We’ve all been there. We’ve sat and watched an episode of Pokémon and wondered what it would be like to be on the other side. No I don’t mean to be Team Rocket, but to be one of the little monsters running around saying “Psy-ai-ai”, and have everyone else around you understand what you’re saying, as they “Pika-pika-chuuuuu!” their way through the conversation.
Well, ladies, gentlemen and Pokémon fans, your wait is over! Admittedly it’s been over for 14 years, because the latest instalment in the Mystery Dungeon series is a remake of two games, remastered and smushed together. Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX is an amalgamation of the paired games Red Rescue Team and Blue Rescue Team from the Game Boy Advance and DS respectively, bringing this interesting side-franchise to the Nintendo Switch.
In Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX, you play as one of 16 Pokémon, as chosen for you by a vaguely amusing personality test. By answering a series of randomised questions, you are assigned a Pokémon that best fits your personality… which you can then immediately ignore and your favourite Pokémon instead. You then pick your second favourite Pokémon, your best friend for the game, and you set off on an adventure.
What ensues is a beautifully watercolour world of cute little wiggles. It is impossible not to think the game is ridiculously cute as you and your partner trawl your way through endless ‘mystery dungeons’. These are mission locations with randomised floors full of items to collect, Pokémon that want to attack you, and Pokémon you’re trying to rescue. As you rescue Pokémon, the rank of your rescue team increases and the story starts to unfold.
Despite the game being more than a decade old, and the entire plot already being available online, I’m not going to delve into the story because it’s the kind of thing that you really don’t want to spoil. The premise, which is set up in the playable demo (the save file of which carries over into the main game), is that you’re a human in a Pokémon’s body, the world is being wracked by natural disasters, and only you and your limitless pep can stop it. Suffice to say that there is mild peril, tonnes of cuteness — I smile every time my Mudkip does a backflip or my Charmander congratulates himself — and hours of fun.
This peril is actually perfect. Although it may upset younger (very young) fans, I’d argue that it’s just the right amount to stop the game from being overly saccharine. Like the main franchise, which is jammed full of the macabre to give the world a sense of depth and realness, Mystery Dungeon isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Truth be told, the scariest thing about the game is the forced autosave and permanent item loss when your team gets knocked out. This game has a mean streak at times, and it’s heartbreaking when you lose a rare item because you were overly ambitious.
The tasks your completing are pretty repetitive – go and rescue Weedle, bring Wurmple to Cacnea’s side, find Scyther’s Particular – and it’s all about as interesting as finding a Zubat in Mt Moon, but despite that, crawling through the dungeons is surprisingly moreish. Some of that might just be from your Pokémon’s cute little wiggle as they move.
While you can’t catch Pokémon – could you imagine the chaos if Pokémon could catch one another? – you can befriend those you meet along the way. This generally happens when you beat the living tar out of something, the game occasionally telling you that your opponent felt the bond of kinship and now wants to join you. This process is entirely randomised, which can be extremely annoying; the emotional rollercoaster of seeing, beating and then not befriending that shiny Rapidash is like killing the last unicorn. You know that something magical was there a second ago, but thanks to the game’s autosave, you can’t turn back time and make things go differently.
With no Pokédex to fill, you’ll be earning Poké coins, buying an exorbitant number of ‘camps’ from your local Wigglytuff, and letting your new team members stay there. There’s no tangible benefit to this other than filling the third slot in your team with a Pokémon that has a useful moveset, type or ability. It’s worth noting at this point that the camps either need to bought ahead of time or with a rare single use item that lets you talk to Wigglytuff from anywhere. This system is needlessly unforgiving.
Interestingly enough, all Pokémon in the game can learn a rare ability. These range from Squad Up, which helps you make new friends, to Sales Pitch, which allows you to sell items for more money in a dungeon. Since the skills themselves are seemingly randomised, as is whether or not a given dungeon even has a shop, some skills are more useful than others.
Another fun addition is that, like in the anime, your attacks develop over time. Watching the show, there were frequent competitions to see whose Metapod could Harden the quickest or strongest, and whose Charmander had the most powerful Ember attack. In the main game series, however, Ember has a set power. It gets stronger as you raise your level, but that goes for all of your attacks. In Rescue Team DX, the more you use Ember, the stronger your Ember gets. It gets more PP (more uses), more attack power, better accuracy and better range, which is a nice touch. You can also link moves if you wish, so you can use two moves at once, although I found this to be of little use — particularly in longer dungeons where every PP matters.
Last, but not least, the artwork in this remake is simply gorgeous. The world is lent a watercolour style, and it’s a great touch being able to remove the overlay on the pre-game menu screens and world map just so that you can admire the artwork. The only downside here is that it doesn’t scale up from handheld to TV as well as you’d hope — it’s not a deal breaker, but it could have been a little cleaner. All in all, creatively and artistically, the game is a delight.