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Video Game Review: “Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Sky”

By Edward Truong

Oct. 21, 2009 9:29 p.m.

I have a soft spot in my small, small heart for Pokemon, the precious adventure game from childhood where you train cute pocket-sized monsters to fight each other in order to earn money and prizes.

Actually, that’s much less precious-sounding than I remember, but the newest game in the series, “Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Sky” didn’t exactly evoke the nostalgia of my youth.

The game’s structure is pretty much unchanged from its predecessors, “Explorers of Time” and “Explorers of Darkness.” Basically, the player is the hero, a human who wakes up as a Pokemon, one of 19 determined by taking a personality test. Then, players get to partner up with another Pokemon of their choice ““ I chose Pikachu for old time’s sake ­­”“ and together, the players and their partner form an exploration team.

That team goes on quests in different mystery dungeons, hence the name. Dungeons are underground mazes where other Pokemon attack you and your partner, so naturally you fight back against these vicious creatures while walking around the random paths.

That’s basically it: exploration teams complete mission after mission during the game, going from one dungeon to another, fighting and picking up random objects. Sure, there’s that whole underlying mystery of how exactly the player transformed into a Pokemon, but it’ll take a couple dozen hours of playtime and a couple hundred visits to mystery dungeons everywhere to get to the root of that story.

Players who are captivated enough by the premise may not find the structure of the game repetitive, but half an hour into playing the game, I didn’t feel very accomplished. I kept tapping the A button on my Nintendo DS to scroll down on the text prompts, which provided instruction after instruction. I would occasionally also fight other Pokemon, which also involved tapping the A button. Carpal tunnel syndrome, here I come.

I had my roommate, who is by no means a video-game expert, give it a try as well. Another half an hour later, she returned the game to me. “It was boring,” she declared, after dying ““ er, “fainting” after a battle, as they say in the Pokemon world.

The animation and graphic quality is beautiful, but not exactly revolutionary in technology. Pokemon games have always been plain in their design, but given the advancements in video game technology, it would be nice to see more sophisticated renderings that take advantage of the Nintendo DS’ two screens.

The music was also typical of most Pokemon games: an upbeat, electronic tune that is very distinct in its repetitive, simple beat.

However, while the game may not break new ground, it does expand upon the Pokemon story line and offer players more gameplay and options, including the ability to use a local wireless Internet connection to play with friends. The game has new items, special episodes that expand upon the story line and even offers a new level that allows the player to encounter a “mysterious statue,” which probably offers something interesting or cool ““ I didn’t get that far.

Playing this game is an investment of time: even though the basic structure is repetitive, there is still a lot to do within this world, including collecting different functional items and making crazy new discoveries. It’s an engaging game that offers rewards to players who are willing to put in the effort to sit through it, but I got bored. And I’d like to think I have a longer attention span than that of the target age group for this game.

I wanted to feel young again by playing this game. Instead, I found myself feeling old and confused, wondering why there are so many different Pokemon now ““ I have no idea what a Turtwig, Munchlax or Riolu are and I don’t know why I have to keep going down these stairs to fight more Pokemon. I suppose it’s just foolish to think you can go back to the good old days, when you only had to sic your Squirtle on that Bulbasaur.

E-mail Truong at [email protected]

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