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‘Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX’ is charming, addicting, and the perfect amount of fun

by Nick Black Pokémon Mystery Dungeon is an odd, but compelling, sub-series in the Pokémon franchise. The idea of humans never existing and Pokémon having to evolve, both in the natural and the philosophical sense, has always been a cool concept. Despite this, my only experience with the franchise was on the 3DS with Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity. I don’t remember hating it—in fact, I really enjoyed it—but I remember getting bored very quickly. On the other hand, I was 13 years old back then and I thought the First Pokémon movie was really good cinema…so, my memory is near perfect. But when it was announced (and pretty randomly I might add) that they were going to do a remaster of the original Pokémon Mystery Dungeon games, I must say I was curious. At first, I actually had high hopes; no one does re-releases quite like Nintendo, since they're usually packed with extra content like with Hyrule Warriors or Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. However, this is also The Pokémon Company, AKA the lazy backbone of the Nintendo Corporation. I hadn’t forgotten about Pokémon Sun and Moon re-releases being nearly the same exact games as beforehand, as well as the fact that storing Pokémon on my Switch is now somehow more expensive than my Switch Online membership. So, my expectation was a little bit mixed going in. However, this is Nintendo, and even when their lazy part does something right, they do it really, really right!

Two heroes are better than one

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Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX is a 2020 remake of the 2005 video games Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team (for the DS) and Red Rescue Team (for the Gameboy Advance). It is developed by Spike Chunsoft, published by The Pokémon Company, and can be played exclusively on the Nintendo Switch. You play as a human who has been turned into a Pokémon, based on questions you recognize from every Buzzfeed questionnaire that your friends send you and that you subsequently ignore. After waking up in your new form you are found by your partner Pokémon (which you get to pick) and find that you can’t remember anything from your previous life, except that you are human. Suddenly a distraught Butterfree runs in and asks you to save her baby Caterpie from a dreaded mystery dungeon. After saving the Caterpie, you and your partner form a rescue team in search of others in distress and peril, discover how you turned into a Pokémon, and find out how to stop the natural disasters creating the mystery dungeons in the first place. The plot of the game is pretty simple, a standard for the Pokémon franchise, but I have to say that I did enjoy going through the plot more than the average Pokémon game. Your player character may base their decisions off you, but the mystery of who your character is is actually pretty interesting. The story in general has a pretty good amount of plot twists to keep you guessing, and enough location changes happen to keep you engaged with the setting. Although I must say, the environmental part of the dungeon maps—like rivers that only water- and flying-type Pokémon can cross—are pretty dumb. More often than not they lead to dead ends. There were plenty of good characters, and the other rescue teams in particular are all interesting in their variety and morals. Gengar and his group of over-the -top “bad guy” rescue teams were always pretty hilarious. The Ekans in the group particularly has a pretty amazing running animation. But really, it is your partner Pokémon that steals the show. Your partner is like the modern-day equivalent of the “best friend” rival, found in the more modern mainline Pokémon games—only here, the character archetype works better, since you are actively working together with your partner all the time. So, it’s nice that your partner is very supportive, and pretty much a morale booster to whatever you are trying to accomplish. They have their flaws too—they feel real—but I was always happy to be around them and spend time with them. That, to me, always dictates whether or not a good character was written.

Hi-Ho! Off to The Mystery Dungeons We Go!

