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  1. Welcome to the seventy-second week of my Pokémon feature here on Game Podunk! In case you missed the last one, check it out! Stay tuned for future entries coming every Friday. Shaymin is available via the Nintendo Network. It'll be live until July 24th. Every single Mythical Pokémon will be distributed during a specific month for the remainder of this year. Now may be your only chance for a really long time, to actually catch them all! And hey--y'all know I'm not into it, but Pokémon GO! is officially live in North America. Have fun augmenting Pokémon into your realities, friends! -------------------------------- At Least Ampharos Is Proud of Me As of this very moment, Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon sits in my “Top 10 Most Played” list on the Activity Log of my 3DS, at just over 128 hours. I“m most of the way there, but there are still a few challenges standing between me and a team of all 720 Pokémon in the game. I“ve completed the Treasure Collection, whose endeavors reveal some of the biggest challenges and time-investments in the game. The only Legendary/Mythical Pokémon missing from my team is Arceus -- the one that unlocks after you“ve Connected with every other Pokémon. So it seems like most of my epic exploration stories are behind me. Goodness knows I“ve done some crazy stuff. I put most of my time into the game last year, but I“ve gone back every now and then -- including very recently. See: Explorers of Sky was released on the Wii U Virtual Console at the end of June. I sunk a good 30 hours into that game while I was sick with a pretty severe cold, clearing all the main story and the postgame up to the end of Shaymin Village. Going back to where the series stood in 2009, and completing almost all of Super Mystery Dungeon“s most challenging tasks, has got me thinking: Even if The Pokémon Company and Spike-Chunsoft go on to create another entry in the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon spin-off series -- I“m fairly certain “Super” will be the last one I put any real time into. I“ve always wanted to 100% a game in the series -- but the obscene recruiting mechanics and luck that previous entries relied on made it feel like an impossible endeavor. I“ve seen the strengths and weaknesses of my former -- and newest -- Mystery Dungeon favorites, all in the span of a few weeks. So I“m going to devote some time to gathering all my thoughts together and giving the series a proper send-off, even if it takes more than one week to do it. I“m not likely to revisit Explorers of Sky again, and I“m definitely to the point where I can see the light at the end of a Super long tunnel. Without further ado... Beginnings I mentioned, way back in the first IV, that I took some time away from Pokémon -- before my now-fiancée helped me to accept my inevitable fate as a Pokémon Master. Red Rescue Team came around just before Diamond & Pearl, so I wasn“t exactly there on "Day One" to experience it. I don“t remember how I got word of the game, but what initially attracted me to the series was its art-style. Regardless of how much I“ve enjoyed “Super” -- I“m still rather sad that the main artistic hook that got me into the series has been abandoned in favor of fully 3D sprites. There“s something about modelling that makes the world feel somewhat less alive than its cartoon-esqe, 2D origins, in my opinion. I had no experience in the roguelike genre when I played Red Rescue Team for the first time -- but I liked the concept enough. The premise of every dungeon being unique means that it would take a combination of luck, skill and patience to persevere. My only issue with the early games in the series leading up to Explorers of Sky is how absurdly random mechanics [that shouldn“t be] are. The series tagline “Gotta catch ”em all” becomes “Gotta recruit ”em all” in the PMD games, because you are an actual Pokémon. But recruitment was entirely luck-based in the Game Boy Advance/DS games -- you“d often have to explore the same dungeon a few hundred times to get the Pokémon you wanted, especially if it was a Legendary or starter. It“s like they gave the most popular Pokémon the lowest recruitment percentage rates. Still, even if I had more gripes than compliments at first, I really liked the narrative (along with almost every aspect of the game“s presentation). I didn“t play through ”til the end, since I was borrowing a friend“s copy at the time... but I figured this wouldn“t be the “first but last” Pokémon Mystery Dungeon game, and I“d do the next one proper justice after I“d gotten back into the main games. Then came Explorers of Time & Darkness, and Sky. I“m going to hold myself back on discussing the narrative of both those games and “Super” until next week (heck, I“ll even put out an advance spoiler-warning; I“m not holding