While 2011’s surprisingly diverting Pokémon Rumble Blast marked the first appearance of any Pocket Monsters in starring roles on Nintendo’s newest handheld, the game’s environments were entirely aboriginal to that specific title. Nearly two years later, Pokémon Black/White and Pokémon Black/White 2’s expansive overworld setting, the Unova region, has finally been rendered in full-fledged polygonal 3D in Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity, the roguelike Pokémon spinoff’s surface-glazed 3DS debut. The game’s most accomplished aspect is unquestionably the modernization of its visuals and various movement animations, which feature some of the sleekest usage of the system’s 3D effects and textural shadings yet. Unfortunately, other than the noticeable enhancements to the series’s signature super-cheery aesthetics, Gates to Infinity doesn’t do much recognizable groundbreaking when it comes to its sporadically monotonous gameplay mechanics.
As with Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of the Sky, Gates to Infinity’s central narrative commences with the Pokémon-ization of the player’s character, transforming their likeness into a wayward Pokémon and whisking it away to a magical land filled with droves of the quirky, elemental critters. Going forward, you befriend countless sprightly creatures eager to see their domain morphed into a kind of Pokémon oasis, the game’s marketed Pokémon Paradise, a continually customizable locale aiming to soon be free of any impending devilish threats. The storyline is an all-in-good-fun, honesty-versus-deceit-style yarn that’s obviously aimed at a much younger audience than the unashamed adults who still cherish the mainline Pokémon adventures so.
As expected, Gates to Infinity is candidly simplistic from head to toe, prompting minimal frustration while strengthening your assembled collective of valiant varmints. The game also boasts a silky-smooth presentation throughout; its multitude of randomly generated dungeons are never just bland, similarly lit subterranean chambers. Giving the routinely stagnant graphical architecture of the franchise the benefit of the doubt, Gates to Infinity’s limitless battlefields occasionally manage to possess individual personalities, periodically infused with a dressy 3D flair that only the 3DS’s fashionable horsepower can provide. The accompanying musical score is also a common source of contentment, sounding decidedly contemporary while rarely relinquishing its classically Nintendo-esque audible charms.
Although the dungeon designs are handled well, the actual combat and mission-based structure is where Gates to Infinity successively falters. Accepting numerous boilerplate-level tasks from the Request Board, like saving miscellaneous lost Pokémon from a certain fate or fetching uninteresting items, becomes tiresome after only a few hours of dedicated play. Following each plodding assignment, you’re quickly warped back to the hub area and forced to sit through copious text boxes packed with boring, gushy dialogue light years away from the often hysterical banter spouted by NPCs in the core Pokémon installments. Mystery Dungeon zealots won’t be displeased by the essentially untouched battle layout, which operates on a turn-based groove that only allows for the control of one Pokémon at any given moment. This wouldn’t be a major issue if the AI friendlies weren’t so assiduously dimwitted, intermittently forgetting to safeguard themselves or cast their most powerful attacks when acutely necessary.
Pokéfanatics hankering for a 3D dosage of their favorite Nintendo property might be lured in by the SimCity-ness of Gates to Infinity’s malleable Pokémon Paradise, the expansion of which (via harvesting crops, erecting buildings, increasing the population) supplies the greatest motivation for performing well in dungeons. There’s also gimmicky Magnagate mode, which has players using the 3DS’s camera to point at IRL objects, hoping to locate an active portal that leads to a bonus exploration zone. However, both facets are fleeting satisfactions indicative of the game’s indisputably ephemeral appeal. Gates to Infinity, even with its polished semblance, stands as not much more than a hurriedly prescribed placebo concocted to ease the fervent anticipation for the approaching Gen VI’s Pokémon X/Y.