When I received a box on my doorstep last week, I was honestly expecting something else. But, that something else never came. Instead, I received a package that contained both Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time and Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Darkness. And while I would've been fine with just turning around and handing the games off to our readers, I knew that my responsibilities would not allow that. Oh no, I must review the games!
And that's what I'm doing here. After a week of putting the duo of titles through their paces, I'm finally ready to weigh in on this latest pair of Pokemon spin-off games. Having not played the first Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, I found it fairly weird that all of the Pokemon speak like, well ... like human beings. But that wasn't enough to stop me from getting into the game. What did I think of my time with this latest entry? The latest Pokemon Mystery Dungeon games aren't too shabby!
As I placed the cartridge into my DS and booted up the game for the first time, a brief quiz was conducted. Weird hypothetical questions were asked, which essentially gauged what kind of person I am. After critiquing my answers and pretty much defining who I am at my very core, the game then assigned me an "aura," which has a color associated with it. This determines which Pokemon you start out as. Much to the liking of our own Eric, the game assigned me Meowth as my main Pokemon.
Then, I had to select a partner Pokemon, who would be with me through thick and thin. I decided, for laughs, to go with Mudkip. After all of that was done, it then switched to a cutscene of Mudkip pacing outside of a temple, nervously trying to summon the courage to enter. After chickening out, Mudkip then hits the beach and starts talking about the beauty of bubbles in the air against the setting sun. To say it was weird would be one major understatement. It's here that the two Pokemon (my Meowth and Mudkip) meet for the first time and set off into the game.
Before I get into the actual contents of the game, we should point out that both versions are nearly identical. While upon my initial play sessions I swore the game had differing environments, I was mistaken. The only real notable difference I found between the two versions is the roster of partner Pokemon you may select from in the beginning of the game. The back of the box points out very clearly that owning both versions of this game is pretty much a waste of your money.
So, what's Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time & Darkness all about? Exploring dungeons. Exploring lots of dungeons. And for those of you who enjoy dungeon crawlers (or roguelikes), that isn't a bad thing. It's just that Chunsoft's approach to dungeon crawling is a bit watered down when compared to other titles in the genre. We can understand why, considering the audience the Pokemon series of games appeals to, but knowing that doesn't keep the game from getting a bit tedious.
Each dungeon is randomly generated, however each layout is selected from a small pool of possible designs, meaning that you'll see familiar places throughout your journey. On top of that, the combat is kind of weak. The majority of combat has you slamming on the A button. With your partner Pokemon behind you (they can become quite the large group later on), it's kind of ridiculous how much you'll kick the crap out of any enemy in your way. This makes exploring dungeons more of a chore than something that is fun, driving you to keep going further into the dungeon because you're dying to see what's next.
That's not to say that exploring dungeons isn't fun at all. You'll do a lot of leveling up (which is the real appeal of the game) and the hunger system (represented by your belly in the game) means that a peaceful jaunt through a dangerous and dark dungeon can bring about a big panic in the player if you aren't stocked up with enough grub to last your adventure in this particular area.
Visually, the game is very strong. The environments are brought alive through some very bright and recognizable landscapes. The animated cutscenes are also very well done. The Pokemon themselves are represented by very tiny sprites, however they're clean and fit well into the overall visual scheme of the game. The only downfall to the game is the constant repeating of dungeon layouts that goes on throughout the title.
I wouldn't say that Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Darkness & Time is a bad game, it's just not your typical dungeon crawler/roguelike. In fact, this is a very good way to get someone into the genre if they've never had a taste before. It gives you the addictive fun of leveling a character up and watching them progress, but doesn't bring all of the challenge that other roguelikes such as Shiren the Wanderer possess. Of course, by not providing the challenge, the game also doesn't provide the satisfaction that comes from laboring at something and achieving a desirable result from your efforts.