When I first played the demo for Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX a couple of weeks ago the day Nintendo dropped it, I was extremely disappointed. Weird to feel let down for something you didn’t know excited until hours prior and yet the preview for the March 6 game didn’t inspire me with much confidence. Maybe this lackluster feeling was partially because the announcement of the game was made alongside the presentation for the incredible looking Sword and Shield DLC, set to take to beautiful and vast new areas this summer, and comparatively this wouldn’t be the best stop-gap to fill the void until then. Instead of writing this piece right away, I shelved the demo and decided to return it to in when my pocket monster brain wasn’t distracted by anticipation for The Isle Of Armor and The Crown Tundra. My view improved thankfully, but only somewhat.
Its been four years since the release of Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon, the most recent game in this spin-off sub-franchise. While that’s not too long in the grand scheme of things, with no word on a new entry for years many fans had lost hope we’d ever see another one of these games. Something of a spiritual cross-over with the Spike Chunsoft Mystery Dungeon series, with Dangan Ronpa developers Spike Chunsoft developing the games in coordination with Game Freak these rogue-likes were never the most popular pieces under the wide Pokémon umbrella but they certainly have their fans. Nintendo choosing to bring back the series by resurrecting its first game, which was actually two games ala the main Pokémon series, is an interesting move in theory. Long-time fans would be happy to see some representation at all as they relive some classic memories while new fans can appreciate a cult hit story, I’m unsure whether this approach was the way to go, opposed to making an entirely new game, if the demo is representative of the final product.
Unfortunately, despite being remade from the ground up, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX already feels extremely dated. Sure they’ve brought the series into the third dimension, with the original Gameboy Advance and Nintendo DS releases being pixel art, but that’s about all they’ve done. Not that we need every game to be a graphical masterpiece, but you want modern releases to at least look good. Even if they aren’t pushing a system’s hardware to the brink, you’d like the art style to at least do some of the heavy lifting. Rescue Team DX looks like an early PS2 or Gamecube game. In fact, I can think of a number of 2002-2003 era games that look significantly better than what Nintendo’s putting out now, like their own Super Mario Sunshine or say the original Kingdom Hearts for PS2 comparison. While the game does admittedly look better in hand-held mode, it’s bland artistry and rudimentary graphical style leave a lot to be desired.
If the visual presentation of the game was the only thing that bugged me about it, I probably could have left it be. As I already said the game doesn’t just look dated, it feels dated. Being a ‘roguelike’, and as the title of the game would imply, there’s a whole lot of dungeon crawling in Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX. Infinite dungeons in fact as in the mystery dungeon series, all the levels are procedurally generated changing every time you enter them! If your game is going to have a whole lot of repetitive exploring, you’d want that exploration to at least be solid. Sad to say that the dungeon crawling feels extremely clunky. Enough so that its hard for me to imagine sinking the dozens of hours into this game needed to get to the end.
For starters, despite the in town portions of the game having true 3D movement, once you enter the dungeons you’re stuck with 8 directional movement. That might be true to the original Gameboy Advance experience but it’s not particularly pleasant to move around the 3D environments. Furthermore, your movement is extremely sluggish! It feels like there’s a disconnect between your input and the Pokémon running, like something’s off, and I hope they fine-tune this for the final release. Switching between you and your partner and figuring out which attack you want to use against the enemy Pokémon scurrying around isn’t seamless even when the controls are laid out in front of you. The lackluster control combined with the uninspired look really makes the game feel like a rushed project.
I don’t want to come off entirely negative though, as going back to the demo after a cool-down period let me appreciate some of what Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX has to offer. You do get to play as a Pokémon and get to talk to a bunch of other Pokémon, a very delightful concept despite that running around from point a to point b in this game doesn’t feel too great. In fact, I was downright giddy when presented with the option to be a Totodile who could then go around chatting it up with their pal Treecko, saving Magnemites and Caterpies along the way. Despite some execution problems, that again I hope will be somewhat remedied in the final release of game, there’s still some core charm to be found here.
Thankfully, talking to various Pokémon isn’t just good in theory. The writing in Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX fits really well, though admittedly most of it comes from the original Rescue Team games. Granted it’s not like this game has some Yoko Taro dialogue and plot behind waiting to be discovered, but a lot of the minutia here surprisingly track. If you like talking to the various villagers in Animal Crossing, enjoying their whimsical tidbits and idiosyncratic personalities, portions of Rescue Team DX might scratch that itch. While maybe not the intent of the game, going through the dungeon bits to get to the Poké-socialization might be a good way to think going into this game. Although now I’m just imagining an Animal Crossing game with Pokémon and the boatloads of cash it would make.
Right now I’m really conflicted about Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX and whether or not I’ll actually buy it, especially priced at full $60. The parts I’ve enjoyed most about the demo thus far isn’t the key focus of the game. With a great mix of Pokémon from the first four generations at least, with possible newer mons too, I relish at the idea of chilling with all sorts of homies. I could look past the modest graphics of the game to bask in its more charming qualities but ultimately I’m not sure if I can put up with how sluggish the dungeon crawling. I’m beginning to think that maybe I should just get my hands on the original Gameboy Advance or Nintendo DS release which arguably looks and feels better than what the demo presented thus far. The game is a month and a half away which is enough time for a little spit and shine, but with this game not being a real priority for Nintendo or Game Freak we just don’t know if this game will get the polish it deserves.
Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX comes out on the Nintendo Switch on March 6.