back!), but there is one story-related tangent I can discuss that“s specific to Sky. “Special Episodes” are unique to that game, and are brief 1-2 hour long “Chapters” that dismiss the player characters for a while in favor of helping to develop other major and minor characters in the “Explorers” world. For example: You get to play as Guildmaster Wigglytuff when he was an itty bitty Igglybuff, to learn how and why he first became an explorer. That kind of approach will probably be the only way to get me to experience another Pokémon Mystery Dungeon game, after I finish “Super”: 1-2 hour “Episodes” where the focal point is more narrative-based than anything else. I wonder if it“s too late to hope for Downloadable Content for Super Mystery Dungeon that accomplishes something like that. Probably! Revisiting Sky on the Wii U Virtual Console has shown me how much both Gates to Infinity and “Super” have made the mechanics much easier to bear on the player. You can switch teammates on the fly in the 3DS games; you can“t in the originals. Moves like “Flamethrower” phase through your allies to hit enemies behind them in the 3DS games; they just smack your allies in the original (without proper “IQ Skills” -- whew, you wanna talk about a series concept that needed to be reinvented in a big hurry). Your allies in the early games start out dumb as bricks, collectively. You“d be more likely to waste Reviver Seeds on your allied characters than you would actually fending for yourself, in dungeons. But ultimately, I was willing to tolerate the more methodical aspects of the early PMD games because their narrative was worthwhile -- or in the case of “Explorers”: really freaking great. Having tools like these that let you modify the kinds of jobs you could take was a big help for reducing some of the grindy aspects, too. But Gates to Infinity marked the beginning of a few gameplay evolutions, while taking a few steps backward in terms of both narrative and the entire “Job List” system. I was ready to give the PMD spin-off series one last chance with “Super”, before I considered Sky the exception and not the rule. Man, am I glad I did. And Now You“ve read my review of Super Mystery Dungeon, I hope. I don“t have to reiterate how involving the Connection Orb in recruitment helped kill my single biggest concern with the series, but I will. While I wrote that up before really sinking my teeth into the postgame [as described above], my words still ring true. This game is tough as nails -- I tried getting Holly into it, but it ultimately proved too much of a chore for her. I can“t imagine many who aren“t used to adapting quickly and needing to power through high-pressure battle situations will get very far into the main game, nor will they last too long in the postgame at all. As someone who just got done praising the main series for its increased inclusiveness -- SMD“s biggest flaw is definitely that it“s the biggest challenge of the series, by far. But, near the end of my adventures, I can say it“s done enough to not be "impossible." The Explorers games had you fight Dialga at one point, then Palkia much later on. SMD has you fight Dialga, Palkia and Mega Rayquaza back to back in the same dungeon. I took on Reshiram and Zekrom at the same time. The “boss” Mewtwo you fight spams Recover and heals 998 HP, just when you think you“ve gotten the upperhand. If you manage to kill the first form... it freaking Mega Evolves right after that. And hey, who can forget an entire 15 floor dungeon filled with nothing but Deoxys forms, and another with Genesects? Calling this game “the Dark Souls of Pokémon” would not be a stretch. I“ve absolutely earned my victories/accomplishments in this game. And I can“t run around and call them “impossible” either -- because concepts like Alliances and Looplets help give any given team an upper-hand as they explore. I even compared stats between my Partner Pokémon -- Pikachu -- and a Raichu I recruited at some point during the game. They were the exact same across the board. So, a major plus is that -- barring the obvious Legendary and Mythical “deity Pokémon” with extreme stats across the board -- no one Pokémon outdoes another, in terms of stats. You don“t have to evolve to win; you just have to pick the best team to fit the circumstances you“re presented with. And I have. I“ve described how the presentation, characters and world-building helped me get into the series -- and how brand new mechanics and genuine (not entirely luck-based) challenges helped me stay with Super Mystery Dungeon ”til (close to) the end. But there“s still so much more to elaborate on before I feel comfortable saying “goodbye” to talking about these games. So I“ll see you next week, to spoil the heck out of the things that make both Super Mystery Dungeon and the Explorers games so great -- their characters and world.
