Usually, if a company sends us a game to review very close to launch, or not at all, it is pretty indicative that the game may not be that great. After all, Nintendo sent us Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival the day of launch, and that was not a great game by any stretch of the imagination. With that knowledge, I was rather disappointed to receive a code for Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon the day of its release, expecting the game to be a disappointing repeat of the last Pokemon Mystery Dungeon title – Gates to Infinity.
Honestly, I should not have been worried. Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon is an excellent game, one that returns to the basics of the franchise: a challenging, Pokemon-collecting game with loot-based elements.
Players start out by taking the familiar personality quiz that matches up the player up with a starter Pokemon. Players then get to choose a partner for the adventure. After that point, the main game begins. Unfortunately, it gets off to quite a slow start. The first five hours are more or less a tutorial, which is rather unfortunate. In fact, the whole main campaign of the story is rather linear, with limited ability to truly explore. The game simply throttles players through its story, without allowing for much experimentation or deviation. Fortunately, the story is surprisingly excellent. There are more than enough twists and turns, and at times the story is substantially more depressing than I could ever expect a Pokemon game to be. The story is only elevated by the excellent localization. Each character has tons of personality, and the writing is genuinely intriguing and funny at times. I particularly liked the writing for my partner Pokemon, he was just adorable and evoked a sense of empathy within me (which is rather surprising for a Pokemon game).
Fortunately, once a player completes the roughly 25 hour story, the game really opens up. I don’t mean to say that the initial campaign is bad, because it is quite excellent, but it just lacks the openness that I have come to expect from Mystery Dungeon titles. Fortunately, the post-game is substantial. As opposed to previous games, Pokemon in Super Mystery Dungeon are not recruited by defeating them in a dungeon. Instead, the game introduces a new mechanic called the “Connection Orb.” In essence, this is a giant quest log for every single Pokemon. In Super Mystery Dungeon, Pokemon are recruited by completing their quest. Once a player completes one Pokemon’s quest, the quests of the Pokemon they are connected to will open up. The Connection Orb is just one giant web of Pokemon, and in order to recruit the Pokemon you want, you will have to go and help out the Pokemon that are connected to it.
Honestly, I appreciated this mechanic substantially more than in previous games. I liked the fact that Pokemon recruitment was no longer up to chance, and I did not have to run through the same dungeon dozens of times to recruit a desired Pokemon. Instead, I could just find the mission of the Pokemon I wished to recruit, knowing with full certainty that they would join my time once I fulfilled their request.
As for the dungeon-crawling itself, Super Mystery Dungeon‘s gameplay is a return to its challenging, rogue-like core. If a player dies in a dungeon, they will be forced to restart from their last save (you can only save before going into a dungeon), or they can return to the beginning, but forfeit all their items and money. Moreover, the game is appropriately challenging, especially when taking on a particularly challenging quest. Fortunately, “grinding” is not really a thing in Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon. If you fail a quest, it is more likely due to an absence in strategy rather than a lack of shear strength. With the right items, and the right Pokemon types, taking on a significantly more challenging opponent is completely manageable.
Outside of the colossal main game and side content, the game also features a location called “Pelipper Island.” As in previous games, players can go online and rescue other teams that have died within a dungeon. Players can actually request a rescue if they die in a dungeon while on a mission. So, if you really do not want to start over in a dungeon, you can put out a rescue request online and hope that someone rescues you. The game also introduces a new feature where players can rescue themselves using Pokemon that weren’t on the mission. If you really want to hold onto your items and money after dying, you can grab a second team of Pokemon to rescue the first (you still have to run through the dungeon a second time, though).
Overall, Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon is an excellent spin-off title for the Pokemon franchise, one that proves that “children’s” games do not always have to be incredibly easy, do not have to always contain a terrible story, and can have an excellent soundtrack (yes, the music is really, really good). Sure, the main campaign might be a little too linear for my liking, but the game vastly opens up after its completion. Truly, the lack of marketing and promotion for Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon is appalling to me, as it is easily one of the best games in the spin-off series, and one of the best 3DS games released this year.