Title: Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Genre: Role-Playing, Adventure
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Age Rating: PEGI 7
Release Date: 06/03/2020
Price: £49.99 – Rapid Reviews was very kindly provided with a review code for this title.
The Poke-moniker carries with it a weight of expectation which is only possible through the release of top-notch gaming goodness over the years. With the series evolving over the last few decades, iteration after iteration has seen changes for the better, and some for the worst. Unfortunately, you can’t please everyone.
It is this poignant fact which offers the perfect introduction to the latest Pokémon release on the Switch, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX. This remake of the series spin-off from 2005 on the Nintendo DS will not be for everyone. If that wasn’t already evident from the lack of furore when it was announced a mere two months ago at the January Direct, or the absence of debate over Pokédex-gate this time around, it is clear as day from the scarcity of buzz about this title amongst the gaming community.
In short, this is not the Pokémon we know and love. That’s not to say that it isn’t an enjoyable gaming experience, it’s just a far cry from the mainline Pokémon series that many players are familiar with. Crawling through a series of dungeons using a grid-based system in which you move yourself and your rescue team friends one square at a time is so far removed from the free-roaming wild area of the latest Pokémon iteration, Sword and Shield.
Moving your Pokémon forward, one square at a time, to explore dungeons and complete rescue missions is the staple of this Spike Chunsoft-developed title and its success as a concept is wildly varied. There are moments when Mystery Dungeon conjures the sort of emotion synonymous with the Poké branding, however, it is all too common for it to feel repetitive and a little underdeveloped.
The game begins with the selection of a Pokémon for the journey ahead, only this time Professor Oak isn’t around. Instead, through a series of questions about the player’s personality and preferences, a Pokémon is selected for you which best suits your nature. This makes for an engaging opener and a welcome change of discourse from the ‘pick a starter Pokémon from the three I have available for you’ that has become a little tiresome of late. Once selected, you will then be given the option to choose another from a variety of different Pokémon who will aid you on your quests.
Build a rescue team to take on mysterious, changing dungeons and strategically plan your moves as you venture forth to make the Pokémon world a safer place…and uncover your true purpose along the way.Nintendo eShop listing
After an introduction to the mechanics and the general gist of the story shared, you are then free to pick up quests and embark on dungeon expeditions. Quests are given to you via the post-box, delivered by a bright blue bird each morning, or through the advancement of the main story arc. Before heading out on an adventure, you explore the Cental Hub – reminiscent of that of another game involving monsters, Monster Hunter Generations – where you can: spend money on items and TMs at the local shop, use Dojo Vouchers to improve the level of your Pokémon, store your wares, or speak with Wigglytuff to purchase new caves for your rescue teammates to live in. You can also chat with the local mon who roam the town however the conversation gets old rather quickly.
Once out on a mission, you move across a grid system with the rescue team in tow as you search for new items, Pokémon in distress, or enemies to battle with. For every move you make, all enemy monsters make one too, and so begins a strategic dungeon dance across a number of floors. What you are looking for in the cave may be on floor 9, so you are required to uncover the sprawling map of the current floor before happening across a set of stairs which will take you further into the dungeon.
The focus of the missions is the battling of the wild Pokémon, and this is where the familiarity with the series will be felt most. Via a turn-based battle system, you face-off, utilising the skillset of your rescue team to defeat the enemies first. There are some differences to the proceedings here though, the most significant of which is the way the other members of your team engage in battle and how the rest of the dungeon is still moving in real-time whilst the battle takes place. For example, if you have a Pokémon who has a long-range attack, they can use this if they are in range of the enemy. This strategic element plays a pivotal role in ensuring battles stay varied and interesting, particularly as other components of Mystery Dungeon aren’t as engaging.
The map design is unfortunately where Mystery Dungeon begins to falter, as some of the dungeon floors become too expansive and uninteresting as you progress further into the game. There are also elements of the maps known as corridors which are only one square in width. This means that when encountering an enemy here, only the Pokémon first in line can attack. It can become rather frustrating to only have one to do battle with. It becomes even more frustrating when you happen to have a Pokémon at the front of the line which isn’t the one you are in control of (you can only control the three Pokémon in your team but can recruit members on the fly during the dungeon crawling which are AI controlled.) What ensues is a battle whereby you have to instruct the one you are controlling to make a move, even though it won’t hit, just so that AI can take its turn and engage in battle.
The controls themselves feel clunky too. It would be remiss to think that a fresh lick of paint is indicative of all else that is on offer here. Unfortunately, beneath the truly excellent artistic reimagining of Mystery Dungeon is an archaic control scheme which is much more in keeping with yesteryear than it is with the modern day. A lot of quality of life improvements could have been made with Mystery Dungeon, however, opportunities have been missed. There is merit in keeping the game similar to that of the original, however, there isn’t enough here to persuade new players nor engage the old.
A simple example of this is the options available to you when you are defeated in a dungeon and need to be rescued yourself. You can send out a distress call with a monetary reward for anyone who is willing to come and heal your merry band of travellers. This can be done over the internet as a post to anyone looking for a job, or a request sent between friends. The latter is completed by sending a 30-character passcode comprised of letters, numbers, symbols and colours for your friend to access. It is a bizarre design which doesn’t have a place in gaming anymore. You can also use members of your own team to go and rescue the others which is much more convenient than waiting for others to do it for you, however, this option seemed the least well-advertised.
The aforementioned watercolour-inspired visuals are exceptional and I never tired of seeing just how this artistic direction unfolded. The accompanying storyline is also superb, with light-hearted humour and a feasible Poké-plot providing just enough variety to keep players invested during the main quests. It is such a shame that these sturdy foundations haven’t been built upon sufficiently, as there is evidence here that this game was worth a remaster, even though it may not have been first on the list.
There is an option in Mystery Dungeon to play out the entirety of the dungeon crawling elements in ‘Auto Mode’ by clicking L. By choosing between ‘Exploring’ and ‘Finding the Stairs’, you can have your team move around the dungeon by themselves, only giving control back to the player when an enemy is encountered. It is here that I wish to offer my final thoughts. If the dungeon crawling aspect of Mystery Dungeon was as engaging and intuitive as it should have been, there would be no need for an ‘Auto Mode.’ Instead, it became a necessity as the dungeon grind began to set in during the latter parts of the game.
It almost feels as though this, when coupled with the rather random announcement and short time between that and the release, is representative of the overall feel of Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX. It is good without ever being great, and its shortcomings haven’t been addressed to make it a must-have title for the Nintendo Switch. Resigned to this before release, its as if the game was released into the wild in the hope that a core group of die-hard Pokémon fans would enjoy it and a few may tag along for the ride. Personally, I enjoyed it for a while, but it left me more disappointed at the thought of what could have been.
Rapid Reviews Rating
You can buy Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX on the Nintendo eShop here.
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.