Unlike the complex name it was lumbered with, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX is a basic grind through an aging world.
I wasn’t originally familiar with the game from which Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX is based on. As a franchise, Pokémon is a genre I have ducked in and out of over the years. Its digital offerings have been a rather mixed bag and remain relatively unchanged in terms of formula and execution over the last decade (and doesn’t the internet love to remind them of that fact).
I thought I knew the only story beats that Pokémon had to offer. A certain kid comes of age, gets a Pokémon, goes on a quest to get more Pokémon, and becomes the best there ever was. Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX reinvents that wheel by sending you on an almost nightmarish trip, playing as a human who wakes up as a Pokémon. The iconic creature that you wake up as is also based on how you answer several Buzzfeed-esque questions. Once your personality has been insulted and matched to an appropriate breed of Pokémon (the loner Cubone in my instance), you get to choose your companion. This will be the teammate who’ll have your back throughout your career as a dungeon-crawling hero.
This body-horror narrative remake of Pokémon Rescue Team Blue and Pokémon Rescue Team Red, for the Game Boy Advance, is wrapped in beautiful packaging. The new art style by developer Spike Chunsoft really adds a charm to the game. The title has a notable child-like innocence, with hand-drawn backdrops and a wholesome tone of helping the helpless.
The magic of the set dressing is unfortunately hampered by the theme of monotony, which is used as a crutch, allowing the player to limp through what should be a fun and colourful world. Originally released in 2005, the game from which Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX is based is still painfully present. Sure, it’s a loving homage, but the outdated game at its core is its own downfall.
The premise is a relatively simple one. You and your companion are the founders of a Rescue Team, a group committed to helping those in need. There seems to be several natural disasters causing trouble for the inhabitants of this Pokémon world, which may be a nod to the ongoing climate crisis, and they need your help to get out of a bind. As you play, your two-person squad is bolstered by other memorable personalities as you either defeat them in combat or complete certain mission objectives.
As in other Pokémon games, growing your team and learning special moves is the focus and drive of the gameplay loop. Although fun, it’s typical franchise fare at this point. That’s not to say nothing has been changed for this remake. Notable additions to the source game include the aforementioned graphical upgrade, exploration auto-mode, an expanded team size (from four to eight), as well as mega evolutions.
Actually moving through the dungeons of Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX is the least fun part of the game, and it’s what you’ll spend a large portion of your time doing. The procedural generation of opponents and rewards does little to mix up the commonality between each area. After only a few hours you’ll have pretty much gotten all the new experiences you’re going to get from this game. Enemies mirror your movements, shambling towards you as your characters move on a grid-like system. Combat is easy to operate and can be as automated as you like. While learning new moves can add a little diversity to encounters, battles feel like they’re getting in the way of the game. They’re more of a nuisance than a challenge, preventing you from exploring further but not being high enough stakes for the pacing to feel right.
Outside of the dungeons, you are relatively free to explore the condensed world above. Whether shopping in Pokémon Square or painstakingly tweaking the intricacies of your Rescue Team, there almost feels like there should be more to do. With a world as rich as Pokémon, and with a plot as unique as this, the age of the core game shines through more than ever. We’ve been spoiled with epic adventures and deep lore over the last decade and a half, so much so that a half-hearted revival of a game from the past just won’t cut it anymore.
Where this game does excel is its writing and visual presentation. The characters you meet are genuinely memorable and humorous. Hand drawn expressions of distress and joy just add to the sense of fun. The happy-go-lucky Eevee in my playthrough was adorably optimistic about the world and their place in it, so much so that I was honestly getting Parvarti vibes. Being a clueless human, trapped in the emo body of a Cubone, was almost ironic given how uninterested I seemed in figuring out the mystery behind my transmutation. Cubone, in particular, does seem like that person in your friend group who’d just go with the flow on an adventure, following everyone else, even if they were miserable about it and hated every second.
I was also particularly impressed by the personality quiz section which decided my fate. Worryingly, my game picked up on depression and loneliness in the answers I provided which, although inaccurate (I wear my loner status as a badge of honour), did ask if I was okay and encouraged me to speak to someone if not. I was impressed at the responsibility and foresight that this game assumed, especially with a potentially impressionable audience.
Is Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX a must-buy? No. Is Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX a good remake? Yes. Could more have been done with such a promising story, rather than giving a fifteen-year-old game a fresh coat of paint? Almost definitely.