50 Shades of Glalie
For a franchise built on hyper-quick RPG battles and constant poaching of prime species, Pokémon is a surprisingly malleable platform for other genres. Card games, three dimensional arena battles, photographic safaris and on and on the list goes. There’s almost as many Pokémon games these days are there individual pocket monsters, with some ideas sticking and others being quickly forgotten after launch.
And then there’s the Mystery Dungeon franchise within Pokémon. Despite it sounding like a red room extension from a 50 Shades of Grey novel, Mystery Dungeon games have been going strong for over ten years now, first popping up on the humble Nintendo DS back in 2005. They’ve always been the black sheep of Pokémon games however, and that includes Pokémon Snap.
Proper challenges have been an afterthought, a crippling problem when your audience happens to delight in the sadomasochistic thrills of finding the right path through a labyrinthine gauntlet and seeking that crucial balance of flow and crawl for better rewards. It’s a monumental task, to balance a lengthy dip into a death-trap dungeon while keeping the vibrant spirit of Pokémon alive.
But on that front, Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon is a deviously difficult winner.
For the uninitiated, Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon keeps the plotline simple. You’re living the ultimate Furry dream, having found yourself waking up not in your usual frail human body but as a Pokémon instead. A quick personality test determines the best possible Pokémon for you (in my case, it would have been a Slowpoke but I was informed that such an option wasn’t available at the beginning), a possible partner (Again, I decided to go with a Pikachu pal that I named Gavichu) and off you go. Thrust into a circle of life, more vicious than a realistic version of the Lion King.
Naturally, there’s more to it, as your explorations reveal a mystery Medusa plague threatening the local Pokémon villages. Which involves a lot of dungeon-crawling and battling with your party at your side. This isn’t like vanilla Pokémon however. The rock-paper-scissors mechanic of pitting Pokémon type and attacks up against other critters is still vital to understand, but not to the point where even a low-level Electric-type can pose a serious challenge to a Legendary beast.
Enemy Pokémon are absolute bastards to deal with, an advancing army that isn’t afraid to poison, drug or mentally confuse your party as you attempt to fight back while dealing with status effects, rapidly diminishing power points for moves and juggling an inventory. Crafty cannon fodder and may Arceus have mercy on your souls when you run into proper bosses if you’re not loaded up on a few of your own dirty tricks to help win a fight.
The key gimmick to Pokémon has always been collecting. Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon keeps that idea intact, as your party can grow with over 700 of the little money-makers wandering around. Check the tavern, check old dungeons and you’ll find a selection of old favourites. Hell, want to have a menagerie of all 26 different forms of Unown? You’re sorted, alongside anyone else who has an OCD tendency of getting their hands on every gender form of Pokémon as well.
Provided that you’re going online that is, as Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon is all about being connected. The absolutely staggeringly massive in-game social network is a sight to behold, a ClefableBook of contacts and quests that’ll net you new recruits and Legendary Acquisitions for your next dungeon expedition. That gives Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon the real edge it needs over the older titles.
So what’s the catch?
Pretty much an asinine start to Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon. Getting on your feet and finding your place is painfully slow. Slower than a Quentin Tarantino intro, slower than that line you always find yourself stuck in when you go renew your car license. You’re forced into spending a fairly decent-sized chunk of the game as your unevolved starter Pokémon and chip away at all of the story missions.
It’s a terrible caveat, one that feels painfully unnecessary when you realise that you can’t swap between partners when you’re adventuring in a dungeon populated with Pokémon types who can tear you a new one thanks to a massive type and level advantage. There’s a big difference between providing a fantastic challenge with a payoff, and creating a dungeon experience that punishes you for a poorly conceived idea.
And it’s going to take a lot of patience to get through the initial malaise, of finding your feet, attending a special Pokémon school and learning the ropes. That’s a hefty amount of hours required from you, but it’s all worth it once you get past the initial hurdles and find yourself with more open quests and team options. Here’s the trick to really getting the most out of Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon: Don’t marathon it. It’s easy enough to lose yourself in a flow for several hours in any Pokémon game.
But hitting just one dungeon at a time, just one mission per session, gives Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon a lot more value and doesn’t run the risk of dungeon crawling fatigue once you start to spot the patterns.
Last Updated: February 8, 2016