Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX Review
Reviewed on Nintendo SwitchAlso available on Nintendo Switch
If you've never played a Pokémon Mystery Dungeon game before, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX may be the perfect point of entry into the series for you. This delightful remake of the original "Rescue Team" games offers the same roguelike gameplay, emotional story, enchanting soundrack and unique environments that captured fans' imaginations fifteen years ago - but with a stunning new art style, modern twists, new gameplay features, and the ability to rescue friends both far and near using online functionalities, amongst other things.
The beginning of the game sees you, a human, transformed into a Pokémon with no recollection of who you are, and no idea how you ended up in the Pokémon world. The Pokémon you embody is selected through the completion of a quirky personality test, though you are able to freely select your own Pokémon from the pool of available Pokémon should the one you are assigned not be apt. Soon after meeting your equally hand-selected to-be partner, you're both immediately thrown into the exploration of a "mystery dungeon" - a randomly-generated set of maze-like environments containing items, traps, and enemy Pokémon - in order to rescue a Caterpie in danger. Through completing this initial rescue mission, your skill at dungeon-crawling is proven, and you elect to form a Pokémon rescue team in order to continue helping those affected by the calamities wreaking havoc across the Pokémon world. Together with your partner, it is up to you to investigate the strange natural disasters and help as many Pokémon along the way as you can.
Besides straightforward rescue missions, your objectives in mystery dungeons can be to find and / or deliver items, escort client Pokémon to others inside dungeons, or else complete certain tasks set by the client Pokémon themselves. All of these missions reward the player with items and / or cash, as well as a set number of rescue rank points (dependent upon the mission's difficulty) that increase your rescue team's reputation and credibility. As you progress through the game's campaign, you'll find yourself up against more challenging opponents, and you'll be battling with yourself as well to not tear up at the more emotional scenes as they unfold. While brute strength may serve you well in the earlier dungeons, you'll need to think strategically in the late game, and ensure to bring along a wealth of useful items like Oran Berries, Reviver Seeds, Apples and Max Elixirs.
Although this is not a traditional Pokémon game, there is still a "catch 'em all!" element to enjoy in the form of recruiting new members to your rescue team. Once you have unlocked a Pokémon's camp by purchasing it from the Wigglytuff Camp Corner (known as the Wigglytuff Club in the original games), you can recruit new Pokémon to your team by defeating them in dungeons, and having them opt to join you for your adventure. As you continue to upgrade your team's rank, you'll be able to recruit more and more Pokémon, and work towards having one of each species on your side. Even more challenging still is the task of recruiting all available shiny Pokémon, which have been newly-introduced to the series as of this instalment. For that, the Friend Bow - acquired in a post-campaign dungeon - is invaluable.
While Rescue Team DX is a faithful remake, in terms of its gameplay and content, there are a number of changes and additions that make it a fundamentally fresh experience. For a start, items, client Pokémon and enemies are visible at all times on the mini-map in dungeons during the campaign, and this makes it much easier to make a beeline for your objectives. Persian now gives out a free item every day for visiting Felicity Bank, and tickets for the Makuhita Dojo mean that you can farm experience points and level up your Pokémon with ease even when not exploring dungeons or completing missions. Let's not forget the nifty "fast travel" feature added in the form of Diglett's hole in front of your base, either, which allows for fast access to the Pelipper Post Office without having to trek all the way cross Pokémon Square. The set-up of this, as well as the addition of other small narrative scenes, also adds some much-needed context to some of the events that occur throughout the game.
Perhaps some of the most impressive changes, though, are in the graphic and level design, as well as the "boss battle" cutscenes and introductions. Each individual dungeon has been beautifully reinvented, with the attention to environmental detail off the charts, and the bright, yet soft, graphics really bring the vibrant Pokémon world to life. Each Pokémon has its own unique quirks and mannerisms in this game, and it is incredibly entertaining even just to watch the arrogant swagger of Gengar, or the slithering tail of Onix trying to fit through narrow corridors. Boss battles are now even more engaging, too, as the introductions to each opponent are intense and almost cinematic. This, I argue, pulls on players' heartstrings all the more, and for long-time fans, adds a new layer of nostalgic appreciation for triumphing over each one.
While it does have its positives, Rescue Team DX is not an issue-free remake, however. In many aspects, it is disappointing - particularly in terms of the effort made to reconstruct certain areas, its removal of fan-favourite features, and the unfortunate lack of challenging gameplay. The rescue team camps - once known as Friend Areas - are reduced to mere static screens with pixel-art icons for the Pokémon camping within them, as opposed to the fully-explorable mini-environments they once were in Red Rescue Team and Blue Rescue Team. The IQ system is completely gone, as is the ability to check which Pokémon from a particular dungeon have been recruited while inside that dungeon, and there is a frankly disturbing lack of dead ends in dungeons, which - when coupled with the permanent x-ray vision on enemies and items - means that some of the most challenging aspects of the original Rescue Team games are well and truly dead.
This lack of difficulty is compounded, too, by the other gameplay changes and new features. The drills at the Makuhita Dojo, as well as the changed mission rewards and transformation of the gummi system to influence stats directly, make it incredibly simple to boost your stats and overcome even the most challenging bosses. Grinding missions is very much still a valid strategy when needing an experience boost, but this is made incredibly simple with the raised cap on how many mission requests you can take on at any one time. (That is, regardless, a very welcome change in my book, though.) The added "auto mode" of exploration through tapping L takes away much of players' participation in the more mundane gameplay, too, if they are dedicated to its use; your Pokémon go off exploring dungeons on their own, only prompting you to take the reins again when an enemy Pokémon is near. This, more than anything else, takes away from the emphasis on exploring mystery dungeons and discovering their secrets.
The replayability and longevity of the game is another concern, too, with the gameplay itself - as much fun as it can be - being largely repetitive. Though the dungeons are randomly-generated and unique in their layout each time, and the strategy required to complete missions is sometimes complex, the gameplay loop itself is incredibly simple. If defeated in a dungeon, waiting for rescue or attempting it yourself may not be possible, and this is likely to cause frustration for players who have lots to lose or want to make quick progress. Once the campaign is over, there may be little to draw players back in, too, if not sold on rescuing friends or strangers over the internet, recruiting as many Pokémon as possible, or attaining the highest rescue team rank.
Overall, though, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX is a must-buy for hardcore fans of the Mystery Dungeon series, and is a welcome introduction for any new players to the Pokémon world. Despite its flaws, it is a beautiful reimagining of the original Rescue Team games, and sports a lengthy campaign and post-game for players to sink their teeth into. If you've never played a Mystery Dungeon title before, there is no better time to jump in, and explore the Pokémon world from a completely different angle.