  2. Jonathan Higgins

    Review: Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon

    Developer: Spike Chunsoft Publisher: Nintendo, The Pokémon Company Platform: Nintendo 3DS Release Date: November 20th, 2015 ESRB: E for Everyone Official Site It“s been almost ten years since the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon spin-off arrived in North America. I“ve played every game since the beginning. And I“ve remained attached to it -- despite the previous 3DS entree, Gates to Infinity, being less than stellar. Despite a love for the series, I“ve been apprehensive. After the previous game let me down hard, I“ve become critical... even cynical of the series. Is this new game really worth it? To be honest, Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon has managed to exceed my expectations in every way imaginable. Spike Chunsoft are certainly no strangers to the roguelike genre, or even injecting Pokémon“s mechanics and charm into it. But I daresay their latest endeavor has introduced enough sweeping changes to the decade-old formula established in Red Rescue Team that folks who dismissed the series should come back for this one, and newcomers could feel welcome as well. I“ve absorbed every last drop of story this world has to offer over the past week or so (sitting at just over 33 hours), and I still have a long way to go before my journey to obtain all 720 Pokémon (yes - -they“re all playable!) is done. Without further ado: The Mystery Dungeon spin-off series dismisses the world that humans and Pokémon share in favor of a world that consists of only Pokémon, where humans are often left to myths and legends. Every game in the series has you play as a human that“s turned into a Pokémon, with no memories of how it happened, who you are, or why you“re there. Near the beginning of your journey, you meet a partner Pokémon who you share your adventures with. The plots of each of these games rely heavily upon the bonds a player will establish with the partner Pokémon. Super Mystery Dungeon has the largest cast of protagonist and partner Pokémon to choose from that includes every known starter Pokémon, as well as popular ones like Pikachu and Riolu. If you“d rather not choose and leave destiny up to the personality quiz that“s often been a series staple, that“s up to you! I went with my same choices from Explorers of Sky: Charmander and Pikachu. The story of Super Mystery Dungeon starts out simple. Charmander is thrust upon the Pokémon world with no memory of how it got there, and winds up enrolling in the Pokémon School at Serene village, a peaceful paradise far-off and disconnected from the rest of civilization. It“s there that Charmander meets Pikachu, whose dream is to become a member of the Pokémon Expedition Society and help create to a map of the world. For the first few hours, as the game introduces new and returning mechanics, the story sticks to Serene Village and the colorful cast of characters living there. Eventually, though, Charmander and Pikachu will leave Serene Village and investigate the mystery of why Legendary Pokémon have been turning to stone. Their adventure spans multiple continents, features plenty of powerful Pokémon, and has a wide variety of emotionally powerful moments, too. The story carries plenty of weight on its own, but many of the dungeons you“ll explore as a part of the main story are really cool! There“s more than one instance in the story where you could be exploring a dungeon with a full party of five, six or seven powerful allies. There are so many things Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon does that no game in the series has attempted before -- and most of the time, you“ll be pleased with how well the developers pull it all off. The story is definitely not the only thing Super Mystery Dungeon does well. The visuals are great; they build upon Gates to Infinity“s 3D approach to deliver much more vibrant environments than that game did. I still miss the adorable sprites from the series“ 2D beginnings, but I think this is definitely the game to make old school fans appreciate the new graphical style. Everything looks beautiful. But it sounds freaking incredible. The soundtrack confidently stands with elite contemporaries like Fire Emblem: Awakening and Kid Icarus: Uprising. There are over 150 tracks in the game that cover a wide variety of environment types and moods. Some remix old classics from the series, and some are the old classics themselves! From a presentation standpoint -- this is without a doubt the best of the entire series. The Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series introduced Pokémon moves, types and mechanics to the roguelike genre. But “catching them all” -- even when every known species was available like in Explorers of Sky -- has always been an impossible endeavor. Recruiting allies was mostly left up to chance as you encountered them in dungeons -- and the more popular or powerful Pokémon had an incredibly low recruitment chance. Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon has introduced the single biggest change to the series: the Connection Orb. Rather than potentially turning enemy Pokémon into friends while you explore dungeons on missions for Pokémon clients, or during the story -- your clients become your allies at the end of every single mission. These missions vary: there are ones where you help your client find its lost pal, find one“s treasure, defeat one looking for a challenge, and more. You can also recruit Pokémon (both Legendary and non-Legendary) by simply talking to them in the game“s many towns, or randomly traveling in dungeons. For example: I“ve run into Victini just chilling in the game“s cafe where you can pick up your rewards for completing missions. This approach encourages you to fully explore all the game“s towns once per in-game day, as you gain access to them. You“ll find new Pokémon allies and missions to do more often than not! There are many more brand new elements introduced in the game, but this one is definitely