Video Games Review: Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon (3DS, 2016)

The Pokemon Mystery Dungeon (PMD) has always been the go-to if we’re looking at Pokemon spin-offs that aren’t evolutions of the classic original RPG. Sure Pokemon Snap was a memorable game, and the two Pokemon Stadium were excellent, as was the lesser-known Pokemon Conquest and, to a degree, PokePark, but PMD always had the most potential to become a full-fledged, fully considered franchise. And it has. To date there have been nine PMD games, the ninth of which is this latest release, Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon, ‘super’ being a very common word when Nintendo looks to sprucing up their franchises. In this case, they really do mean ‘super’ though; this is the most comprehensive and content-heavy PMD to date, and as such the writers have more time to tell a story of a human being turned into a Pokemon and having to trawl dungeons in between a wider, exploratory narrative. This means that they take things very, very slow at the start.

The beginning of the game is quite dull in terms of gameplay, and same-same, not really showing much life until you level up substantially and your party begins to grow. For your party you have more choice from the Pokemon universe than ever before, a really necessary development as you get to choose between all the icons and starter Pokemon, and then choose a ‘buddy’ to join you as the story progresses.

A sharp sense of humour and respectable appeal-to-all-ages aesthetic helps keep the narrative consistently entertaining between dungeon-crawling so there’s no problem there. In fact, I’d go as far to say this is the best presented narrative of a PMD game thusfar; the character models are stunning, seeing particular Pokemon in particular roles (an example being Watchog as a high school headmaster) keeps things fresh and fun – especially now that there are so many (720 to be precise) for the developers to choose from – and there are anti-bullying, pro-sociable themes strung throughout the opening chapters that are written in well for a younger crowd.

From the beginning, you play your chosen Pokemon – or the one that has been chosen for you as the result of a personality test – who is really just a human that has lost their memory. You wake up in a forest setting and are almost immediately pocked and prodded by a group of Beheeyem who stalk you wherever you go well into the game. Your only respite at this point is to shack up with a generous Nuzleaf who has a house in the game’s first village, where whichever Pokemon you picked as a buddy will annoy you until you become friends with it. Nuzleaf sends you to daily outdoor school sessions in cut scenes that are much too long, but still move the narrative along efficiently, introducing you to your surrounds before expanding the world in some really impressive ways, after letting you know that something mysterious is turning Pokemon into stone.

pokemonsuper2

Once the world of Pokemon does open up – and it takes awhile to get there – the game is grand and impressive but until then you have to work on getting used to (or re-accustoming yourself with) randomly generated grid-based floors that make up dungeons. And as you may know if you’ve played previous PMD titles, these dungeons can easily fall into the trap of hyper-repetition, something that’s accentuated here because the difficulty is ramped up; it’s not as easy to stock super helpful items (or find them) and while you only have two Pokemon in your team you better hope that you don’t come upon a Dungeon crowded with your main Pokemon’s weakness.

As the game progresses any given dungeon’s various traps become more important to your strategy, and as your team grows it becomes more and more evident that you’re going to have to take advantage of the one-after-the-other turn based system, stopping to think about your next move even though battles can tempt you into a quickened pace sometimes.

A pitfall with having a large team (and changing the command so they seek their own battles) is that the screen will flash to them every time they make a move, so for example, if you’re main partner is embroiled in a PokeFight in the next room, moving your character will be frustrating because with every move your partner makes in the battle, the screen will flash to it. This can be a bit frustrating at times, so it’s advantageous to use battle commands wisely and keep everyone close together. Remember, enemies only move when the player moves.

Once you get into the chess-like battle mechanics and you have enough players on the board, dungeons can be a lot of fun. That coupled with the narrative makes this, unequivocally, the best entry in the series. The expansive world provides plenty of content to get around, so when you do eventually get stuck into the game that feeling of not wanting it to end is satisfied at least somewhat while you and your band of Pokemon take on the full adventure.

Review Score: 8.5 out of 10
Highlights: Vast world with almost endless content; chess-like battle becomes addictive after a while; infrequent items mean more emphasis on strategy; narrative fun and engaging; excellent character models.
Lowlights: Requires a lot of patience at the start while you level up; some cut scenes drag for too long; boss fights not as engaging or impressive as they could have been.
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Publisher: The Pokemon Company
Released: 20th Feb 2016
Platform: Nintendo 3DS and New Nintendo 3DS