It’s easy to overlook just how influential Chunsoft’s Mystery Dungeon series really is. Beginning life as a Dragon Quest spinoff heavily inspired by Rogue—yes, that Rogue—the series has gone on to see collaborations with everything from Final Fantasy to TwinBee, not to mention plenty of original works. With that sort of legacy, a Pokemon crossover was inevitable, and in the years since Pokemon Mystery Dungeon‘s debut in 2004, it’s become one of the most prolific series in the Mystery Dungeon franchise.
Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX is a return to where it all began, reimagining the first pair of games, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team Red and Rescue Team Blue, for a fresh release on Nintendo Switch.There’s a new art style, a wealth of gameplay improvements, and a bigger pool of Pokemon to recruit, making it both a perfect introduction to Pokemon Mystery Dungeon—and to Mystery Dungeon as a whole—as well as a celebration of the series that longtime fans will love.
The most noticeable difference is the new art style. Rescue Team Red and Rescue Team Blue were made for Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS respectively, limiting them to primitive graphics on tiny screens. Rather than simply trying to scale that pixel art up—an approach often used for “modernising” retro games that rarely works well—Rescue Team DX has been rebuilt from the ground up with 3D models, overlaid with a textured filter that makes the whole game look like a watercolour painting in motion.
It looks gorgeous. Even as someone who loves pixel art and finds the original games quite attractive in their own right, I find Rescue Team DX a thousand times more pleasing on the eye. It’s not just a hollow attempt to “improve” a 15-year-old game’s graphics for a modern audience, but a genuine effort to give this new game its own unique visual identity, one that fits perfectly with the tone and theme of the game.
That idea of carefully updating an old game without just throwing modern trends in carte-blanche carries through to the various improvements to game systems, too. At its core, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX is still the Mystery Dungeon people have been playing for nigh on 30 years: a dungeon crawler that sees you exploring randomised dungeons in a turn-based fashion, with battles that encourage tactical use of the dungeon’s tiled layout. Obviously, in Pokemon Mystery Dungeon‘s case, both your own characters and the monsters you fight are Pokemon, and key elements of Pokemon battles—like type matchups, team composition, and a limited selection of moves for each Pokemon—fit nicely into Mystery Dungeon‘s combat and exploration.
But Rescue Team DX adds some welcome tweaks that build on the series’ growth since the original games first came out. When you start a new game, your “main” Pokemon is chosen for you from a pool of 16 possibilities by a personality quiz; in the original games, you were locked into whatever you got, but now you can manually pick a different one if you don’t like the result you get. You can now freely switch between the three Pokemon in your squad, and you only fail a dungeon when your whole team gets knocked out—in contrast to the original games, where you could only directly control the main Pokemon, whose fainting would result in immediate failure.
New features like automatic, AI-controlled exploration—which can be turned on and off at any point—and an A button selects an attack for you based on your positioning and type matchup with the target help to streamline exploration. Crucially, they do so without undermining the tactical nature of the game; for more difficult encounters, manual control still goes a long way to giving you the upper hand.
When the original Pokemon Mystery Dungeon games came out, the main Pokemon series was only up to generation three. A lot of new Pokemon, moves, and mechanics have been introduced since then, and while Rescue Team DX doesn’t include the full 900-odd Pokemon that now exist, there’s a decent selection from the more recent games, as well as newer moves, the Fairy type, and Mega-Evolutions.
As Mystery Dungeon games go (and roguelikes in general), Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX is on the easier side of things. Failing a dungeon still means you lose all the items and gold you’re carrying, but there isn’t the permanent death or reverting back to level 1 that you often see in such games. I think that works to Rescue Team DX‘s benefit, though—the more hardcore aspects of roguelikes wopuldn’t really fit Pokemon‘s ethos, and the thrill of exploration is still intact.
Running through all this is a fun, relatively lighthearted story that offers a rather different look at the world of Pokemon than the main games do. The adventure begins with you waking up to find that you’ve turned into a Pokemon, with no memory of your human life. But that means you can understand other Pokemon, too, and you soon find yourself welcomed into a Pokemon village and taking on rescue missions as part of a newly established rescue team.
The setup largely serves to set up the game’s mission-based structure as you take on jobs for all manner of different Pokemon clients, but it also leads to some to some interesting developments—not just surrounding the question of who you really are, but to do with the bigger picture of the Pokemon world and its mythology. There’s nothing groundbreaking, but it certainly has its share of surprises.
You could almost forget that Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX is a remake; it looks, feels, and plays like a brand new entry in the series. It’s full of updates to a pair of games that are more than 15 years old now, and it’s clear that thought’s gone into every improvement to ensure the soul of the originals remains intact. That makes this a perfect place to jump into the world of Mystery Dungeon, and for fans of the original games, a wonderful way to experience them again.
Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX is developed by Spike Chunsoft and published by The Pokemon Company and Nintendo. It’s available now for Nintendo Switch (reviewed).
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.