Pokemon Mystery Dungeon Explorers of the Sky Review

By Scott Alan Marriott - Posted Oct 28, 2009

Pokémon fever has no signs of going into remission, though it would seem Nintendo isn't taking any chances, churning out spin-offs and updates at a dizzying clip. For its fourth appearance on Nintendo DS, the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series goes "green" by recycling all content found in both Explorers of Darkness and Explorers of Time. Will dedicated dungeon-delvers be disappointed that Explorers of Sky is merely an enhanced version of 2008's twin titles?

The Pros
  • Five new side stories with different playable Pokémon
  • Eight new dungeons, including a 99-floor Destiny Tower
  • 492 Pokémon to recruit or make fun of
The Cons
  • Unexciting items
  • Exact same storyline as in 2008's versions
  • Repetitive combat

Pokémon fever has no signs of going into remission, though it would seem Nintendo isn't taking any chances, churning out spin-offs and updates at a dizzying clip. For its fourth appearance on Nintendo DS, the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series goes "green" by recycling all content found in both Explorers of Darkness and Explorers of Time. Will dedicated dungeon-delvers be disappointed that Explorers of Sky is merely an enhanced version of 2008's twin titles? Or do the new additions make this Mystery's value an open and shut case?

Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Sky

Building a Mystery

For those new to the series, Explorers of Sky is the best Pokémon Mystery Dungeon game to date, if only because it refines its predecessors while adding new content. It combines everything found in the two previous titles, adds five side stories starring other Pokémon, and tweaks some of the inventory management, item drops, enemies, and more. Pokéholics will be pleased as punch that there are 19 starting Pokémon available, including five new to Explorers of Sky: Eevee, Phanpy, Vulpix, Shinx, Riolu, and Skitty. Still no word on Sleepy, Grumpy, Blitzen, or Rudolph.

The gameplay and storyline are identical to Explorers of Darkness/Time, with the main narrative divided into a series of 27 chapters that all involve exploring multi-floored dungeons to complete jobs assigned by your happy-go-lucky guild of explorers. In addition to completing jobs, which range from annoying escort missions to bounty hunts for specific Pokémon "outlaws," you must figure out how and why your once-human form has pointy ears, a long snout, or eats thunder and craps lightning. You have been mysteriously transformed into a Pokémon, whose type depends on your sassy, timid, jolly, and/or brave answers to eight questions at the beginning of the game.

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Dungeons & Dewgongs

What draws you into the Mystery Dungeon titles is that you never quite know what you'll encounter in your search for the stairs leading to the next floor. You might find helpful items, hidden shops, and more. Since you are partnered with another explorer, whom you'll choose after being assigned a main character, there's also a sense of camaraderie while adventuring as well as a potential hazard: if your partner is defeated in a dungeon, you fail as well, which means losing half your money and a good chunk of your items. Combat is turn based yet fast paced, with each character quickly trading standard attacks, using items, or initiating Pokémon-specific moves. The latter adds strategy to the game, since you can only use a particular move, such as Totodile's water gun, a limited number of times.

Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Sky

Sky Jinx

For series veterans, the most irritating aspect of Explorers of Sky will be the amount of work required to get to the new content. The developers at Chun Soft decided to make players unlock the new, character-specific "special episodes" by going through the main storyline instead of having them available right from the start. The strange part is that once these episodes are unlocked, they are accessed separately from the menu screen instead of being woven into the main game. The most interesting content, the 99-floor Destiny Tower, is accessible only after you complete the story. Why make owners of 2008's game go through the exact same chapters they've already experienced?

Of course, if this is your first experience with a Pokémon Mystery Dungeon game, then there's no reason to be skittish about Explorers of Sky, as long as you realize that this is a specific type of RPG inspired by such early '80s computer titles as Rogue and Hack. There's a lot of inventory juggling, some repetitive action, and the dungeon floors aren't exactly brimming with detail -- they consist of little more than squares and rectangles. The character customization and items you find (apples, sticks, seeds, vitamins, and so forth) are also more limited than in a traditional fantasy RPG, but Explorers of Sky helps offset these limits by including a wide variety of personable characters and an amusing storyline.

Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Sky

In With the Old, Out With the New

The cheerful setting, bouncy music, and exaggerated animations (critters will cheer, chomp, and cry) may result in a toothache from saccharine overload, but don't make the mistake of thinking the game is a children’s game akin to Hello Kitty Island Adventures. There's a solid engine underneath the fluffy exterior, and there's plenty of challenge and replay value for those who want to evolve their Pokémon, recruit new team members, and embark on online adventures to rescue other teams from difficult dungeons or to partake in secret quests. Yet for those already happy with Explorers of Darkness/Time, Sky's modest new features aren't worth the added expense.