the most welcome. (Those orange dots are Pokémon you've not yet encountered before. There are new ones each time you play!) Previous entries assigned missions by way of a bulletin board. They were random, sometimes useless depending on how far you were in the games, and in Gates to Infinity you could only do one at a time. Since Super Mystery Dungeon's missions are tied directly to the Connection Orb, you can accept a limitless number of tasks from Pokémon you encounter in town. They“re all kept track of for you, and each mission is only ever assigned and completed once. Handling non-story missions by way of the Connection Orb really does streamline the process; it makes playing the game for completion“s sake seem like so much less of a chore. What“s more -- every single Pokémon you recruit shares experience with the team currently exploring a dungeon, so no one will be stuck at Lv5 if you don“t ever get around to using them. There“s even a “motivation” system that challenges you to go on adventures as certain team members to be rewarded with double experience for your entire squad. With all the positives in mind: I think the biggest flaw of my experience was several difficulty spikes, at times. Charmander and Pikachu“s levels are kept rather low throughout the main story -- I finished the main game around Lv30 or so. The game makes allowances to make non-story missions easier on the player, but those story-based ones are rather tough! I think the reason the game allows a squad of six to accompany you at times is because you need those powerhouses surrounding your weaker main characters to survive the battles. It“s an interesting approach, but it may take newcomers some getting used to. The biggest point I should stress when it comes to Super Mystery Dungeon is its scope. It“s truly worthy of the word “Super” in its title. It doesn“t just want you to explore a handful of dungeons on a single continent; it wants you to explore an entire world. You“ll meet allies via the Connection Orb that you may recognize as being from other games in the series, even! All the continents share thinly veiled similarities with other games“ hub worlds. Even the “Rescuing” component that allows you to save other players who“ve fallen in dungeons takes you to a completely different part of the game that functions as a sort of free-play. Helper Pokémon from your rescues can even join you in the main story by way of StreetPass and SpotPass elements. It really does seem like the entire team went all out, to make Super Mystery Dungeon the finest -- and possibly final -- hour of the series. The developers shoved everything they possibly could into this experience, marrying old and new elements to create the ideal Pokémon Mystery Dungeon game. I used to say “If you can only play one game in the series -- make it Explorers of Sky.” That“s certainly changed. Super Mystery Dungeon isn“t revolutionary. But it certainly is the new personal best of The Pokémon Company and Spike Chunsoft“s combined efforts. Pros: + All 720 Pokémon are playable in this game. No Legendary or popular favorite is left behind! + The new Connection Orb makes recruiting said Pokémon easier and more intuitive than any previous entree in the series. + The story is suited for all ages. There are as many whimsical characters as there are powerful moments. + The game's world is huge. Everything opens up to the player relatively early on, so he or she can make non-story missions as easy or as difficult as desired. Cons: - This is definitely not an easy game. You may retry or need to be rescued more than necessary, if you're not careful. Newcomers who don't know the nuances of the genre may feel overwhelmed, sometimes - Are you one of those people who dislikes Nintendo America's sense of humor? You may be turned off by some of the script. The phrase "scaredy cat" becomes "scaredy Delcatty," for example. Overall Score: 9 (out of 10) Fantastic Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon feels like the finest hour of the series. The game is so chocked full of content that "Super" almost feels like it's not a good enough word to do it justice. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using a copy of the game purchased by the author.
  3. Welcome to the twenty-second week of my Pokémon feature here on Game Podunk! In case you missed the last one, check it out! Stay tuned for future entries coming every Friday morning. -------------------------------- Explore the Sky, Infinity and Beyond Next year will mark ten years since the release of the first Pokémon Mystery Dungeon game(s). Red Rescue Team was released for the Game Boy Advance, and Blue Rescue Team was released for the handful of people intrepid enough to own the Nintendo DS during its initial launch. For those unfamiliar with the PMD series, who have managed to miss out until yesterday“s announcement of Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon, here“s the groundwork: In each of the PMD games, you play as a human turned into a Pokémon. The first and second group of games in the series really wanted to make the player and protagonist relate to one another, so they had you take a personality test that more or less determined what Pokémon you turned into. It“s clever, thinking back, because a lot of the personality types were the same as the Natures from the main series of Pokémon games. After taking your test, you were able to pick from a list of popular Pokémon and make that one your partner in the game. For example: my journey through Red Rescue Team almost ten years ago was the story of Squirtle and Bulbasaur. For the next games, Explorers of Time/Darkness/Sky, it was of Pikachu and Charmander. The gameplay is reminiscent of any roguelike you've ever played. Explore randomly generated dungeon. Fight stuff. Get to the end. Except the games have a Pokémon twist, where you can use your moves (like Ember or Thundershock) from the games, and recruit any Pokémon to join your team. Each of the games until Gates to Infinity had almost every known