“All life in this world is said to have been born from the same source.”
The first lines of exposition in Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon read ominously, written against the blazing sun that overlooks an earthlike planet. And you, well, you have no idea who you are or where you’re standing. But you’re thirsty, and as you gulp down delicious water, you open your eyes – and discover you’ve been transformed into a Pokémon. Before you have time to ponder your transformation too long, a trio of Beheeyem chase you into an unsuspecting Pokémon. Together, you travel into your first mystery dungeon.
The first dungeon you traverse acts as a tutorial stage, but it lays out the foundation of the remainder of your exploration. Together with a partner Pokémon (dependent on your answers in the opening of the game), you travel through an ever-changing dungeon. Each run through of a dungeon is different, as the levels perpetually change each time you visit. Gameplay is both similar to Pokémon and traditional dungeon crawlers alike, too; however, it is a very niche genre, so many fans of standard Pokémon games will disapprove of Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon.
Gameplay in Super Mystery Dungeon focuses on two major elements. The game plays as a turn based dungeon crawler, meaning that each time you take a step, everything else in the dungeon does, too. If you remain stationary, nothing else will move. It’s similar to the recently released Guided Fate Paradox series, for example, and it’s the same as the previous Pokémon Dungeon games. As you progress through each dungeon, you battle your way through enemy Pokémon in two general ways. By hitting the ‘A’ button, you prompt your Pokémon to attack with a very basic punch. This is used to move an enemy toward you to preemptively strike or when your PP is depleted. By holding ‘L’, you open a list of four moves – the set up the same is in the standard Pokémon games. For example, Water Blast might be set to ‘L’ and ‘A’, Tackle to ‘L’ and ‘B’, and so on. That is essentially the whole of gameplay in Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon.
Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon’s success banks on a strong narrative and the niche crowd who loves dungeon crawlers (or those who gobble up any Pokémon title). Co-developed by Spike Chunsoft, the team that developed the Dangan Ronpa series, Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon spins a pretty cool tale of deceit, betrayal, and redemption. For a Pokémon game, in my opinion, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon crafts a pretty novel narrative. While the game is suitable for children, it speaks to a higher level of maturity in exposition. Combined with solid, if not original, gameplay, the game succeeds in presenting a passable experience.
The problem with Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon is that it is technically a Pokémon game. Fans of the series, as I’ve come to read on GameFly and elsewhere, maintain displeasure in Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon. Some argue that it is not as good as the previous entry while others loathe the lengthy dialogue segments. From my experience, the dialogue segments weren’t nearly as lengthy as many users complained, but the gameplay was as simple and thoughtless as described, which is not necessarily an issue (Dynasty Warriors thrives on mindless controls and the lack of gameplay evolution, for example).
All of this makes Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon one of the toughest reviews I’ve written. When I think of the positives, I find a game that is mechanically decent but presents an interesting narrative worth experiencing. For me, however, the dungeon exploring became stale very quickly, and I only forced my way through the game because of the plot line. There’s a pretty cool twist that I certainly didn’t see coming. To be a fair judge of this game, you must either enter completely open-minded and free of your Pokémon prejudices or love of dungeon crawling games. If you do, you will probably leave the experience with satisfaction of plot and the indifference of gameplay.