[Review] Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX – Nintendo Switch

Written by Abram Buehner
  • Developer: Spike Chunsoft
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Release Date: 06/03/2020
  • Price: £49.99 / $59.99
  • Review Code provided by Nintendo

Introducing: Pokémon Mystery Dungeon Switch Review

The Nintendo Switch has already built up a vibrant library of brand-new, first-party titles that have dazzled the community. From Breath of the Wild to Luigi’s Mansion 3, there is unrestrained creativity ebbing and flowing throughout the entire catalog. In parallel to these titles, the Nintendo Switch has begun to build up a second class of exclusives as well: remakes of beloved Nintendo classics. From Pokémon Let’s Go and Link’s Awakening to the upcoming Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition, this facet of the library has begun to take off as well, to mixed results. These titles have resonated with some and not with others, with detractors citing the ways in which the remakes have not legitimately modernized these classic titles. Such sentiments clearly apply to the newest Switch remake, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX. It is a charming and engaging game that unfortunately shows its age, suffering from a lack of revision and polish.

Radiant Storytelling

As a consolidated remake of Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Red Rescue Team on GBA and Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team on DS, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX will be immediately familiar to those who have played either original title. In essence, Rescue Team DX is simply a visually revitalized version of this classic, procedurally-generated, turn-based dungeon crawler that thrusts the player into the center of a lively, heart-felt Pokémon narrative. That final point is of the utmost importance and apparent from the game’s wholly unique, opening sequence.

The game begins with the player taking what amounts to a personality test, with the answers supplied matching the player with a Pokémon of a similar temperament who acts as the game’s protagonist. Sure, Rescue Team DX does give the option to pick a different Pokémon to play as, should you be dissatisfied with the pocket monster you’re assigned. But, there’s something to be said for the bond between the player and the Pokémon that shares similar personality traits. This opening immediately cements the intimate narrative of Mystery Dungeon DX. Before the core Pokémon titles began to shoehorn grander stories into the experiences, Mystery Dungeon provided a level of considered storytelling that is still unmatched in the franchise.

Returning to the Rescue Team narrative in this DX release was truly one of the standout elements of my time with the game. While I played Blue Rescue Team extensively as a kid, I never saw it through to its conclusion, and what narrative beats I did reach back then, I had almost entirely forgotten. With the DX port, I was reintroduced to the game’s sharp writing and multilayered plot. This truly is a unique take on the world of Pokémon, one that characterizes its inhabitants in both humorous and human manners. It is a surprisingly emotional adventure, and its exploration of themes such as courage, friendship and confidence kept me engaged throughout my playthrough.

Presentation Peaks and Valleys

Past its radiant narrative, though, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX is a less successful experience. This is perhaps most obvious in its presentation, which vacillates between being positively stunning and surprisingly unpolished. At times, the game’s soft, watercolor aesthetic elegantly captures the feeling of the world. At others, though, the rigid animations and under baked models leave the world feeling half-hearted and a little fuzzy.

The music is an equally mixed bag. The lion’s share of its tracks are upbeat and catchy, with some truly sensitive and emotional tunes that bolster particular story beats. However, it’s impossible to discuss the music without also noting how unceasingly repetitive its score is. The music tends to become grating after a while, especially if a track doesn’t connect with the player. On the whole, the presentation hits some remarkable highs, but also some disappointing lows.

Exploring Dungeons, Again, and Again

The gameplay is equally as mixed. However, for my tastes, it leans in the positive direction. The Donphan in the room, of course, is that the Mystery Dungeon gameplay is incredibly repetitive in the eyes of many. On a core level, this is hard to dispute. The gameplay centers around exploring floor after floor of various dungeons, defeating Pokémon in familiar, turn-based combat. Each floor is procedurally generated with a smattering of items, traps, and enemies to keep the player engaged. It’s all rather basic, and the fact that floors are procedurally generated lead to a lot of dull moments, as the environments themselves never present any visual or mechanical individuality. Speaking from this most fundamental level, the gameplay in Rescue Team DX isn’t anything to write home about.

