2015 was a notable year for the Pokemon franchise, if only in a disappointing way. For the first calendar year in a significant while, no proper entry into the main series was released (the series’ latest entry came in the remakes Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire). While Yo-Kai Watch hit the 3DS in North America, it might have seemed that Pokemon’s territory was being moved in on.
However, an expansive and charming Pokemon title was indeed released last year – albeit outside of the traditional format. Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon came to the 3DS in late November and marked the best entry in the spinoff series since 2007.
The main premise of the game’s atmosphere is consistent with other Mystery Dungeon titles, as the player wakes up suddenly trapped in the body of a Pokemon. A personality quiz will determine which creature the player should probably embark in an adventure as, but the decision can be overridden at the player’s discretion. You’ll also get to choose a partner who tags along with you, so long as they aren’t the same type as your hero.
A big draw for this series of games has always been seeing your favorite monsters brought to life, given personalities and inhabiting a strictly Pokemon world. Seeing these creatures come to life is sure to be a great time for any fan of the series, but newcomers won’t feel intimidated by the roster of over 700 characters. The Pokemon you interact with are all given distinct characteristics that set them apart and make them memorable.
This is also the first real time that all 720 creatures, and some mega evolutions, are available in one big title with no necessary add-ons or events. It gives crawling through the dungeons a sense of wonder, never knowing what Pokemon could pop up next.
And as the title would suggest, exploring the game’s titular dungeons — caves, caverns, mountains and mines — is the bulk of the game’s main gameplay. Obviously, since players aren’t in control of a human in control of a team of Pokemon this time around, the battles are going to feel totally different.
Battles in this game feel much more stressful and fast-paced than the main series. The way movement across the dangerous dungeons works lends itself to situations of high strategy and require careful planning. Every single move matters, taking a small inspiration from more traditional turn-based RPGS.
Super Mystery Dungeon’s dungeon-crawling also feels something like a very light real-time strategy game. Enemies will enter the frame and each time they inch closer, you’re given the option to attack, run, or use items. Picking the right path of attack is key in these encounters, as enemies can pile up in number and difficulty very quickly.
Managing the battlefield, your team, and your items all happen simultaneously and make for some instances of real dread and quick thinking. These gameplay changes are great for a Pokemon game and offer a break from the tried and true turn-based trade-offs.
There’s a real depth to the equipment available in Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon, more so than any of the previous titles. Now you can customize, upgrade and accessorize your available loadout. The level at which you can alter your experience guarantees that no two missions are ever the same.
This fresh feeling persists in all the game’s dungeons, thanks to their sprawling, labyrinthine designs. You really never know what you’re going to get when heading out on an exploration and that is both fun and exciting.
As far as plot goes, Super Mystery Dungeon mostly plays it safe and ends up a little over-the-top at some moments. Cutscenes can be dreadfully long, characters can be overly-quirky and the dialogue is very, very kid friendly.
The story gets rather convoluted, but seeing iconic Pokemon pop up at every plot development is exciting. With the roster so bloated as of the game’s sixth generation, there are tons of legendary creatures to interact with, making for a great deal of memorable boss fights.
Pokemon also operate shops and services around the town you frequently visit, a fun quirk that’s become a staple of the Mystery Dungeon series. The novelty of being in a world of Pokemon is the game’s gimmick, but one that never fades in entertainment.
All in all, Super Mystery Dungeon is a great entry in the spinoff series. The latest 3DS effort is leaps and bounds better than the under-cooked Gates to Infinity from earlier in the system’s life. While it never hits the heights of the Explorers of Time and Darkness games, Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon is significantly enjoyable experience and a return to form for the series.
Fans of previous titles will find a lot to love here, with the replayability factor high in recruiting a killer squad of creatures. Having only one version available helps the game too, as there is no confusion to be had in what you’re getting. From the moment you pick up the personality test to beating the final boss, Super Mystery Dungeon is a treat for fans of the series.