When it comes to Pokémon spin-offs, the Mystery Dungeon series is probably the lengthiest. For every short-lived game like Pokémon Dash or Pokkén Tournament, there’s a Mystery Dungeon title offering potentially hundreds of hours of gameplay. Of course, whether you’d actually want to play one of them for hundreds of hours is the real question: this is a genre that’s a bit of an acquired taste. Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX – the seventh entry in the series (depending on how you count them) – is a remake of the original Red / Blue Rescue Team on GBA and DS, and as a result, this dilemma hasn’t really changed.
As in the original, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX has you playing as a human who wakes up one day to discover they’ve turned into a Pokémon. With no memory of who you used to be before the transformation (because RPGs), your aim is to find out more about your past. Or at least it would be, were it not for the other Pokémon who befriends you at the start of the game and insists you start a rescue team with them (again, because RPGs).
Cue a seemingly endless series of missions that have you visiting one of the game’s many procedurally-generated dungeons and usually rescuing a Pokémon or retrieving an item on a specific floor of said dungeon. Naturally, as you level up your characters and progress through the game, you have to reach higher floor numbers, turning even the most basic missions into lengthy trawls.
Exploring these dungeons is a straightforward enough process: as in other games in the series, everything’s turn-based and set on an invisible grid, so each time you step forward or perform a move the enemies on the map do the same. When you encounter one, battles take place in the same environment (instead of cutting away to a separate fight screen), meaning where your team members are positioned on the grid can sometimes be very important.
Combat is slightly different here to the way it was in the original. Whereas in that game pressing the A button used a generic attack that didn’t use up any PP, that attack doesn’t exist any more and you instead have to rely on your Pokémon's four actual moves. As such, this time the A button automatically chooses what the game thinks is the best attack for your current situation (though you can override it by holding ZR and choosing your move from a list). This has its benefits – battles are generally shorter – but it does mean your moves run out of PP more regularly, requiring you to frequently top them up in lengthier dungeons.
Pokémon recruitment is also different this time around, and it too brings its own pluses and minuses (or Plusle and Minun if you really want to go down that route). As in the original, you can only recruit Pokémon you find in the dungeons if you’ve unlocked a specific camp that they can stay in. Whereas before the majority of these camps required you to beat the main storyline or perform other tasks before you could access them, though, this time as long as you have the money you can buy any of the 45 camps whenever you like by visiting the Wigglytuff shop in your town square.
Even better, if you encounter and recruit a Pokémon during a mission but realise you don’t own their camp, you can use a (fairly common) Wigglytuff Orb to contact Wigglytuff from inside the dungeon and buy the camp there and then, meaning when the mission ends they’ll move into the camp instead of wandering off into the sunset. This is a huge improvement over the previous game, where you simply couldn’t recruit a wild Pokémon if you didn’t have their camp yet.
So far so good, but this whole recruitment lark gets a bit overzealous. In the original, your party size during dungeon exploration was limited to four Pokémon, meaning you could only recruit one or two new Pokemon during each mission. On top of this, there was a maximum size of six blocks, which meant you couldn’t go around with a squad of four Onix or anything like that.
This time you can now recruit up to five Pokémon on top of your own squad of three. Given that some missions also have a guest Pokémon accompanying you, that means you can potentially have a squad of nine wandering around your dungeon like the Reservoir Dogs, and some of them can even be big ones too. While this sounds brilliant, it can throw up some really irritating moments; your potential squad size may now be more than double what it was before, but the dungeons themselves aren’t any bigger.
As a result, jamming nine Pokémon into a small corridor is a bit ridiculous, especially when you encounter an enemy who’s best defeated by a Pokémon at the back of the queue and you have to try and get them to the front. The long ‘tail’ your squad creates also means if you try to leave a room as an enemy enters from the other side, you’ll regularly be held up as they start a fight with Pokémon at the end of your line. Essentially, while it’s brilliant to be able to recruit up to five new Pokémon in each mission, the game isn’t really built to properly accommodate a squad that size and things can feel claustrophobic as a result.
Other changes are more generally positive. You can now press the 'Plus' button to toggle between the three main Pokémon in your squad, meaning you can control any of them at any point as you see fit. As a bonus, your character’s belly meter – which has to be regularly filled up to stop them losing health – only empties when you’re controlling them directly, which means if one of your Pokémon is getting peckish and you’re low on food you can switch to another and prevent their hunger reaching a dangerous level.
Then there are odder additions, such as the 'Auto' mode. This can be activated at any time by hitting the L button, and it basically plays the game for you; your Pokémon will wander the dungeon either generally exploring or specifically in search of the steps to the next level (you can decide which one in the options menu), and will only stop when you encounter an enemy. Once you take over and beat the enemy, you can then turn on Auto mode again and sit back.
Ultimately, this addition is more of an indictment of the game’s issues than anything we could explain ourselves. This is an absolutely gorgeous game – with a lovely art style that makes it look like everything’s been sketched with pencils and painted with watercolours – and the plot, while a little convoluted, is charming enough to keep you invested throughout. That said, anyone who’s played a Mystery Dungeon game before, be it a Pokémon one or anything else, will know that they can get extremely repetitive.
When you get to the stage where you’re hitting dungeons with 80 or 90 floors, it takes a special type of patience to stay entertained for that long without your eyes glazing over a tiny bit. This new Auto mode only confirms this better than we can: the whole point of this game is exploring dungeons – it’s in the title, after all – and if one of the main selling points is “hey, you don’t have to actually explore the dungeons, we'll play the game for you”, there’s no better confirmation than it can be a chore at times.
A beautiful game with potentially hundreds of hours of gameplay, there's still no getting away from the fact that this is a 15-year-old GBA title at its core. The dungeon crawling genre has evolved over the years to try and make things feel less repetitive, and while Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX does add some features to try to modernise the process a bit, they tend to fall flat. It's still fun in bursts, it just gets samey after a while.