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Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX review: A monotonous adventure

Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Dungeon DX
Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX review: A monotonous adventure
MSRP $59.99
“Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX squanders its charming premise with repetitive gameplay.”
  • Colorful visuals
  • Endearing story
  • Deepened team-building
  • Dull level design
  • Repetitive combat
  • Unwieldy party size
  • Overly simplified new features

Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX is a colorful remake of a 2005 Game Boy Advance dungeon crawler that’s fully committed to entertaining the franchise’s youngest fans. But it also serves as a tangible example of the tension the entire Pokémon franchise is under. Developers are struggling to find a balance between young players learning the ropes and veterans who were raised on the original games.

Much like Pokémon Sword and Shield, that means making sacrifices that might annoy fans looking for an experience that grows with them. While some fans complained about Sword and Shield’s light difficulty, others defended developer Game Freak’s decision with a simple rallying cry: these games are for children. The same can be said for the new Nintendo Switch game, but the case is less convincing this time around.

Rather than breathing new life into a game that could have used some shine, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX is a monotonous, though undeniably charming, re-imagining that’s so focused on simplification that it forgets to be fun.

Just tap A

Instead of following a bright-eyed Pokémon trainer, Rescue Team DX casts the player as a Pokémon themselves — or at least a human trapped in a Pokémon’s body. Players assemble a team of friends and set off to rescue fellow critters from randomly generated dungeons.

That’s more exciting on paper than it is in practice. The bulk of the game is spent crawling through floor after floor of indistinguishable map layouts with a team of up to eight Pokémon. In each level, players gather resources, rescue Pokémon by talking to them or delivering an item, attack enemies, and hunt for an exit. It’s a rinse and repeat flow that quickly begins to feel like Pokémon’s version of Groundhog Day.

That change makes Rescue Team DX feel less like Pokémon, with its knack for fine-tuned battling, and more like a mobile game.

The lifeless dungeons and repetitive gameplay loop don’t do the game any favors, but combat is its main weak point. The game awkwardly drops turn-based battling into free-roam exploration, creating a start-and-stop pace that feels like a constant stutter. It doesn’t help that the game still uses jerky, four-directional movement in dungeons, even though players have full directionality outside of those spaces.

It’s easy to blame that on the 15-year-old game’s now rusty design, but Rescue Team DX only exacerbates the problem in its attempt to modernize the original. In the Game Boy Advance games, players fight by choosing their attacks from a menu, carefully planning out each action as one would in a normal Pokémon battle. While that playstyle is still available here, a new, primary control option allows players to simply press A to execute their Pokémon’s most powerful attack. That means that many battles can be won by hammering one button until the enemy is defeated.

Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX
Image used with permission by copyright holder

That change makes Rescue Team DX feel less like Pokémon, with its knack for fine-tuned battling, and more like a mobile game where mindless tapping will lead to victory eventually.

It’s a shame, because the rest of the franchise’s ingredients are present. There’s a satisfying “Catch ’em all” mechanic, classic type advantages, and a team-building aspect, all of which should lay the groundwork for a familiar spin-off that playfully experiments with the genre. Instead, it sucks the childlike wonder out of a fun premise by making the secret lives of Pokémon seem profoundly boring.

New but not improved

The one-button battle system isn’t the remake’s only change. Rescue Team DX is filled with new features and quality of life improvements that are meant to beef the experience up. The addition of shiny Pokémon and mega evolutions make collecting exciting. There are more moves available, a passive perk system, and new ways to buff Pokémon and their attacks, all of which give team-building a little more depth.

Not every new feature improves the experience. The remake increases team size from six to eight and allows players to recruit defeated enemies at random within dungeons. As party size grows, gameplay changes from tactical grid-based combat to a chaotic mosh pit that’s difficult to manage. Once more Pokémon are in the mix, the game almost plays itself, with most encounters ending before the player even has a chance to launch an attack of their own.

Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX
Image used with permission by copyright holder

It’s a bit like an older brother handing his sibling an unplugged controller and tricking them into thinking they’re playing. I often found myself feeling like that clueless child as my teammates attacked enemies and moved around in ways that felt entirely out of my control. When I’d try to escape a situation so I could regroup with my rescue team, my character would stop so the camera could whip back to other Pokemon having all the fun.

Rescue Team DX doesn’t feel improved so much as a misguided pivot that mistakes simplicity for accessibility.

It’s a change that feels like it’s designed to make the experience easier for kids, but it goes so far that it’s nearly condescending. There’s even a new Auto Mode, which will make the team move around the dungeon on their own by pressing L.

The design choices are somewhat strange considering that children had no trouble latching onto Pokémon Red and Blue when the series first came out. Even working with the Game Boy’s limitations, Game Freak delivered a complex, but accessible RPG that everyone could enjoy. The Pokémon Company has always struggled to recreate that same magic in spin-offs.

Rescue Team DX doesn’t feel improved so much as a misguided pivot that mistakes simplicity for accessibility. The result is something that feels so cautious about being kid-friendly that it threatens to alienate everyone else in the process.

Full of charm

Despite its drab gameplay, Rescue Team DX is a vibrant adventure that teems with Pokémon charm. The Game Boy Advance sprites are replaced by a pleasant hand-drawn style that hearkens back to Kirby’s Dream Land 3. It’s a relaxing look that makes the world of Pokémon feel colorful and inviting.

With no humans in sight, the creatures get a chance to show off their personality thanks to playful dialogue. Cocky Alakazams, mischievous Gengars, and wise Wiscashes populate the game’s world, making Pokémon feel more distinct and less like interchangeable battle pets.

Its story provides a kind-hearted message that teaches kids the value of teamwork.

The story itself is standard adventure fare, but it delivers moments of sincere empathy that fit well within the franchise. In other Pokémon games, man and monster work together to beat everyone in their path on a quest for championship gold. Rescue Team DX is less adversarial, focusing more on how the power of friendship can be used to help those in need. Sure, it’s corny, but the narrative provides a positive message that’s easy to get behind.

Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX
Image used with permission by copyright holder

That’s where Rescue Team DX succeeds as a children’s game with wider appeal. Its story provides a kind-hearted message that teaches kids the value of teamwork. That’s a simple concept that even adults need to be reminded of sometimes.

The idea of child-friendly gaming shouldn’t be about watering things down to the point of automation. It’s about providing younger players with the right motivation and fun, flexible ways to learn lessons. Rescue Team DX only delivers half of that equation.

Our take

Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX is a monotonous chore that spoils its charming premise with weak roguelike design and repetitive combat. The colorful, new visuals and endearing story give the remake a welcome dose of character, but the added features overly simplify the adventure. It might be enough to keep the franchise’s youngest fans occupied for a few hours, but there are plenty of other Pokémon games on Switch that deliver a more satisfying experience for all ages.

Is there a better alternative?

Pokémon Quest is a free mobile and Switch game with similar mechanics that makes better use of its small scale premise.

How long will it last?

The main story takes 15-20 hours, but hunting for a full collection can take dozens more, at least.

Should you buy it?

No. There are plenty of Pokémon games geared towards all ages that don’t compromise on fun.

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Giovanni Colantonio
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