Though the Wii U is still seemingly dealing with next gen growing pains, Nintendo’s handheld dominance has truly continued with the 3DS. After its own rocky start the system has more than come into its own with regard to quality titles. This week three more high-profile releases make their way to this unique portable, and each manages to put a novel spin on an already established concept.
Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity continues in the tradition of its roguelike predecessors that debuted simultaneously in North America on the Nintendo DS and Game Boy Advance back in 2006. The series convention of human-transformed-into-a-Pokémon-as-protagonist arrives intact on the 3DS, however, the game eschews the traditional personality test that determines your Pokémon form in favor of letting you choose from an initial roster including the popular Unova starters. After picking your avatar and a second monster to serve as your initial AI-controlled partner, you’re quickly thrust into its quirky 3D world.
Gates to Infinity walks a thin line between old school ‘crawler and more kid-friendly fare that perhaps explains its mixed appeal. While I found its randomly-generated dungeons to be fun but uninspired and its two-part narrative – your partner seeks to create a welcoming haven for all Pokémon while your player character wrestles with disturbing dreams – more than a little hammy, my seven-year-old was immediately enchanted by a game in which the Pokémon themselves are the major players. One thing we easily agreed on, however, was the warm, pleasing visuals and minimal barrier to entry for those new to the genre.
Unlike the permadeath and quickly mounting difficulty of recent turn-based titan Fire Emblem: Awakening, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity welcomes the younger set with its candy-colored grid-mazes and minimal loot/buff system. Just like the aforementioned Fire Emblem, Gates to Infinity offers day-one DLC to supplement its already lengthy play time, and further makes nice use of 3DS system features to add additional levels of interactivity. Its Magnagate mode encourages players to scan real-life objects to unlock even more dungeons, and its Streetpass features include the option to revive fallen players. Co-op multiplayer also makes an appearance, and manages to hit a sweet spot for younger Pokémaniacs with gamer parents.
Though it never managed to grab me quite like the toy store carnage of Pokémon Rumble Blast, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity does represent a noble effort that demystifies the isometric dungeon-crawler – in all its angular, d-pad-pounding glory – for a new generation. It’s also important to note that players who buy and register both this title and a 3DS XL with Club Nintendo before April 30th can receive a free download of one of several quality retail release games.
While the Pokémon themselves have been busy battling through random dungeons and scarfing down helpful berries in Gates to Infinity, their developers at Game Freak have been hard at work on yet another interesting property. HarmoKnight, which hits the 3DS eShop this Thursday here in the States, is an engaging marriage of rhythm game and platformer with an added dash of endless runner for good measure.
HarmoKnight places gamers in the shoes of Tempo, a young hero who pounds drums, crashes cymbals, leaps over environmental obstacles and battles enemies in time with the game’s own soundtrack. It easily combines the satisfaction of the save-your-world plot and the charm of Game Freak’s own design aesthetic with the addictive and more-than occasionally unforgiving button presses of indie favorite Bit.Trip Runner. With tap-dancing rabbits, imprisoned monarchs and music notes aplenty, it’s truly a special system exclusive that’s the very epitome of the pick-up-and-play portable game.
Obviously the score is gorgeously interactive, and Pickachu and friends make a few cameos (in the background) as Tempo rocks his way across a besieged kingdom’s 50-plus stages. In fact, the only thing that doesn’t satisfy about the game is its $15 price tag. Still, if HarmoKnight catches your fancy but strikes you as a bit too pricey, remember that sales are not unheard-of on the Nintendo eShop.
Our final new 3DS title is one that I wouldn’t hesitate to put in the running as my most anticipated game of the year. The original 2001 release of Luigi’s Mansion was greeted by some as an unforgivable Mario-less Mario GameCube launch title, but for me the game truly exemplified the strengths of the system. It combined engaging design, tight controls and a strong story all wrapped within the whimsy of one of the company’s lesser loved first-party characters. It was part true Nintendo action, part ghost-busting adventure and all awesome.
Though the Luigi’s Ghost Mansion game mode of Wii U standout Nintendo Land – still a favorite in my house – was a fun return to the spook-filled halls of the original, at long last a proper sequel has been delivered with Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon. King Boo has destroyed the Dark Moon, a mystic satellite that has long kept the ghosts of Evershade Valley pleasant and pacified. Now that they’ve returned to the whims of their mischievous, ghostly nature, it’s up to Luigi to again brave the realm of the supernatural and restore peace by reclaiming the scattered pieces.
Less a return to form than an outright elaboration on everything that made the debut title so engaging, Luigi again finds himself working for (delightfully) mad scientist Professor E. Gadd as he does battle with specters of various descriptions. Gadd has obviously put the decade plus since the original Luigi’s Mansion to good use, as everything from Luigi’s ghost vacuuming Poltergust 5000 to his new Dual Scream handheld communicator have received ample upgrades. It’s a good thing too, as this time more and tougher ghosts are scattered across multiple mansions.
Rather than being stunned by Luigi’s flashlight beam like in the first game, these bigger baddies require a proper flash of the new Strobulb to begin the trapping processes, and even then they won’t go down without a fight. Wrangling them in by pulling the thumbstick in the opposite direction from their path of perceived escape can quickly wear down the fleeing ghosts, but only after you’ve done things like remove their stun-proof sunglasses or thwarted their attempts to bean our ghost exterminator with shovels. Additional tricky ghost types help flesh out Dark Moon as an action puzzler by becoming invisible themselves or using this power to obscure useful environmental objects, and only by acquiring additional Poltergust upgrades (like a
spectral special Dark-Light bulb) can our hero hope to truly unravel the mysteries of Evershade Valley.
Hidden gems, hidden Boos and boatloads of cash supplement the collectible and unlockable angles of a game that already feels vast and expansive, and the always fearful, ever-exasperated plumber at the heart of it all makes the title a joy to play. Yet still there’s more; multiplayer options for Download Play and multiple carts and hidden golden bones that can be fed to the roving Polterpup as quick-start continues when a mission goes awry help to drive home that this is an adventure to be relished.
The difficulty can be uneven at times thanks to super-sensitive gyro controls and the single-stick control scheme’s tendency to lock Luigi in a strafing mode can occasionally prove problematic (and don’t even get me started on the hidden one-shot challenge rooms #fumes), but with its gorgeous visuals, MetroidVania-style level design, properly-paced storytelling and skillful command of the system’s true 3D depth, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is another 3DS must-have. The fact that it qualifies for the same special free download offer as the new Pokémon Mystery Dungeon? Well, that’s simply icing on the cake!
Review materials provided by: Nintendo of America