Reviews

Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Sky

At this point, Pokémon is less a franchise than it is a media juggernaut.


Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Sky

Publisher: Nintendo
Players: 1-2
Price: $34.99
Platform: Nintendo DS
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Developer: Chunsoft
Release Date: 2009-10-12
URL

At this point, Pokémon is less a franchise than it is a media juggernaut. The sales success of anything Pokémon related is virtually assumed. In fact, there has been such a media assault of all things Pokémon in the past several years that it's sometimes almost difficult to remember that it started its life as (and somewhat remains) a well regarded video game series. It's arguable that the success of Pokémon helped to sustain Nintendo through the relatively lean years of the N64 and Gamecube. The core Pokémon titles are undoubtedly well-crafted role playing games that are surprisingly deep given their simplification of the traditional turn-based RPG formula. The addictive collection aspect pairs quite well with the simple rock/paper/scissors strategy of the fights, not to mention the fun of assembling an effective team. Not surprisingly, the success of the initial titles has led to multiple sequels and spinoffs.

Tie in games are generally slow moving targets for critics because by their very nature they serve as an effort to cash in on the time sensitive interest of a related product in a different medium. What makes the Pokémon brand interesting is that it is largely comprised of games that are tie-ins to other games. A good number of Pokémon titles are released in the downtime between core titles, clearly meant to sate the appetite of fans anxious to spend more time in this world. But as is the case with many tie-ins in general, these spinoffs are largely unsatisfying, largely missing the point of what makes the experience in the core Pokémon titles so appealing and addictive to begin with.

That's why it's difficult to characterize the newest Pokémon-related title, Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Sky, as a disappointment. To do so would indicate that expectations for it were high, but by this point, hardcore gamers know that generally speaking they are going to get far more depth and enjoyment out of the core Pokémon titles than from the various other games bearing the Pokémon name. Further Explorers of Sky is actually a remake or director's cut of Explorers of Time/Explorers of Darkness, sister DS titles that were released in early 2008. While the Pokémon franchise as a whole is populated by remakes, and while these refined versions of games do make sense given the depth of the meaty core games of the series, it's debatable whether it's a worthy goal to offer slightly modified versions of Pokémon spinoffs. This publication ran a review of Explorers of Darkness/Explorers of Time when those titles were released, and the points made there still stand. Rather than rehashing them, then, I'd like to discuss the gaming arm of the Pokémon brand at large.

What's most surprising to me is that most Pokémon spinoffs can still be classified as role playing games. The Ranger series has a bit more of an action/adventure focus, the Explorers series is certainly more of a dungeon crawler, and the Stadium series is arguably more focused on strategy. There have been other efforts like the racing title Pokémon Dash, and the puzzle title Pokémon Puzzle League, but by and large, we haven't seen the kind of creativity and genre exploration that Nintendo is capable of, even given their long history of taking fundamentally sound and enjoyable gameplay concepts and using them to tell the same stories over and over again.

Consider the Mario brand. Nintendo has certainly not shied away from putting the cast of Mario characters in games not even remotely related to the platform genre that they came from. By and large, they've been successful in doing so, either bringing the unique flair of the Mushroom Kingdom to established genres (the Mario sports titles most easily come to mind), or pioneering new genres altogether (as is certainly the case with Mario Kart). This makes it difficult to understand the overall risk aversion with the cash cow that is Pokémon.

On the other hand, it may be the case that interest in Pokémon has fundamentally to do with the concept of collecting these creatures and forcing them into cartoonish battle with one another. As such, there may only be a discrete number of of ways to present them. Pokémon doesn't have an ensemble cast on par with the Mario clan. Arguably the only breakout star has been Pikachu. However, none of the Mario characters really had a personality to begin with either. Their richness as an ensemble took many years and numerous titles before such branching out was possible. Perhaps then, the Pokémon franchise's seeming inability to step outside of its comfort zone might paradoxically have to do with how little it has already tried. While it is difficult to argue that Nintendo doesn't know how to successfully monetize the Pokémon brand, from a gamer's perspective, it might be nice to see more experimentation with presentation within the brand.

5

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

9
Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane
Music

Mobley Laments the Evil of "James Crow" in the US

Austin's Mobley makes upbeat-sounding, soulful pop-rock songs with a political conscience, as on his latest single, "James Crow".

Music

Jordan Tice's "Bad Little Idea" Is a Satirical Spin on Dire Romance (premiere)

Hawktail's Jordan Tice impresses with his solo work on "Bad Little Idea", a folk rambler that blends bluesy undertones with satiric wit.

Music

Composer Ilan Eshkeri Discusses His Soundtrack for the 'Ghost of Tsushima' Game

Having composed for blockbuster films and ballet, Ilan Eshkeri discusses how powerful emotional narratives and the opportunity for creative freedom drew him to triple-A video game Ghost of Tsushima.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Film

Love and Cinema: The Ruinous Lives in Żuławski's L'important c'est d'aimer

Żuławski's world of hapless also-rans in L'important C'est D'aimer is surveyed with a clear and compassionate eye. He has never done anything in his anarchic world by the halves.

Books

On Bruce Springsteen's Music in Film and TV

Bruce Springsteen's music in film and television captured author Caroline Madden's imagination. She discuses her book, Springsteen as Soundtrack, and other things Springsteen in this interview.

Music

Alt-pop's merci, mercy Warns We May "Fall Apart"

Australian alt-pop singer-songwriter, merci, mercy shares a video for her catchy, sophisticated anthem, "Fall Apart".

Film

Tears in Rain: 'Blade Runner' and Philip K. Dick's Legacy in Film

Blade Runner, and the work of Philip K. Dick, continues to find its way into our cinemas and minds. How did the visions of a paranoid loner become the most relevant science fiction of our time?

Music

London Indie-Poppers the Motive Impress on "You" (premiere)

Southwest London's the Motive concoct catchy, indie-pop earworms with breezy melodies, jangly guitars, and hooky riffs, as on their latest single "You".

Books

Vigdis Hjorth's 'Long Live the Post Horn!' Breathes Life into Bureaucratic Anxiety

Vigdis Hjorth's Long Live the Post Horn! is a study in existential torpor that, happily, does not induce the same condition in the reader.

Music

Konqistador and HanHan Team for Darkwave Hip-Hop on "Visaya"

Detroit-based electronic/industrial outfit, Konqistador team with Toronto hip-hopper HanHan for "Visaya", a song that blends darkwave and rap into an incendiary combination.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.