In a time when everything is spinning out of control and the best thing to do is stay at home, games that provide a fantasy of overcoming disaster with the power of friendship and perseverance are a soothing balm on my nerves.
Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX is one of those games, for both the young and the young at heart.
The Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series, a roguelike dungeon crawler spin-off to the main Pokémon series, first appeared in the era of Gameboy Advance and Nintendo DS. Nearly fifteen years later, the original instalments Red Rescue Team and Blue Rescue Team have been remade for the Switch as Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX.
I will travel across the land, searching far and wide
Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX provides Pokémon with their very own human-free world. That is until you, a human, mysteriously wake up in the shape of a Pokémon.
Nice try, Pokémon; you can’t escape my friendship that easily!
Which Pokémon you take the form of depends on you. The personality quiz dubbed me a Cubone (which is ridiculous; I’m obviously a Chikorita). Thankfully, there is an option to choose your own avatar from a list of sixteen Generation 3 Pokémon. It’s a great design choice, providing both the option to escape from the Cult of Pikachu and the illusion of a unique gameplay experience.
To combat the increasing disasters occurring in Pokémon World, you become part of a “rescue team”. This involves travelling across the land, rescuing some Pokémon, battling others, all while hunting for the truth of your condition. Gameplay alternates between rescue missions and the central town hub. There you can shop, chat with other Pokémon, manage your inventory, and accept missions.
The missions of Pokémon Mystery Dungeon have many elements you’d expect to find in a roguelike dungeon crawler. Maps randomly generate, and both movement and attacks are turn-based. Enemies also adhere to the turn system, not moving until you do.
Quite polite of them, really.
The battles themselves are turn-based skirmishes, that obey the same rock-paper-scissors that decree Ghost is super effective against Psychic but weak to Dark, but play out on the map as opposed to a separate instance. Battles also finish faster than an Abra escapes battle in Pokémon Blue. Linking moves, enabling two to be used on the same turn, leads to most battles taking about five seconds.
Or maybe I’m just REALLY good at Mystery Dungeon.
Part of me does wonder if this streamlined approach removes what makes Pokémon battles special. Battles feel empty without NPC trainer bravado and discussions with Youngster Trainers about comfy and easy to wear shorts.
You’re my best friend, in a world we must defend
NPC trash talking aside, you wouldn’t usually play the main Pokémon series for the story alone. Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX, on the other hand, has a quietly compelling main story and extensive post-main story content that gave me motivation to continue the dungeon grind.
And it is a grind. The randomly generated maps all boil down to a few large rooms connected by corridors, with scant variety. Combined with how easy the battles are (until post-game, anyway), and how similar the missions become, it all blurs together very quickly. The titbits of story gifted after each dungeon were what pushed me to continue to return to Uproar Forest again and again, beyond any desire to spend another minute in that Mankey-infected place.
Admittedly, this is a storytelling experience geared towards a younger audience. There are few complexities, and the antagonists are literally named “Team Meanies”. This is a gentle tale about supporting friends through hard times. To be frank, we could all use this at this time.
And in many ways, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX better captures the themes of friendship than the main series. For example, your “partner” Pokémon sticks with and up for the player, even when you’re unsure if you deserve it.
Maybe I just got too caught up in the story, but I was genuinely moved.
While there are no Pokéballs in sight, you can recruit a variety of other Pokémon friends to join on runs. Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX is a kind world, where excess Pokémon stay in beautifully illustrated “camps”, especially suited to the needs of different Pokémon types.
This world knows not the cold limbo of the Box.
This wholesome romp is accompanied by a variety of light-hearted tunes. While some of struck me as outdated, it never felt phoned-in.
You teach me and I’ll teach you
One of the main criticisms of the original Red and Blue Pokémon Mystery Dungeon outings were the underwhelming visuals. It’s no surprise then that Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX has an entirely new visual identity, with a beautiful hand-drawn aesthetic throughout.
Admittedly, I didn’t truly appreciate its prettiness until I played on a small screen. On a large TV screen, the visuals look overly basic. In handheld mode, though, the style is absolutely stunning.
Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX is much more than a new slick coat of paint, however. Mega Evolutions are now a thing, alongside a few quality of life improvements, like Auto-save and an increased maximum team size of eight.
Inventory management continues to be a chore. Let’s be honest, it always is. The repetitive dungeon grind possibly wouldn’t have bothered me so much if it didn’t take so darn long to move items in and out of storage. The Dungeon preparation screen allows for some item arrangement, but remains way more of a chore than it needs to be.
Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX also features an Auto-mode, whereby your Pokemon team will explore the dungeon without your input based on your choice of tactics. This subtracts from the already minimal brain power required to progress the game. However, this isn’t a game you can run AFK – the auto-mode pauses whenever a hostile Pokémon comes into line of sight, which is every 5-10 seconds or so.
Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX, while sporting a beautiful new make-over, remains the same game with the same flaws as the original Blue and Red Rescue Teams. In particular, the low difficulty level and overly repetitive dungeons may not be enough to hold everyone’s attention for long.
But while Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX isn’t the perfect game, its low energy requirements combined with its soft and soothing feel-good story are a perfectly pleasant diversion.
For many of us in these uncertain times, it could be just what Nurse Joy ordered.