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The gameplay of Pokémon Mystery Dungeon is the classic top down dungeon crawler. If you ever played The Binding of Isaac or Dungeons of Dredmor,  it’s very similar to that. You play from a top-down perspective, exploring randomly-generated, tile-based dungeons. You will pick up three Pokémon to either complete all the missions on each of the floors of the dungeon, or just reach the end of the dungeon to fight a boss. And, if you know anything about Pokémon, it’s kind of funny that a level 25 Psyduck and Meowth can take down the legendary Zapdos. But for the most part, most of your time in the game will be in these dungeons, taking out angered Pokémon that get in your way and trying to collect goodies and treasures on your way to the exit. The Mystery Dungeon games play more like tactical RPGs than the core games, but as a re-release of the original games, Rescue Team DX has added a few upgrades to the dungeon mechanics. The first new feature is an Auto Mode. By pressing the L Button at any time, the player and their team will move automatically through the Dungeon until an enemy is approached or they turn it off by pressing L again. I'm not gonna lie: when I heard about this, I thought it was pretty stupid—It practically does the work for you in exploring. But after playing 20+ hours of the game, this Auto Mode is a life saver. Whether you are grinding a dungeon with a low-level team, or a story dungeon is just taking forever, this makes everything so much smoother in gameplay progress.  Additionally, using the A Button now automatically selects the best move against an opponent. Personally, I never used this; I chose to select my own moves every single time. The reason for this is that the A button prioritizes damage attacks rather than status effects and buffs. This is particularly annoying sometimes, since the A.I. is much smarter than it was in the original game. Enemies are much more aware of buffs and what moves are effective, and this can be annoying when the game does the strategizing for you. Like when my team is fighting a Moltres, I might want to use my Magnemite to use a defensive move to protect my team from Moltres’ attacks. But if I use the A button to attack with Magnemite, more often than not the game will just pick a random attack that can reach Moltres, leaving my teammates open to being one-shot.
Image from Nintendo
Another change is in how they made it easier to get new Pokémon to join your team. Taking inspiration from the mainline games, your team of Pokémon will beat the crap out of the normal encounter Pokémon and you have a random chance of them wanting to join your team after they have been defeated. The difference in the remake is that you can now increase your chances of a Pokémon wanting to join you by using orb items, or various special abilities your Pokémon can gain. Now, there are story Pokémon you get for free: Magnemite and Absol are examples of Pokémon who are given to you in the story, so you are given a complete team of three. This is along with specific Rescue Team missions where, if you complete a very challenging mission, the Pokémon you help will join your team. But generally, recruiting Pokemon from dungeons is how you raise your ranks on your teams. In fact, having a Pokémon join you in the dungeon means they will help you complete the rest of the floor, with a max limit of eight. However, you still will need camps to keep them on the team. If you don’t have a place for them to stay, sorry bro—they’re heading out (but you do get money for ending a dungeon with them, so it’s still worth it). If you need to buy a camp, then all you have to do is head down to Pokémon Square, your hub for your adventure. Each day of the game you can visit the square to get new jobs on the board, deposit items in storage and money at the bank, buy new camps from Wigglytuff, and shop for helpful items or moves. There also exists Makuhita Dojo in which, depending on the quality of the dojo ticket you give him, you can do a quick 50-60 second quick dungeon grind. The difference is, the EXP you get from these dungeons is increased substantially, so it’s a quick way to level up. Weirdly enough, I also discovered that everyone on your team—including the Pokémon in your camp—also seem to gain EXP from any level up. Yeah, it’s strange. Another strange design choice is how many menus are used to do one specific thing.  A good example is when you want your Pokémon to hold an item to increase their defense, damage dealing, or EXP gain. While you're in the hubworld, you can’t change what Item they hold by going to your inventory, but instead on the team select screen before you start a dungeon. Another example would be special items that can increase the overall stats of your Pokémon; you can’t do it from the inventory menu, but instead the Pokémon camp menu. This causes some annoyance on having to go back and forth between menus, when just putting everything on the inventory screen would be fine. Especially since if you want a Pokémon to learn a new move, you can teach them through the inventory screen. It’s not a terrible problem—I certainly wouldn’t knock points off for it—but it’s still an odd game design decision that forces you to spend a lot of time traveling from menu to menu.

Popping Colors and Atmosphere

Image from Nintendo
Menus are only a slice of the game; the whole pie is the gameplay, which is a solid dungeon crawling experience. However, does the pie look appetizing? Is it interesting enough for me to warrant picking it up? I would have to say… mostly yes. The big marketing draw of this game’s remaster was the new watercolor art style, and I must say it really works. Characters really pop out of their environments; specifically, in the set piece of a legendary Pokémon, some of them look downright gorgeous. The only drawback to the art style is when the camera pulls back: the characters popping out from long distance shots—specifically the opening cinematic of the Pokémon Square—look bad. The art style definitely works in its confined corridor aesthetic, rather than open world environments. The game also has some amazing art, and it is also very aware of that. No, I am not joking. In any menu with a beautiful art illustration, you can press the minus button to, and I quote, “Admire the Illustration.” In all seriousness, the art for the game is beautiful, even if the game developers are a little cocky about it. I especially enjoyed the character portrait art for dialogue—it does a very good job of visualizing emotions the characters go through. The one place they did drop the ball on slightly was animation. There is a lot of repetition in character animation, but that is a standard for Pokémon and dungeon crawling games so I can let that slide. What I can’t let slide are the walking cycles of Pokémon, some of which are downright bizarre. Magnemite floats like he has legs, Gengar almost folds into himself with his swagger walk, and Ekans is perfect and has absolutely nothing wrong with it. For the most part the Pokémon move just fine and smoothly; it’s just jarring when it does look uncanny. But the game itself still has a mark of quality and beauty that is commendable.
Images: Nintendo Featured Image: Nintendo

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