You know that old saying "another day, another dollar?" Why not make it "another season, another Pokémon title" as Pokémon is continuing to live on whether in RPG or spin-off form. With 35 games already released in the US since its debut in September 1998 (that's 3.5 games a year), Pokémon continues to sell millions in whatever form it's released (not to mention countless movies, trading cards, action figures, and more). With such a popular franchise, it is sometimes tempting for a company to milk the name without providing the same quality that previous titles have experienced. Take popular franchises such as Crash Bandicoot or Spyro the Dragon, for instance. These games began as gems in the early days of their series but as the years went by, the popular names couldn't gloss over the rough spots that were present in some of the later sequels. Thus, it's easy to fall in the trap and reviewers and gamers alike appreciate it more when a company can continue pumping in great ideas into a franchise without seeing dollar signs.
The most recent spinoff in the Pokémon series, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon is currently at the 3rd and 4th games in the series (or to be realistic, the 2nd game as dual releases often produce very similar games) and to be honest, I really didn't think they could have made a sequel to the original spin-off at all. Nonetheless, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Darkness has hit the DS and seems to be all too familiar to its GBA/DS predecessors. So the ultimate question is: Is it worth it to catch them all once again?
Same Old Song & Dance, Err Pokémon
Though there are a few Pokémon games I haven't tried out there (Hey You Pikachu!, Pokémon Trading Card Game, and Pokémon Trozei to be precise), I do have much experience in the franchise. In fact, you could say that I'm a little bit of a Pokémaniac when it comes to the traditional RPGs. However, despite having played the original Pokémon Mystery Dungeon on the DS and being pleasantly surprised, I did have a few negative thoughts when I heard about the release of this game. My initial presumptions about the game were as follows:
1. Wow, they really made another one of these dungeon crawlers.
2. Unless they completely revamped the game, there's a chance it may feel far too much like its predecessors.
3. Though I still enjoy playing through every new Pokémon RPG, these dungeon crawlers could become a bit repetitious.
And so, with these thoughts in my head, I turned the game on and began to play.
Just as was the case in the previous game, you start by answering several ambiguous questions to determine which Pokémon you are. I ended up being a Munchlax and chose a Chikorita as my partner and from there, I began the journey. Also in line with the previous games, the main character was actually a human that mysteriously changed into a Pokémon and can't remember anything about his past. All of these parallels were a little too similar to me but at least the later story was actually much stronger than that of the previous games.
The most immediate annoyance I had with the game involved the beginning dialogue. Sure, it's necessary to have dialogue in RPGs to move the story along and I know that some RPGs can be slow at first but there was so much dialogue throughout the beginning of the game that I didn't even feel like I was playing a game at all. When I was finally able to start my adventure, I noticed that the gameplay was completely identical to the previous Mystery Dungeon games. Go to the outlaw or job board, choose a mission, and fulfill the job or defeat the outlaw. As you finish the near endless list of jobs, the story is furthered and you begin to learn more of your role as a Pokémon.
Gameplay occurs in randomly generated dungeons to help keep the game fresh throughout your experience. As was the case with the previous Mystery Dungeon games, the dungeon crawling gameplay is surprisingly and simplistically addictive-it has the same charm as traditional Pokémon titles and lots of customization (490+ Pokémon and many more moves as well as many of the items from the traditional franchise) but can still be played with little knowledge of the series. This simplicity has its negatives though as the gameplay becomes repetitive very early.
Multiplayer consists of the same several modes, giving players the ability to trade items, save their friends that have fallen in battle, and send wonder mail but this time around, players can access Nintendo Wi-Fi connection to do all of these things (except for trading items) via the internet. This makes gaming with friends much easier provided both people playing the game can set up wireless connections (or have parents that are capable of doing it for them).
As for aesthetics, this game fits the Pokémon mold quite nicely: The presentation is perfect for any Pokémon fan and though the graphics aren't spectacular, the colorful, cartoony feel is exactly what I would expect from a Pokémon game taking place in a world consisting only of Pokémon. The music, as is the case with any Pokémon title, is very good and the composition fits the series very nicely. Menus, on the other hand, are very sluggish and the graphical improvement from game to game is quite small considering the previous game was playable on both the DS and GBA.
Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Darkness is a well polished game that would be enjoyable to any younger, die hard Pokémon fan. However, as an older, Pokémon fanatic, I'm finding it hard to continue playing a series that was already overly simplistic yet did nothing to add to the overall gameplay. Sure, I liked the first title a lot but this one has been seen and done already and is by no means enthralling. Thus, if you haven't played one of these and you're looking for a simplistic dungeon crawler, this game is far better than its predecessor. However, if you've already played the first installment in the series, you'll probably be bored with this one.