Gotta cash 'em all!
It's been a tough time for Pokémon fans. When the series first hit the US over ten years ago like a Hydro Pump from a Blastoise to the face, all the cool kids were into the Pokémon phenomenon, and with good reason: Despite being a titanic fad, the games were still awesome. Not so these days. Now there are almost 500 monsters, most of which are nowhere near as memorable or endearing as the original 150, and most of the new games we get are half-assed spinoffs that only seem to exist to cash in on the franchise's name. Pokémon Mystery Dungeon is one such spinoff.
[image1]If you've played any of the previous Mystery Dungeon games, then you know exactly what to expect. Chunsoft took its standard dungeon crawling format, slapped it with the Pokémon brand, and gave it to eager fans willing to spend their parents' money. Explorers of Sky brings a few additions to the table that its predecessors, Explorers of Time/Darkness, didn't, but the only difference worth mentioning is the special episodes which let you play as other characters from the game in their own little side stories. But you'll have to care enough about them to want to play them, and that's a tall order for some.
The game has quite a few Wi-Fi features, but unfortunately most of them (like uploading or downloading team data and missions) aren't very interactive. Friend rescue, which lets you help out someone who got knocked out in a dungeon, is the only noteworthy addition. If you get knocked out in a dungeon, you can put out a call for help so someone else can send their team in to save yours and vice-versa. There's also a large variety of starter Pokémon that you can play as, which helps the replay value a bit — if you enjoy the game enough to play it more than once.
[image2]It's the flawed fundamentals, however, that hurt this game so much. The graphics would be considered average fare by GBA standards, and last I checked this wasn't 2003. Likewise, the music and sound feel like dated relics from the previous generation, although some tunes do grow on you with their cutesy infectiousness.
After only an hour or two you'll realize that, more than anything else, the gameplay belongs in a virtual museum. The turn-based combat is a bland and repetitive “I hit you, you hit me, 'til one of us dies” experience, with a little bit of Pokémon flavor in the moves. And of course, the dungeon crawling wouldn't be complete without randomly generated floors where your only goal is to walk around blindly until you find the exit. Some people love this mechanic so I won't hold it against the game too much, but it has always come off to me as lazy and mindless game design.
[image3]The story is relatively interesting considering the source material (this is Pokémon, after all), but it's the same exact thing found in Explorers of Time/Darkness. You're an amnesiac human who has mysteriously transformed into a Pokémon, and you join a guild with a new-found buddy hoping to find out about your past. It's a decent plot, but the game drags it out way too long with inane missions and mini-games that are transparent attempts to artificially extend play time, and you may very well end up not caring anymore after the tenth hour or so of filler.
There's one other thing that kept bugging me during this game: It's just Pokémon for the sake of being Pokémon. This world is a far cry from the typical regions like Kanto or Johto. Gone are the trainers and their tiny spherical prisons, letting their poor Pokémon out only to battle each other in fluffy gladiatorial combat. In Mystery Dungeon, Pokémon have built their own society complete with buildings, gates, and bridges. (Can you imagine the little scamps from Pokémon Red and Blue doing that ten years ago?) I can't help but think that these games would make more sense and perhaps be more enjoyable if Chunsoft didn't use the Pokémon brand to make them. Of course, that would likely cut profits in half, and if I could make a lot more money while putting in a lot less effort, I'd probably do it too.