Is it a good game or another boring spin-off?
Pokemon Mystery Dungeon is actually the latest entry in Chunsoft's Mysterious Dungeon series, which has been involved in other game universes such as Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. At their core, the games are randomly generated dungeon crawlers.
The game starts out great. It asks the player a series of completely random questions. Many of them are incredibly entertaining. For example, when asked about about how patient I was, one of the possible responses was something along the lines of “I didn't actually read any of this because I'm just tapping the A button." After you finish answering the questions, the game chooses the Pokemon that you will play as. At this point I was incredibly engrossed in the game. I couldn't wait to keep playing.
The game begins as you and your chosen partner start a rescue team. You receive tasks either through the mail or from a bulletin board. Each of these tasks takes place in one of several areas. The areas have multiple floors and have a different floor plan every time you enter. You can bring a group along with you, and for most of the game this will be you, your friend, and one member from your rescue squad. Within the dungeon, the game plays like a turn-based strategy game. Each action you perform allows your opponents to perform a similar action. Those actions include moving, using an item, throwing an item, using one of the Pokemon's four moves, or just plain attacking.
Your partners are mostly controlled by an AI that you have some influence over. You can change their tactics between things like "Stick With Me" and "Attack Enemies". You can also feed them Gummis, which will increase their IQ. As their IQ goes up, they will learn new IQ moves that you can turn on and off to further customize how they act. This feature works somewhat well. The most frustrating part about their AI is that if you leave the area that they are in, they get incredibly confused. They seem to pick a random direction and go that way, hoping to find you eventually. They will often run into a group of enemies that tear through them. So much for your partners.
A general dungeon run (which is 95% of the game) is about as painfully boring as can be. My Pokemon often ended up with nicknames like "ThisSucks" or "Ugh". The worst of the missions involve searching for a specific item in a dungeon. There is a time limit for every dungeon that is disguised as your hunger level. You can increase this by regularly eating food of some sort. If your hunger reaches zero, every step you take subtracts a hit point until you die. In order to give yourself enough time to find the items, you have to fill your inventory with food of some sort. This leads to you spending all of your money on boring consumables. So much for buying the latest TMs or IQ enhancers. Other missions include actually rescuing Pokemon or escorting Pokemon to a certain floor. While better than the "find an item" missions, they still leave a lot to be desired.
The incorporation of the Pokemon universe is flawed as well. Evolution, one of the most dynamic features of other Pokemon games, is completely botched in this game. Don't let yourself get excited when your Squirtle reaches level 16. He won't be evolving until almost the end of the game, and even then, it is only a visual change. The statistics remain the same. Move sets are included in the same way as the other games. You can have a maximum of four moves at any time. Learning new moves requires forgetting old ones. The problem here is that PP are still required for each move. That means that you can only perform a move a certain amount of times per dungeon trip. The nature of the game throws enemy after enemy at you. If you used your moves, you would run out of PP in no time. To combat this, the developers added a normal attack that doesn't have a limit associated with it. I want to use Fire Spin on all the enemies, not just poke them. Too bad I need to save the precious PP for the end boss.
I am a huge Pokemon fan. I really enjoyed this game at E3 and I was looking forward to reviewing it. Too bad it came up short in almost every way. All of the benefits of level grinding found in the classic Pokemon games are either removed or cheapened in this title. Without anything to look forward to, it's hard to deal with the monotony of the dungeons. I can't wait to play Diamond and Pearl so I can get this bad taste out of my mouth.