Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time/Darkness

boyward - Staff Reviewer

Content at a glance:

GAME TECH INFO

Computer Platform: Nintendo DS
Produced by: Nintendo
Price Range: $31-40
Learning curve time: 1-30 min.
Age level: All Ages
ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)

Reviewed By: Phil Rownd (boyward)
STAFF REVIEWER

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆
Genre: RPG
Christian Rating: 5 of 5 (excellent)
Gameplay: 4 of 5 (good)
Violence: 4 of 5 (barely present)
Adult Content: 5 of 5 (none)


Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time/Darkness.  Illustration copyrighted.


Over 490 Pokemon appear in this series spin-off, but in Mystery Dungeon your goal is not to “catch-em-all”. Unlike Pokemon Diamond and Pearl where you play as a Pokemon-catching human, you’ll explore the world of Pokemon as a Pokemon. As a Pokemon member of Wigglytuff’s treasure-hunting Guild, you’ll form a Pokemon team of explorers and go deep underground to discover great secrets in a maze-like labyrinth. It’s good, clean fun that may not have the broad appeal of a traditional Pokemon game, but will still appeal to fans of Mystery Dungeon games and die-hard Pokemaniacs.

Nintendo released the two newest Pokemon Mystery Dungeon games side-by-side. According to the box, “the contents of Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time/ Explorers of Darkness are almost the same.” Therefore, this review will cover both games, though my experience was limited to Explorers of Time.

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This adventure centers around a human– you! But when you wash up on the shore of the Pokemon world, you discover you’ve been transformed into a Pokemon. Right away the game lets you choose a companion Pokemon (I picked Charmander) who will become your trusted friend over the course of your adventure. After proving yourself worthy of membership in Wigglytuff’s Guild, you’ll investigate why you turned into a Pokemon and also solve the mysteries of time and darkness in the Pokemon world.

The meat of the game takes place in the exploration of its random mazes. Though each dungeon has its own name and theme, each time you venture in it has a different, randomly generated layout. Your goal is to get to the exit of each floor, and go deeper and deeper until you get to the final goal of the dungeon. Navigation is a pleasure since a map of the dungeon is automatically drawn as you progress.

Every dungeon is crawling with bad Pokemon, so you’ll have to fight them to get stronger. Movements and actions are taken in turn so, for example, your character will move into position, perform an action, then your teammates take their turn, and then the enemy Pokemon gets his turn. So there is an element of strategy here as you approach the bad Pokemon.

The penalty for defeat is severe: If you faint in battle you are kicked out of the dungeon, all of your unbanked money is taken, and up to half of your items are removed. This penalty creates an enjoyable sense of risk as the player considers whether to move deeper or escape to safety. Other Mystery Dungeon games are infamous for completely stripping defeated players down to level 1, however the Pokemon version is much more forgiving. Here, revived characters get to keep all of their experience points and skills, so the difficulty is quite manageable for young players. Even better, if you have a friend who also owns Time/Darkness you send them a call for help and be rescued via the Nintendo Wi-Fi connection. If you are booted back to the beginning, the dungeon layout is refreshed to something new (keeping monotony to a minimum) and there are new useful items lying around to help you get a little further.

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The familiar Pokemon-catching element does make a small appearance once you reach a certain point in the game. However, rather than using Poke-balls to catch weakened enemies in combat, Mystery Dungeon governs your roster by chance. There is a small chance that a defeated Pokemon will ask to join your party, and you’ll want to build him into your roster so you can be successful in future battles. For example, if you’re planning an expedition into a dungeon full of Grass Pokemon, you’ll want to bring along a couple of Fire Pokemon because Fire beats Grass. The game offers an encyclopedic account of each of the 490 Pokemon and if there’s a handy glossary that will help you develop your grasp of Pokemon terminology and lore.

The pace of the game is pretty smooth, and you’ll move through the dungeons without too much difficulty. The story’s biggest roadblock are the challenging boss Pokemon, most of whom will send you back to your save point several times before you finally succeed. The gameplay can get repetitive as you move from floor to floor, but if you like this kind of game you know how fun it is to see how far you can get.

In between expeditions your guild may assign you to a day of guard duty. During this mini-game you are presented by the footprints of six unidentified Pokemon, and you have to figure out who they are. You’ll also spend some time in Treasure Town, where you can bank your money, store your items, link your skills, and chat with the locals.

The story is surprisingly touching and full of good lessons about sportsmanship, but even when the main plot is over (it takes about 20 hours to finish) you can return to your Guild for new jobs. After all, there are outlaw Pokemon to bring in, weak Pokemon to escort to a dungeon’s end, and lost treasures just waiting to be discovered. Compared to the hundreds of hours one can dump into a typical Pokemon-catching game, Mystery Dungeon may not last as long, but there’s still plenty to do. Even at full price ($35 US) this is a good value as there’s a lot of game packed in here.

You should know that Pokemon Mystery Dungeon doesn’t look or sound as good as other comparable DS games. That’s because this series has its roots on the Gameboy Advance, and the DS upgrades are minimal. The animations are as simple as can be. All the dialogue is done in text. Nothing is voiced. There are a couple of good songs on the soundtrack, but nothing that really stands out. Still, if you enjoyed the Gameboy Advance games you’ll find this one has plenty of charm. The Pokemon are colorful, cute, and recognizable and everything is bright and clear.

This DS update HAS addressed one significant complaint against the Gameboy Advance Mystery Dungeon, namely, that too many functions were crammed onto the GBA’s limited number of buttons. The extra buttons on the DS and the presence of touch-screen control fix this problem so controlling your exploration team is simpler and more functional than ever before.

VIOLENCE
The ESRB correctly cites the game for “Mild Cartoon Violence.” Pokemon bite and hit each other but the Pokemon are so small on the DS screen that the impact is barely there. Defeated Pokemon fall down and “faint” before fading away. Bad Pokemon plan nasty pranks against members of Wigglytuff’s Guild, but we never even see the results.

SPIRITUAL CONTENT
After a personality test at the beginning of the game, it pretends to “generate your aura.” This is nothing more than the game’s way of deciding which Pokemon you will be in the quest. (Spoiler ahead.) A ways into the adventure, your Pokemon begins to discover his psychic powers. When he touches certain objects he has visions of the past or future associated with said object.

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POSITIVE ELEMENTS
Some of the Pokemon show tremendous sportsmanship, sharing their meals with you when you have none, and cheering for you when you take their spot on the expedition team. The player is encouraged to try their best even when it looks like there’s no point in trying anymore. Pokemon show courage in the face of danger and we see them grow in character and friendship.

Parents who have no problem with traditional Pokemon games (Diamond, Pearl, etc.) will certainly find no fault with Mystery Dungeon. Probably the greatest consideration is one of addiction. If you regularly have to pry the handheld game out of your child’s hands (parents of Pokemaniacs, you know who you are), be aware that Pokemon Mystery Dungeon is nearly as engrossing as the more traditional Pokemon experience. Time to put those parenting skills to work! And you veteran gamers who are interested in getting the game for yourself will likely be pleased as this is a cheerful and uplifting dungeon-exploring experience. Recommended.

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Year of Release — 2008

[tags] 4 stars, RPG, Nintendo DS, E (Everyone), Nintendo [/tags]




Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this Spotlight review are those of the reviewer (both ratings and recommendations), and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Eden Communications or the Christian Answers Network.

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