (hence the title)! When in dungeons, players explore the “rooms”, picking up items, and searching for stairs to the exit point. If a hostile Pokémon enters the same room as you or your companion Pokémon, the game turns into a turn-based battle with each Pokémon moving, attacking or using items on their turn. The lower screen of the Nintendo DS hosts a mini-map that is practical but not exactly aesthetically pleasing.
The depth of the dungeon exploration component of the games in this series, never ceases to amaze me. Even after only a few hours of adventuring, battles begin to demand strategy, and prior to entering a dungeon, some tactics need to be considered. For one, the belly mechanic makes a reappearance- the idea that adventuring Pokémon need to refuel through food after a certain amount of time means storing Apples in your item bag is a must. Secondly, new items called looplets make their debut- a Deltora-quest like belt that holds gems (termed emeras) that bestow powers on your Pokémon. Which Pokémon to attach which emera to, can be a life or faint decision. Thirdly, there are new team attacks called “Alliances” (which operate similarly to linked attacks in the previous titles) that deal extra damage but are costly on the belly.
There are also some updates to reflect the fact that this is a Generation 6 game- mega evolution and the introduction of the Fairy type. Updates I certainly would have liked to have seen are the addition of a health bar on all opposing Pokémon, some more puzzles, and some open world exploration.
This certainly is a sugar, spice and everything nice kind of game but Spike Chunsoft have not really channelled their inner Professor Plutonium and added a Chemical X. All the elements are executed well, and there are a couple of nice little additions, but the game does nothing to excel the franchise as a whole. On one hand, if you enjoy or are new to the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series (which many younger gamers may be) this is a fun, only mildly difficult dungeon crawler that I would recommend adding to your portable gaming collection. On the other hand, if you’re not much of a Pokémon fan or you’re an experienced Mystery Dungeon player looking for a challenge, this is not the game for you. There is enough water, but it’s not sparkling.