The Pokemon Mystery Dungeon series has often felt like one of missed potential. The core concept of raiding dungeons with a party of different Pokemon types is certainly an interesting deviation from the main line franchise, but have unfortunately not lived up to the potential. The latest installment, Gates to Infinity attempts to simplify the series and seemingly aims for a younger audience than those who would more likely appreciate a more traditional dungeon crawler.
In the game the player takes on the role of a Pokemon trainer who after hearing a cry for help awakens transformed into one of four different monsters. Another Pokemon soon finds you and asks for help in moving them into their new home and eventually the player will be tasked in aiding the various other villagers with building their village.
Itís easy to lose patience with the opening moments of the game as there are constant unskippable cutscenes and interminably slow dialogue boxes, which for a handheld title gets frustrating very quickly if youíre looking to simply boot the game up and dive straight into the action. It doesnít help that the story itself is unremarkable even being aimed at a younger demographic.
The main objective of the campaign, once it finally gets going, is to gather materials in order to build and expand the Pokemon Paradise, a hub where the player will return in between each quest. What starts off as a relatively sparse location can be expanded to house more shops and training grounds. While the construction of the town is an interesting feature, the questing and dungeon crawling never really feels worth it especially considering the lack of more immediate rewards.
The core dungeon exploration is decent enough despite the randomly generated designs not really having any real atmosphere to them. Each floor will usually consist of a few larger areas in conjunction with many more narrow corridors connecting them together, as well as spiraling off into various dead ends in a similar fashion to the treasure caves in Dragon Quest IX or many other roguelike titles.
The combat isnít separated from the world map as it is in a mainline Pokemon title. While still turn-based the player can attack with the tap of whichever button is mapped to the desired action. Enemies are quite frequently encountered but again donít really require any strategic thinking as most enemies go down in a couple of hits, and will only occasionally inflict status ailments such as paralysing the player and their party. There is the occasional difficulty spike that may require some grinding to overcome but otherwise the game remains a slog to play through. The playerís companions largely feel quite useless thanks to the lack of any real strategic options the party system offers. Beyond positioning thereís nothing really to control as each non-player party member will simply spam their most powerful attacks on opponents.
Making the game even easier is the very forgiving health regeneration. Most enemies that are encountered donít exactly hit hard enough for the player to worry about being defeated anyway, even without the regenerating health and abundance of items that further restore health. Previous entries in the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon series at least offered some degree of challenge rather than allowing the player to plough through any and all challenges.
Visually the game does look nice enough featuring a very simple and clean visual style that plays to the 3DSís strengths, although the actual world can feel quite sterile thanks to the minimal character designs and largely empty repetitive environments. The 3D effect isnít particularly effective especially thanks to the cramped, zoomed-in camera angle the game employs.
As with previous entries in the series Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity is a title that sounds great in concept but is somewhat muddled in execution. While younger fans may have fun with the game, older players wanting something with a little more depth will more than likely lose patience with the ploddingly slow story progression and lack of any real strategy or skill involved in finishing it. Unless you must play every Pokemon title youíre probably better off simply waiting for the release of X and Y later in the year.