As well as the regular series of Pokémon RPGs, a number of spin-off games have appeared over the years. Developed by Chunsoft, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Red Rescue Team arrived on the Game Boy Advance in 2006 and (like a number of the studio's titles) takes the form of a dungeon crawler that has you battling against numerous enemy Pokémon. You move around a randomly generated floor, searching for the steps that will lead you to the next randomly generated floor where the search begins for the next, and so on until you've completed your mission. Repetition is an issue throughout the game, but the variety of Pokémon (generations I-III) you encounter, a range of different moves and an interesting story help maintain interest in the proceedings.
This game was also available as Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team (also now on the Wii U eShop in Europe). Multiple versions of Pokémon titles is something that has been happening since the beginning, but what was unusual about this game was that the Blue version was released on the DS. Compared to that this single-screen edition has five unique Pokémon (likewise Blue has its own exclusives), requires a bit more menu entering and lacks touchscreen functionality. The map appears on screen as you explore the floors in the game whereas the DS can place it on a separate screen. Here it can obscure the action, but it would be a stretch to say it is a big problem. GBA positives are a larger single screen (rather than displaying two smaller ones) and a cheaper price. The DS additions are useful, but not essential to enjoy the game.
The story sees you as a human who wakes up one morning as a Pokémon - which Pokémon depends on your answers to a quiz upon starting a new game; you also pick a partner who will join you for the duration of the adventure. Finding yourself as a Pokémon is understandably startling for your character, but before you have a chance to look in to what's happening you and your partner are rushing off to rescue Caterpie. Soon you have formed a rescue team, which is lucky for the occupants of this world as more and more Pokémon are getting themselves into trouble.
The game is well presented with the expected bright cartoony style. Familiar Pokémon are found in a variety of locations: forests, caves, mountains, icy caverns. The floors in a location can all look the same, but missions with a high number of floors can change to a different (though not out-of-place) look after a while. Sound effects include a variety of scratches, bashes, thumps and bloops as the action unfolds whilst the music is very catchy. Numerous upbeat fun tracks accompany your quest, with breezy whistling and mysterious sounding ones also to be found. They are repetitive, however, so on a long mission (where you keep finding the stairs at the last moment) it can start to grate, but for the most part it's a welcome addition.
Rescue missions are found on the bulletin board outside the post office and in the mail delivered to your home. Difficulty varies, but for the most part you do the same thing: work your way to a certain floor, find the cuddly creature and they teleport to safety. They may be on the third floor, they may be on the eighth. Some missions require you to escort a client somewhere which doesn't actually alter the gameplay a great deal, although a few display a level of self-preservation similar to Goldeneye 007's Natalya, so you'll need to keep a eye on them. Typically there are further floors after your mission is accomplished, but you are given the option to teleport out of there.
As well as pressing a button to attack you can select different moves from a menu and can also setup linked moves. Further moves are learnt as you progress through the game providing attacks, counter attacks and moves that raise defences or lower attributes of your enemies. To help you out there are the usual items to replenish health, nullify the effects of poison or provide attacks of your own.
The biggest help, however, are the creatures that join your rescue team. During missions there are Pokémon that can be recruited and a scuffle can lead to someone asking to join your team. Team members require somewhere to hang out, so you'll need to purchase friend areas for them to stay when they are not required. At the beginning - when you have little energy, few items and no additional team members - the game can actually be a little tricky but as you progress, levelling up, acquiring items and learning moves, things become more straightforward. Failure in a dungeon leads to you losing your money and items, but luckily there are places to store both in the town square and it's a good idea to make use of these facilities if you are not confident in your ability to perform a successful rescue.
The original GBA release made use of the link cable to allow the trading of items between players, or to rescue a friend who had made a hash of a mission and consequently needed rescuing themselves. Link cable functionality is of course missing from this eShop release, but luckily Nintendo included passwords as an alternative method for the rescue missions. Should someone fail on a mission (and wish to keep their items/money) they can send out an SOS mail which a second player can use to dive into the dungeon and save them. SOS passwords are 54 characters long as are the A-OK ones the rescuing party sends after completing the mission. A thank you mail can be sent by the rescued player with the option to include a present – a good idea when this requires yet another password to be entered. Entering the passwords can be fiddly and both games need to be set to the same language for this to work, but it's a good option to have and also works if you wish to rescue (or be rescued by) players who own the Blue version.
The other passwords that feature in the game are the Wonder Mail codes that appear on the description for each mission. Passing this code onto another player will allow them to tackle the mission. With gameplay being the same throughout the various missions, it may seem kind of pointless but it does serve as a means to encounter the exclusive Pokémon from the other version of the game.
Assuming you take time to level your team up (either through missions or the town dojo) and keep yourself well stocked with useful items the game isn't too difficult. There are still tough moments, however, and the best tactic for later sections is often to avoid combat where possible and hope the randomly generated nature of the dungeon floors places the next staircase right by you. It can get quite addictive and even after a long slog over more than a dozen floors, you can find yourself rushing off to the next job. A big part of this is the story that unfolds: as well as trying to figure out why you are a Pokémon there's an unusually large number of natural disasters occurring. Is there a connection? You'll interact with other teams along the way including one who are a rescue team seeking world domination! There's plenty of missions to play before you reach the end - at which point more missions become available. You'll be doing much the same as before, but as the story carries on there's lots here to keep you occupied.
Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Red Rescue Team may lack some of the DS version's useful features, but it is a little cheaper to pick up. Missions tend to play similarly to one another, but a variety of locations and Pokémon (friendly and otherwise) help dull the sense of sameness. The repetitive nature can still drag the game down at times, even making the excellent music become an irritant, although there's usually an interesting plot development before things get too bad. It has its faults, but Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Red Rescue Team is still an enjoyable game to play through.