Starting off the game, is a giant ball of light, which is happy as it has found you, the only human who can help it, so after answering some questions about yourself, it suggests you are like a specific Pokémon, but you can ignore it and choose the one you want. You then wake up, you can only remember your name and that you were human, I say were because you are now the Pokémon you selected before, but even before you can process this, you are attacked. After running into Nuzleaf, another Pokémon, you enter your first Mystery Dungeon.
It is in this dungeon where you are taught the basics of moving around, attacking and how the dungeons themselves work, at first I thought the tutorial was a little light, but as the dungeon is many floors, you get enough time to learn the mechanics properly, once you are out of the dungeon you head off to Serene Village, where Nuzleaf lives and were things will start to pick up. Sadly, the time it takes for events to actually get going is far too long, the game has so many systems, subsystems and tutorials that it took over 3 hours before I was able to do things on my own, without instruction or being forced into something. Because of the number of tutorials, younger kids might find themselves struggling with the amount of information on hand.
Once you are past the tutorials, things do move along at a decent pace, but I admit it was very hard to keep playing, the tutorials are really draining and they slow the pace down considerably, even when you get past them, the games pace does not improve a lot either, it’s not as bad as it was, but there are times when so much explanation occurs, it became a bother. Of course, the reason to play are the dungeons themselves and they are a mix of great and bad elements, the randomness means that no two dungeons will ever have the same layout, so there is a lot of exploration to be had, which can result in finding items, some rare others not so much and you will also come across enemy Pokémon, which gives you the chance to test out your battle skills.
Battling takes the form of turn based battles, with your own character starting off, followed by the rest of your party, before the opposing Pokémon get a shot, this can be great if you are ahead of your team, but if you get attacked from behind, you can waste a few moves to get back to front, allowing you to take damage at will. The actual battles use a random element, so you will never know if your attacks will land until after you do them, while exciting, when multiple attacks miss the target, or fail to land frustration is bound to happen. It might seem like a petty mix of issues, but they seem to pop up more often than not, which is a shame, because if there was a greater balance, the combat might be ok.
Of course, for all that goes right with the dungeons, there are some issues with them, notably the randomised layout is a problem, as much as it is a blessing. There were times I would enter a dungeon, be given a choice of two directions out of the starting room and then choose one, only to find myself completing a full lap of the place and the exit to the next floor being only one room in the other direction. This was a constant throughout, either the floor would have the exit right near the start, or it would be across the map and if it were across the map, there would be a lot of enemies in between.
Outside of the dungeons, there was very little to do that was not tied to a story sequence, but as the game moved ahead, things let up and there was a grander sense of exploration in part because of new locations you got to explore. The outside locations themselves were not bursting at the seams with things to do, there were shops and other Pokémon to talk to, but you could not just explore areas around the dungeons. Thankfully the Pokémon that inhabit the spaces you can explore, are detailed enough that they become the focus, over the space they are in. In fact, there are 720 Pokémon in the game, which is all of them and while you may not seem every single one yourself, there is a fair chance you will see the bulk of them. Seeing all of them in 3d, gives me hope that they will do that for the main series in the future, perhaps the only downside to there being so many in the game is that they used up space for no purpose.
There is a whole other location you can explore called Pelipper Island, which you will be prompted to visit the first time you faint in a dungeon, exploring the island first asks you to answer some questions and you are given control of another Pokémon. Here you can enter the dungeon you fainted in, find your other self and rescue them, allowing you to continue playing the game. You will only have a limited number of times that you can do this however and you can earn more by going online and rescuing other fainted Pokémon. If you want, you can also take your Pokémon from Pelipper island into a randomly generated dungeon just for fun, but the Pokémon you have there can’t be taken back to your main game, so that is only good for just seeing what dungeon combinations you can discover. The game has a very minimalistic sound approach, none of the Pokémon make the noises from either the games or anime series, so it takes a bit to get used to. The music is nice and thankfully does not detract from anything, but it is appropriately loud and impactful when it needs to be and quiet and subdued at times also.
Super Pokémon Mystery Dungeon is a game of balancing issues, on one hand things work well when the game stops interrupting you with its various tutorials and reminders about saving, but on the other there are so many systems in play, that you need the tutorials else you will never clear the early dungeons. The story plays out in a rewarding way, but thanks to its very slow start might be something most people never see.