The Pokemon franchise is undeniably an entertainment behemoth, straddling computer gaming, television, cinema and a wild array of merchandise as well. It sits just behind Nintendo’s own Mario as the second best selling game franchise of all time and has sold more than both the Call Of Duty and FIFA franchises combined. It can also largely be credited with maintaining Nintendo’s dominance in the handheld console market, a feat which it’s likely to repeat again this generation with the forthcoming release of Pokemon X and Y on the 3DS.
The Mystery Dungeon series, on the other hand, hasn’t quite achieved the same level of success. Though it’s not without its fans, taking its basis as a randomly generated dungeon crawler which has then been re-skinned over the years with characters from Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, and of course Pokemon. This style is based somewhat on the classic title ‘Rogue’ which, with its turn-based combat and randomly generated levels, made it a good match for emulation by some of the biggest RPG universes.[drop]Gates To Infinity is the fifth generation of the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon series and despite having played all of the core titles in the Pokemon franchise this was the first time that I’d experienced one of the Dungeon titles.
The set-up for the title is that you wake from a dream and discover that you’ve been turned into a Pokemon with the task of saving the Pokemon world. I was disappointed to find that you only have a selection of five to choose from; Pikachu, Tepig, Oshawott, Snivey and Axew. I understand that it’s a lot to ask to be able to choose from 650+ characters but equally it would have been nice to see the starting Pokemon from earlier games such as Squirtle or Cyndaquil rather than just those from the Black & White era.
I chose Pikachu (as he’s clearly the best of the bunch) and was treated to a cutscene where my little yellow mouse chap fell from the sky into the Pokemon world. You land near your subsequent dungeon partner who you choose from the remaining four characters you didn’t like enough to pick initially, and who is so trusting as to immediately believe your frankly ridiculous story that you’re a human, who has been turned into a Pokemon, that then survived a fall from a lethal height.
One of the overriding elements of the game becomes immediately apparent within the first few moments and that is that Pokemon in this game don’t necessarily match up with your idea of what a Pokemon is. If you’ve been a Pokemon fan for a number of years you’re either used to them making high pitched electronic squeals or repeating parts of their name to mean everything in the world. What you’re not used to is them chatting away, often mundanely, in the same manner as humans.
This immediately presented a problem for me as they’ve always been presented as powerful pets or companions that at the end of the day, no matter how cool they might be, you keep in a ball. To discover that they’re complex individuals who want to purchase land, build houses, organise a market infrastructure and, in at least one case, have performance related issues, is to completely undermine everything you know about them. Subsequently, I spent a great deal of time thinking more about how it was all a bit odd, rather than becoming involved in the plot.
That could also have been due to the fact that the plot was just a bit flimsy, and ultimately presented in such a slow and simplistic way that I could see a child easily becoming bored with it as I certainly did. I realise that over the years we’ve seen plenty of cats, dogs, horses and budgerigars have wild and interesting adventures, but Gates To Infinity, perhaps because so much of it is mundane or perhaps because Pokemon are already strong characters without needing reams of dialogue, just doesn’t seem to work.[drop2]The “Mystery Dungeon” portion of the game sees you embark into randomly generated dungeons where you encounter enemy Pokemon in turn-based combat, pick up loot and make your way through different sub-levels to your goal. The problem with randomly generating the levels is that ultimately you end up walking through the same corridors with slightly different skins over and over again. If you encounter enemies whilst in these corridors then the other members of your party don’t do anything at all as they’re stuck behind you, and when they’re given more room to manoeuvre they spam the same move whether it’s effective or not, unless you go into the menu and turn that move off completely.
One facet that has been a defining part of the Mystery Dungeon series is its difficulty level, but in Gates To Infinity the developer, Spike Chunsoft, has seemingly decided that they would make this title slightly easier in the name of accessibility. Unfortunately they’ve aimed so much easier that any challenge has been virtually removed; my first two hours of gameplay only required the use of one healing item, and that was because my partner Pokemon was repeatedly using a move that healed our attacker. This ultimately just means that you spend the entire time rushing through dungeons hoping to find the way out because it’s all just a bit dull, no matter how nice it is to see your little 3D Pokemon running about.
Two brighter spots are the graphics and the sound, with some tuneful offerings making the adventuring and storyline slightly more bearable, while the characters and outdoor environments are all bright and well-matched for the Pokemon world. Some of the combat also takes place in outdoor areas and these sections look far better than the dungeons. Sadly, you spend far less time in them than you do in the boring and repetitive floors of those mysterious dungeons, which makes them feel even more lacklustre.
- Pleasant graphics and soundtrack
- Seeing 3D Pokemon roaming around
- Dull dungeon environments
- Complete lack of difficulty
- Mundane (and unskippable) dialogue
A strong lineage and a popular franchise are unfortunately not enough to remedy the crushing boredom that Gates To Infinity offers to players. While there’s a tiny amount of fun to be had running about as a Pokemon and using their moves as you explore it wears thin very quickly. With the 3DS offering some incredibly strong software at the moment, such as Fire Emblem Awakening, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate and Luigi’s Mansion 2, there is simply no reason for anyone to play this title unless they have a masochistic level of dedication to the Pokemon franchise and simply can’t wait for the arrival of X and Y.