To further complicate things, exploration doesn’t even feel particularly great on a mechanical level, as the entire game is confined to grid-based movement inside of dungeons. It all feels so stiff, especially when contrasted to the overworld movement which is not hampered by a grid. This system is a necessary function of Rescue Team DX’s turn-based combat where moving one tile equates to a turn the same way firing off an attack would, but that doesn’t change the fact that movement is just clunky, plain and simple.

Pokémon Fisticuffs

Combat fares better and provides a tactile satisfaction on a base level. It isn’t nearly as nuanced as the battles in the core series, even though it operates on the same rock-paper-scissors principles. Assuming direct control of Pokémon themselves to take turns volleying attacks still engages the Pokémon dork inside of me, even if monsters politely taking turns to hit each other doesn’t make that much logical sense.

Landing hits is punchy though, and seeing a particularly tough enemy fade away leaving a wave of experience points in its wake is rewarding every time. The combat isn’t without its flaws though, as some enemies have attacks that can hit every Pokémon in a room regardless of how far away they are for nearly one-hit KO damage, which is always infuriating. To that effect, there are many instances of the combat simply being unbalanced in this manner, which is especially frustrating considering how punishing Rescue Team DX can be.

Trials of a Rescue Team

That final point about the stakes in Rescue Team DX feeds into exactly why the game is so engaging though, for as clumsy as it may be. The apparatus surrounding the core gameplay is fascinating, layered with metasystems to engage with. The crux of the gameplay loop revolves around taking on quests within dungeons. Most often, the quests involve reaching a particular floor and saving a stranded Pokémon, because, unsuprisingly, this is the principle responsibility of a Pokémon Rescue Team.

It is no trivial matter either, as a failed mission results in the Rescue Team needing a rescue, and a fumbled rescue results in the loss of all money and items the player had at the time of defeat. As such, proper training at the Makuhita Dojo to strengthen the team, ample and considered use of items collected in dungeons, and the recruitment of other Pokémon becomes essential for success.

The Importance of Strategy

All of these systemic facets of the gameplay require their own deliberate planning, and bolster the rewarding feeling of completing a quest. Whether that quest is as simple as crawling deep into a dungeon to rescue a stranded Plusle or as herculean as defeating a legendary boss Pokémon, effective micromanaging and strategy is important. Plus, simply exploring a dungeon requires its own tactical approach as you have to juggle the hunger system, enemy Pokémon movement, any potential treasure, and the overarching quest goal. In certain circumstances, charging directly to the stairs on each floor is optimal, while other circumstances allow for careful exploration and item collection. It all depends on what the player wants to prioritize. There is a lot of room for flexibility and customization in Mystery Dungeon DX, which makes the experience that much more compelling.

All of this strategy is essential, too, considering that the game becomes legitimately difficult toward the later phases of the adventure. While a portion of that difficulty is fabricated and frustrating, largely stemming the increased prevalence of Pokémon with the aforementioned ability to target everyone in a room, the lion’s share of the difficulty curve is fair and can be overcome with a properly considered approach. While, yes, at its core the gameplay is undeniably repetitive and somewhat clumsy, the systems layered on top of it keep the dungeon crawling feeling fun and engaging.

A Hesitant Recommendation

With everything considered, Rescue Team DX is left in a strange position. Based on my fifteen hours with the game, I would recommend it. For my tastes, I really enjoyed playing through the main game and I am looking forward to diving into the postgame content. The story resonated with me, and I found great satisfaction in the gameplay. However, that recommendation is saddled by many caveats. The presentation is wildly uneven and its gameplay is fundamentally flawed. If more time and attention had been spent legitimately retooling aspects of the experience for the remake, I would’ve been able to recommend the game more emphatically. As it stands, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon Rescue Team DX is a good game that could’ve been much more.

Pros

  • Superb narrative
  • Engaging, strategic elements
  • Tactile combat

Cons

  • Wildly uneven presentation
  • Repetitive core gameplay
  • Stiff movement
  • Occasionally unfair enemy attacks

Verdict

Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX is an enjoyable dungeon crawler that suffers from a laundry list of issues that hold it back from being something truly special.

3.5/5

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