While not the most famous franchise out there, Spike Chunsoft’s roguelike dungeon-crawler Mystery Dungeon series has nonetheless kept trucking along for decades now, building up its own niche, but dedicated, audience, by partnering with major names like Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy. In the west, their biggest success has been the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon series, which since its original appearance in 2006 on the Game Boy Advance, has had a slew of sequels across Nintendo’s platforms.
Pokemon Mystery Dungeon Rescue Team DX on Switch is a remake of the very first title on the GBA, as a way of re-introducing the franchise after a five-year long absence. The most noticeable thing, of course, is the remarkable visual update the game has undergone, making the transition into 3D graphics with a unique painterly style that distinguishes it from the normal Pokemon series. It’s attractive, and certainly goes a long way to making many of the locations you’ll be visiting often feel warm and homely, although it loses definition and can appear blurry when playing in docked mode on a large TV.
In Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, you play as a human mysteriously transformed into a Pokemon of your choosing (from a limited selection). Awakening without any memory of your former life, you quickly find you can talk to and understand other Pokemon, make best friends with another Pokemon of your choice, and decide to form a ‘rescue team’ to help Pokemon in need of aid in dungeons across the land, as earthquakes and natural disasters seem to be striking more and more frequently.
What this translates to in gameplay is taking on a series of jobs, either delivered to you by Pelipper mail or accepted from postings on a noticeboard, to reach certain levels of dungeons dotted around the map to rescue Pokemon. Movement in dungeons is grid-based, somewhat annoyingly given you have analogue movement in other areas, and can even be set to fast-forward autopilot, as you move through randomly-generated levels picking up items and cash, fighting other Pokemon and avoiding traps.
There are some peculiarities with the formula that help keep you on your toes. Dying in a dungeon means losing all your currently held cash and items, making banking your possessions at the home Pokemon town essential before setting out. You can recruit Pokemon you meet in dungeons by sending them to appropriate camps around the map, as long as you have the money on-hand to purchase them, which can fill your party out to slightly-ridiculous numbers, given the cramped nature of the game’s dungeon hallways.
Of course, being a Pokemon fan will help you if you know your type and move match-ups, as they hold true in Mystery Dungeon as well and will aid in deciding what attacks you use against which foes, and who to pit against whom. You’ll also find the familiar four-move limit with your Pokemon, as well as a bevy of TM’s which can teach them new tricks. Features like the autoplay and fast-forward dash do a lot to help you focus on the more interesting encounters and areas of the dungeons, and keep the game moving along so you can reach its many cute and charming story sequences.
The best thing Pokemon Mystery Dungeon does is in the way it fleshes out its Pokemon characters, with a story that’s kid-friendly and cute, but also manages to be genuinely funny at times and self-aware. There’s a trickster Gengar, a heroic psychic-powered Alakazam, a rambunctious Diglett (the existence of whose feet is a point of confusion for the Pokemon) and a lot more memorable figures throughout.
Your enjoyment of Pokemon Mystery Dungeon will rely entirely on your nostalgia for the original and your stomach for dungeon crawling, as Rescue Team DX at its heart is still a 2006-era Game Boy Advance dungeon crawler that adheres to the standards of that time. While I never felt the grind too heavily, that’s not to say the game isn’t inherently repetitive, and if you’re not addicted to its core formula then the game doesn’t have many tricks up your sleeve to change your mind. That said, features like the autoplay function do help speed things up substantially, and the game fares better in handheld mode when you have a spare few minutes, rather than spending hours trudging through a 90-level endgame dungeon. However, it is still fundamentally a revamp of that limited style of dungeon crawler, where the genre has moved on in the intervening years.
Nevertheless, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon Rescue Team DX is still a charming, visually appealing and enjoyable dungeon crawler, that combines Pokemon elements with the Mystery Dungeon formula to make something that’s easily approachable and fun to play, albeit in short spurts. If this is able to re-establish the series with its new visual style on the Nintendo Switch, then I’d like where the series can go from here, with a modernised take on the formula.
-Charming characters and story -Fun mix of dungeon crawling and Pokemon mechanics -Cute and appealing refresh of the series' visual design
-At its core still an aging dungeon crawler that can get repetitive -Soft visual look when in docked mode