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Column: 'Critical Reception: Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team'

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Nintendo's dungeon crawler Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team for the Nintendo DS, a licensed take on ChunSoft's long-running Fushigi no Dungeon series.
This week's edition of the regular Critical Reception column examines online reaction to Nintendo's dungeon crawler Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team for the Nintendo DS, a licensed take on ChunSoft's long-running Fushigi no Dungeon series. Though it may have achieved success and widespread acclaim in Japan, the Fushigi no Dungeon series of roguelike dungeon hacks has never really caught on in America. English localizations of Fushigi no Dungeon spinoff titles like Torneko: The Last Hope for the Sony PlayStation and the recent The Nightmare of Druaga for the PS2 sold poorly in the United States, and earned mediocre review scores from critics. Last week's dual release of Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team for the Nintendo DS and Red Rescue Team for the Game Boy Advance was a shot in the arm for the ailing series, however, as both titles quickly became top sellers for their respective platforms. Despite the Pokémon name, though, the Fushigi no Dungeon gameplay formula remains largely unchanged in either title. How will critics react to this new Pokémon-infused take on a series that they have historically regarded with disinterest? Blue Rescue Team's current average review score of 66% at Gamerankings.com suggests that with or without the Pokémon license, the appeal of Fushigi no Dungeon continues to be lost on many reviewers. Frank Provo of GameSpot was one of several reviewers left unimpressed by Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team. "Lovers of all things Pokémon are bound to be disappointed by Pokémon Mystery Dungeon," Provo claims in his 5.2-out-of-10 review, explaining that the title "has more in common with a litany of dungeon hacks than it does with any of Nintendo's traditional Pokémon role-playing games." Provo's main issues are with the game's simplicity and lack of variety. "Dungeon hacks are repetitive by nature, but this one takes sameness too far," says Provo. "Chiefly, the design is overly simplistic and gets old really fast." Provo concludes: "It may contain plenty of recognizable Pokémon creatures and incorporate some of the franchise's key concepts, but it's nowhere near as diverse, slick, or fun as the canonical Pokémon role-playing games produced by Game Freak." 1UP.com's Ray Barnholt thoroughly enjoyed Blue Rescue Team, however, scoring it at 8.5 out of 10. Barnholt describes the title as "the best iteration of the Mysterious Dungeon series so far," and states that the Fushigi no Dungeon formula "works wonders on the DS." Barnholt finds that Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team's simplicity works in its favor, and that the dungeon crawling aspect is addictive. "Gaining multiple levels on one dungeon floor is satisfying enough to make you want more," Barnholt says. "It's simply raw action roleplaying." "PokeMax" from Gamepro.com, on the other hand, thinks that Blue Rescue Team's flawed gameplay and lack of adherence to its source material will "raise the ire of longtime fans." "Like most spin-off titles, Mystery Dungeon fails to capture the spirit and replay incentives that made the core products so irresistible to gamers of all ages," he explains, rating the title at a mediocre 2.5 out of 5. "Pokemax" summarizes: "If endless dungeon crawling is your thing, then you should give this title a whirl. However, if monotonous gaming and skimpy Pokémon action aren't your thing, then this is one mystery that's best left unsolved." Despite a lukewarm critical reception, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team and Red Rescue Team remain big sellers in the week following their initial release. Whether both titles will continue to do brisk business in the coming weeks -- and whether consumer reaction to the Fushigi no Dungeon gameplay formula will mirror the disappointment of many critics -- remains to be seen.

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