species at the time obtainable, so there was always a ton of content, and rich environments to explore while you enjoyed neat music and the general ambiance of a game where you played as Pokémon in a world of Pokémon. Not to mention, each game had elements that let you involve other players. Red/Blue Rescue Team, since it came well before the Nintendo Wi-Fi“s boon, had you entering passwords to rescue your (real-life) friends when they died in a dungeon, to prevent them from losing their items. Explorers of Time/Darkness/Sky had you go online to rescue strangers and friends alike. Infinity had some StreetPass elements. This is a series that was heavily involved in actually helping others. Each of the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon games had a rich world with plenty of environments that all feel cohesive with one another. And the story of the first game was simple, because it was trying to introduce players to this concept. I could say the same for Gates to Infinity, the recent 3DS game that felt scaled down, in order to perhaps introduce a new generation of Pokémon fans to this spin-off series. But… Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Sky has the single best story the Pokémon company has ever produced, and that includes the main series of games. I said it in a previous IV, but let me reiterate once again: That game is one of the only times to ever make me think, "Holy Toledo—this story is way too emotional/dark for ten year-olds." I“m hoping, now that the introductory-feeling Gates to Infinity has been released, that the new Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon will return to form in the sense that the second iteration of games is meant for both newcomers and veterans alike, and will have similar story themes and much more to do. My problem with Gates to Infinity wasn't that it was a bad game. It just had so much less content, less story, and less attainable Pokémon than the Explorers games that came before it. I“m hoping that Spike Chunsoft has spent some time creating an experience that will rival the second group of games. I“m genuinely excited about the next entry in the series—but I“m also keeping my expectations low, for now. If you haven“t tried the PMD games yet? I honestly recommend playing Explorers of Sky over any of the other games, if you don“t feel like waiting until Winter 2015/Spring 2016. You won“t regret it, if you“re a Pokémon fan. I was surprised to see that even one of my favorite developers played through that game and seemed to enjoy it as much as I did. Is anyone else super familiar with this series, and as in love with PMD:EoS as I am? Please do let me know! And, of course, I“ll offer more information on Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon as it comes closer to release.
  4. Welcome to the eighth week of my Pokémon feature here on Game Podunk! In case you missed the last one, check it out! Stay tuned for future entries coming every Friday morning. ---------------------------- Snap, Tilt and Rumble If I“m being completely honest, I think I sometimes prefer the Pokémon spin-off games over the mainline entries. It may sound blasphemous coming from me, but man there are so many phenomenal games that define their respective genres, despite having Pokémon somewhere in the title. The most recent case I can think of, because it came out on the Virtual Console near the end of last year, is Pokémon Puzzle Challenge (GBC), an Intelligent Systems-developed classic that adds some Gold, Silver and Crystal flavor to the father of match-three puzzle games, Tetris Attack/Panel de Pon. It“s an absolutely phenomenal use of your time and money, for sure! Another recent Virtual Console release I can recommend is Pokémon Pinball: Ruby and Sapphire—Hoenn“s take on the Pinball game that many Pokémon fans bought back in the day that included Rumble support and so much more! To be honest though, while I love Pinball and puzzle games alike, none of the spin-off games hold a candle to Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Sky. This game takes concepts introduced in Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Red/Blue Rescue Team and wraps them in a package that not only offers a wealth of content (including some 492 playable Pokémon characters, almost all the released ones of the time), but the single best story of any game in the series, including the mainline ones! Yeah, I went there. Explorers of Sky adds more storylines to the already superior Explorers of Time & Darkness games in the Mystery Dungeon spinoff series. I wish it hadn“t become so rare so that every single Pokémon fan could get a chance to experience this game. I spent hundreds of hours with it! The story was unpredictable and featured all kinds of character development that seemed targeted towards everyone, not just kids. Man, did it take some dark turns, too. Despite my love for the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon games, I don“t think any spin-off game is more infamous than Pokémon Snap. Do regular readers of this feature want a sequel to this game as badly as I do? It seems like the Wii U would be absolutely perfect for it! You could use the Gamepad as your camera to take photos while you travelled on rails on the TV. Customize photos with drawings and other filters via the Gamepad, too! So much potential there. Even if it were relegated to the New Nintendo 3DS, you could still do things like share photos via StreetPass, have photos“ scores and the like integrated between friends“ games via SpotPass, and more. The possibilities really are endless. Still, I think the spinoff on everyone“s mind at the moment is Pokkén Tournament. Given the stream from a few weeks ago, who here is genuinely excited to experience that game? When do you think we“ll see a localization? I want to hear all your thoughts on Pokémon spin-offs! Which are some of your favorites? Can you think of any less-than-stellar titles? (I“m looking at you, Pokémon Rumble Blast.) Be sure to share your thoughts with me below!