Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Gates To Infinity – Review
Nostalgia just ain’t what it used to be. While I’ve overcome the disappointing fact that Nintendo are never releasing a Pokémon game featuring only the original 151 characters and have come to embrace their newer counterparts, I had still managed to avoid venturing outside of the main Pokémon titles. Mystery Dungeon games have, on rare occasions, caught my eye as I peruse the second-hand section of games shops, and most times I’ve picked them up and inspected the back of the box – only to later decide that it probably isn’t my cup of tea. Little did I know that I would be so wrongfully right.
The premise of Gates To Infinity is outlined to you within seconds of starting. You’re a nondescript human living in the world of Pokémon that we all know; the fierce world where Pokémon are brutalised and forced to fight for both our protection and our entertainment. The game opens on a psychedelic screen that looks as though you’ve maybe enjoyed that Pritt Stick a bit too much, and a lone voice calls out to you – the human that can hear the voice- and pleads for you to come and save the Pokémon world. You’re promptly asked what you look like, and are given the option to select one of five popular Pokémon characters that you will play as throughout the game: Pikachu, Snivy, Axew, Oshawott and Tepig. Once you have transformed into your choice of Pokémon, you find yourself transported to an alternate world unlike that seen in any of the normal Pokémon games; it is a world solely inhabited by Pokémon. Upon a somewhat ‘bumpy’ arrival, you’re again posed with a choice of character, only this time you’re asked to choose which of the remaining four Pokémon will be your companion, buddy and overall wing-man for the duration of the game.
The game itself is pretty simplistic. You’re presented with a series of challenges that take place in a variety of ‘mysterious’ dungeons, only the slight twist comes in the dungeons themselves. Due to the “mysteriosity” (no, seriously… ‘Mysteriosity’) of the land, the caves are somewhat special; they’re always changing. Once you leave a level, you can’t go back, only forward, and each time you re-enter a dungeon the layout has mysteriously changed from times before (meaning that there is no way to chart or map your way through the cave). This actually comes to be a nifty little feature later on in the game when you find yourself returning to the same caves over and over again to complete notice-board requests. By changing the layout each time it makes each visit that little bit more complex and prevents the issue of running through the levels purely on memory.
While turn-based dungeon crawling is enough, the unfortunate downside of the game is the ridiculous amount of cut scenes. The ‘peace and love’ story is not just spoon-fed to the player, but forcefully inserted into their face while their nose is being held. Unskippable and often painfully long cut-scenes are made irrevocably worse by an obnoxious beep that replaces voice acting. Not that the beep stopped any stereotypical accents, mind you (who knew that an awful stereotypical Scottish accent could be conveyed simply by text?!). Along with the cut-scenes, the game’s content itself is so disgustingly sweet that I am almost certain that I’m going to lose a digit or two to diabetes. While I can understand that a generally positive outlook is necessary when you’re saving the world and attempting to build a Poke-utopia, the overwhelming whack of “friendship” to the face had me faux-vomitting left right and centre.
So why then, despite this melodramatic gagging, was I finding myself so drawn in? I soon realised that this is the game that my awkward 11 year-old Pokémon obsessed self had always wanted to play; I had never wanted to master the Pokémon- I wanted to BE the Pokémon. It wasn’t that far into the game that I became thoroughly enchanted. The Pokémon who had only ever been able to utter their own name as a fierce death cry suddenly had voices, personalities and stories to tell. Through a series of cut-scenes and team-building dungeon crawling, I soon became attached to both my own character, and those that I was accumulating around me to join my cause, and I genuinely cheered, cried and exclaimed at certain points in the story. I was a little ashamed to admit it, being the tough, tom-boyish gal that I am, but this story genuinely captured my heart and, as it drew to a close, I couldn’t help but feel a little dismayed.
Story alone was not the only enchanting thing about the game. As the first Pokémon game to take the genre from 2D to the critically acclaimed third dimension, it was somewhat exciting to see the characters evolve into actual beings. While I didn’t keep the 3D function turned on throughout the entirety of the game, in moments of graphical beauty (of which there were many), it really did add to the overall effect; it was handled more than adequately. The soundtrack too was of the quality expected of Nintendo games: well composed, bright and catchy, and never obnoxiously apparent.
Each dungeon had a different theme which was expressed perfectly in both graphics, and soundtrack, and the background music throughout was never an intrusion. More often than not I found myself humming along to the catchy tunes, and sometimes returning to my favourite dungeons just to listen to them again. Custom dungeons that could only be found using the 3D camera and circular items from around your home was another added bonus (though I could only summon a Magnagate through a cup of tea), and the online multiplayer abilities – limited as they are- is something that really appealed to me.
The turn-based gameplay could, however, be a little bit frustrating, and the lack of HP bar for your enemies was more than infuriating. Showing how many points that particular move took from my opponent seemed somewhat pointless when I couldn’t tell how far I had left to go in order to defeat them. Another issue was the text – scrolling alerts to inform you either moved painfully slow outside of battle, or flashed past so quickly during clustered fights with more than two combatants that I was often wondering what the point of it was. I didn’t feel in control of what was read and when during battle, and felt even more flustered when I couldn’t speed up the text during the long and (more often than not) unnecessary cut-scenes. These small issues aside, the combat was similar to that of a traditional Pokémon game, and the controls were simple and effective.
Save points were also plentiful, though each time you died in a dungeon you were escorted back to the entrance. On some of the higher level dungeons this did get more than a little frustrating – especially when I would have to traverse a different 13 levels each time, only to die two steps from the dungeon exit, but, as this was really the only challenge featured in the game, I can’t really grumble.
The last nifty feature, and perhaps the most unique, was that after around half an hour the game noted that you’d already had quite an adventure and that maybe a rest was necessary. For someone who often gets wrapped up and just has to keep going for one more level, I actually found this a useful feature for reminding myself that my eyes might melt if I didn’t put the 3DS down, which, considering that it was cute and frustrating in almost equal amounts, was harder than anyone might think.Pros
- Visually the game works exceptionally well, both with and without the 3D function. Very pretty and, given the cartoon graphics, a real visual treat
- The controls are simplistic and cover everything that you need them to
- It’s engaging, story driven and has a considerable amount of gameplay - even without the additional dungeon searching and side games
- The Magnagate function that utilises the 3DS cameras is a great bit of fun
- Traditional Pokémon fans who enjoy the battling/evolving and general striving to become a Pokémon master might find this a little too cutesy
- The un-skippable cut-scenes where story is often regurgitated (just to make sure you don’t miss ANYTHING) is more than a little frustrating
- The way the game is delivered to the player doesn’t give them any credit; spoon feeding doesn’t even begin to cover it
- The development of Paradise is somewhat underplayed for more story-centric missions
Coming to Gates To Infinity with a completely fresh view of that particular franchise definitely worked in my favour. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was definitely not expecting that. As cute and frustrating as it was, I still found myself thoroughly enjoying it and not wanting to put it down for anything (so many spilled drinks!), and felt that it was a fantastically polished game in all areas. My bi-polar feelings towards the game even out enough for me to say that I would happily recommend it, though maybe not to the die-hard ‘traditional’ Pokémon fans, and definitely not to those expecting to train and evolve the pocket-sized beasts.
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- Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Gates To Infinity - Review