A decent dungeon crawler... if that's your bag.
After spending some time with Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon, it strikes me that three demographics would want to get their hands on this title: people who are familiar with the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series, people who enjoy rogue-like dungeon crawlers, and people who saw it in the game store or on the eShop and instantly grabbed it because oh my god it's Pokémon. And when it comes to how much enjoyment a player may get from the title, all mileage may vary.
The Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series is not a new one; in fact, Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon celebrates the tenth anniversary of the release of the original titles, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Red Rescue Team and Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team, originally released in Japan in 2005. Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon, as the titles before it, makes some tweaks to the formula, and the 3DS dungeon crawler features, at some point, all 720 Pokémon.
As in every title in the series, Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon starts with a spirit finding the player and building a link between the human world (which uses the camera functionality of the Nintendo 3DS to use your surroundings as the initial background) and the Pokémon world, quizzing you on the journey to find your likes and dislikes to determine what kind of Pokémon the player will show up as. (Side note: I'm adding to all my online dating profiles that I'm a Sagittarian Piplup.) It also determines who will be your bestie in this new Pokémon world. Turns out that Piplup Ryan, a Water type, is best friends with a fire-type Fennekin, because as anyone from the '80s can tell you, opposites attract or something. Think the quiz is about as accurate as a Facebook quiz? Don't worry, players have the option to select a different Pokémon than their result.
The game then drops players into what's like the most razor-thin plotline I've seen in ages. The player is teleported into the Pokémon world, reincarnated as the result of the personality quiz (or choosing), and—tropes away!—remembers nothing of the experience except his or her name and the fact that he or she is really a human. No time to dwell on that, though, as a gang of Beheeyem chases the player smack into a Nuzleaf, who sees the player as a scared child Pokémon and takes it in.
The opening third of this game, hands-down, is the most boring storyline I've ever suffered through. At its best it's an after-school special; at its worst it's high-school creative writing class. You need to go to school, you go to school, you meet your bestie, people pick on your bestie, you go on “field trips” into dungeons, the bullies pick on your bestie some more, and then there's an inspirational moment on a hill where you solidify your bestie relationship with matching scarves! It's so saccharine—like sugar without any substance—I wanted to barf if I wasn't falling asleep.
The difficulty of the game doesn't mess around, either. In that first third of the game, your Pokémon (and later, your bestie who tags along) will be woefully underpowered against some of the enemies you'll come up against in the randomly-generated dungeons, and this is where players learn to sink or swim as inventory management is absolutely critical. In the beginning player's bags can only hold up to twenty-four items; as the game goes on you'll need to stash stuff into a Deposit Box to hold or simply pass it up. Some of those restorative items will make or break you in boss fights, so it quickly becomes crucial what to pick up and what to toss.
Players who can manage to slog through this first third of the game will finally be able to see some development in the form of Ampharos. [MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD.] This particular Ampharos is the head of the Expedition Society in Lively City, a club your bestie has wanted to join for ages, despite the fact that they don't accept children. After making it through a particularly-difficult dungeon to return a crystal to Ampharos, he reveals the crystal is actually a Connection Orb, with which your pair can see their connection to other Pokémon.
He then makes you official “Junior” members of the Expedition Society, which opens up gameplay to different missions, and Sweet Mary, Mother of God the game finally opens up and allows for some freedom in play choice. This is when I finally started enjoying the game. Certain Pokémon quests include simpler ones like finding lost Pokémon or going on fetch quests, while others will pit you against very tough Pokémon. But upon beating them you may find them wanting to help you, which is very handy when your level 19 Piplup and Fennekin are joined by a level 50 Salamence.
There's also Pelipper Island, where rescue requests can be sent or received via several methods, the primary ones being local wireless or StreetPass. I'd love to talk more about this; however, in the entire time I was working on the play for the review of this game (two weeks less Thanksgiving and Black Friday), I didn't get a single StreetPass. Not one. Possibly this speaks to the squareness of Las Vegas locals; possibly it speaks to the popularity of the game (or lack thereof), but either way, I couldn't tell you how it works. I never needed to send a request either. As I mentioned, inventory management is crucial, so I made sure I always had at least three reviving seeds with me at all times. Since they're practically strewn about most dungeons anyway, I rarely worried about running out
As I hypothesized at the top of the review, three groups in particular will go for Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon, and how much players may enjoy the game depends on what group they belong to. People who pick it up simply because of the word “Pokémon” in the title may be sorely disappointed. Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon is through and through a dungeon crawler, and bears little resemblance to the core series. Yes, all 720 Pokémon are in there somewhere, and maybe the combat screen may have a little resemblance to the battle menus in the core game, but that's about it.
Combat requires more strategy beyond “Is this element strong against that other element?” The number of spots moved along with the angle players approach enemy Pokémon all matter, with the game even encouraging players to waste a movement on a feint to lure enemies into approaching closer. And with the recurring restriction of the number of Pokémon on a team at a time, sometimes the correct element isn't in the current party, forcing players to rely on the brute strength of their Pokémon. So if it's mechanics of the core series that you desire, you may want to just stick with the core and try to 100% one of them if you haven't already.
If the game goes to someone who enjoys dungeon crawlers, then in reality it's up in the air. Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon has everything a rogue-like dungeon crawler needs. It's reasonably difficult, especially in the early goings, then smooths out a bit when you have more freedom and ability to recruit Pokémon. Those good at item management should have no problem here, and familiarity with the Pokémon franchise can only help players. In fact, there are tougher nuts to crack than this title, and depending on if a player has tackled those challenges, they may or may not find Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon to be on the same level.
If this goes out to someone who is familiar with past titles in the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon series, then it's all aces. The elements of the past games are in the latest iteration, from the popular personality quiz to the familiar tactics of movement and team attacks, and if one can survive the almost criminally-awful first third of the game, Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon does improve significantly and reveals a decent little game while waiting for the next core release.
If you do happen to pick it up and see a dapper little Piplup named Ryan waddling around, say hi.
Code provided by publisher. Exclusive for Nintendo 3DS.