Taking Candy from a Baby
I’ve always been a fan of Roguelike games, and I’ve always had a soft spot for Pokémon. I guess that’s why I gave Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time / Darkness a 3.8 overall – an elevated rating to be sure. However, this time around, I’m not going to let myself get fooled. Releasing two different SKUs with minor differences to ramp up sales is borderline unethical, but releasing a third that doesn’t improve or change the game in any significant way is simply inexcusable!
Sure, Explorers of Sky is built on a solid, old-school, random map, dungeon-crawling foundation, but the addition of lackluster Special Episodes, new items, two new starting characters, a juice bar, and a handful of “new” dungeons certainly doesn’t warrant yet another release. What’s worse, the “expanded communication options” touted by the devs are not fully compatible with Time and Darkness, making the experience of participating and trading with friends who own only the original games actually less engaging. Triple-dipping on a rabid, obsessed fan-base may make a lot of fiscal sense, but not giving them noteworthy new content or reducing the price of the cart is usurious. Buyer beware!
Because Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Sky is identical to Time and Darkness (the back of the box calls it an “extension”), I’m not going to go too in-depth into the mechanics here. Just know that you will join an explorer’s guild, take on missions, clear out dungeons, put together a crack team of Pokémon, and find a bunch of items strewn about the randomly-generated dungeon maps. While this level-grinding is extremely dated and often tedious to many players, I, as well as millions of others, find the formula to be both addictive and challenging. As such, if you enjoy classic, Roguelike RPGs such as early Final Fantasy games or Shiren the Wanderer, there’s a good chance you’ll have fun with any of the games in the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers series. On the other hand, if you find grinding your way through dungeons on repetitious fetch-/rescue-quests to be mind-numbingly dull, do not be fooled by the Pokémon pedigree and stay far away.
In case the first three paragraphs weren’t enough of a warning for you, EXPLORERS OF SKY IS THE SAME GAME AS ITS PREDECESSORS… with a few minor features to “justify” a re-release. New content includes new starter characters (Riolu and Phanpy), new Pokémon (Shaymin), eight new dungeons (about 10% more), Special Episodes, new items, and new shops. Unfortunately, even taken together, the improvements amount to little more than nothing.
To begin with, the new starting characters are still only given to you by chance, and the game plays the same whether or not you play as Riolu, Phanpy, or any of the 17 others. Likewise, Shaymin is a cool Pokémon that’ll guide you up Sky Peak, but it’s not as if you’re getting access to Giratina. Also, the eight new dungeons are essentially marginally re-skinned adaptations of those that already exist. Again, it’s not as if you’re wandering through anything as unique as the Distortion World from Pokémon Platinum Version. The only added dungeon that should give Pokémon fanatics some value is the inclusion of Destiny Tower – an über-dungeon only the most hardcore and/or insanely persistent will pass. This challenge is only available once you beat the game.
Special Episodes are included. There are five of them, though they are not integrated into the main story. You’ll simply open them up as you slog through the exact same story you went through in the previous games. While the Special Episodes flesh things out a bit more, they don’t substantively add to the game. Besides, do you really care about Team Charm and Sunflora?
Explorers of Sky also features unique, exclusive items at Croagunk Swamp Shop. Additionally, new shops have been added to the game. An underground mall in Treasure Town is home to Spinda’s Café, which is essentially a smoothy bar, and Wynaut’s Recycle Shop. These two shops will allow you to convert lots of your space-cluttering, mundane items into tasty character buffs and better items.
Graphically, there have been no improvements to the game. While I really like the character designs and pleasant environments, the dungeons are rather bland and uninspired. Aurally, the same great Mystery Dungeon theme song and dungeon tunes will have you whistling long past the time you’ve shut the lid of your DS. However, as is the case with the rest of the title, don’t expect anything innovative.
Of course, controls are also identical to what was offered in Time and Darkness. In other words, the D-pad controls are perfectly competent, but the touch-screen, stylus-based controls are comparatively woeful.
The team at Chunsoft simply phoned in the code to Nintendo, knowing that the throng of unsophisticated youngsters that is their demographic will eat it up regardless of its lack of value. What’s worse, they were probably mandated to do so by the publisher. While Explorers of Sky would be a decent game if it were judged in a vacuum, when viewed alongside Explorers of Time / Darkness, there simply isn’t enough unique, quality content to make it relevant. This is perhaps one of the worst values in gaming I’ve ever seen.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.2 Graphics
The visuals are very simplistic. The Pokémon are very well depicted. The re-skinned dungeons don’t do enough to set this game apart. 3.0 Control
The D-pad works well, but the stylus controls are still a throw away. 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
All the tunes you heard in the original outing are back with no changes. 1.0
This is an utter rip-off! If you’ve played the other games, there’s no compelling reason to get this one. If you simply must play this series, go pick up one of the others used – don’t support The Pokémon Company’s marketing schemes.
3.0 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.