Pokemon Mystery Dungeon has always been one of the most beloved spin-off games in the franchise. Starting with Red and Blue Rescue Team on the GameBoy Advance and Nintendo DS, this game aims to recapture that nostalgia by re-imagining those games in a more modern sense. With portability in mind, Nintendo gave the games a beautiful art style that’s not too intensive on the console, with many of the same gameplay features, good and bad. In order to see what’s changed, you will have needed to play both the originals and the games leading up to this. Otherwise, this is a fine introduction to the franchise.
To begin, the original Red and Blue Rescue Team were based in Pokemon’s third generation, with the entire cast from the original Pokemon all the way to Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald. There were some Generation 4 sneak peaks here and there, but the game was based entirely around Generation 3. This means the dungeons, moves, and Pokemon were outdated with this game, coming out 5 Generations later. All the Pokemon got updated move-sets, and some even got new evolutions since they got released after Generation 3. These updated move sets are nice in the fact that more Pokemon have more variety, including your starting duo that has much more coverage. On the flip side, with the game having an emphasis on food-based items for dungeon crawling, there are now moves that completely obliterate these items from your inventory. Bug Bite and Incinerate can wipe out a well stocked adventurer if left unchecked, and add a bit of difficulty to an otherwise toned down game.
While the originals were endearing and a great change of pace to the original Pokemon format, this spin-off format has not changed since the games came out in 2005. The movement is still clunky as it was, with little excuse for it now on a much more powerful console. The turn based system is still the same, with a little less room for strategy after having removed the auto attack that can skip a turn. The difficulty has been scaled down heavily early on, having enemy and item placement completely visible until the main campaign is over. With a lot of the moveset changes, it’s easier to pinpoint weaknesses and exploit them than it was in the original games. Facilities like the Makuhita Dojo help you level your main character very quickly, and can outpace the story if you keep grinding there. Not only all this, if you lose in a dungeon there’s a chance that a special dungeon opens up that is completely stockpiled with Reviver Seeds and other 1-up items. While this can be seen as a way to ease the difficulty curve on a more casual audience, longtime fans might find this a bit distasteful, as this was seen as a return-to-form for the spin off series, with a lackluster past couple of games. What I personally saw a huge loss were the Friend Areas. In the original games you were able to visit the Pokemon you recruited in their habitats, with space to run around and speak to them individually. While these Friend Areas were kept in the game, they were reduced to just a painted background with some sprites in front of it. The only interaction to be had there is checking on them which brings up a menu, or holding the – button to see the background by itself. It’s a little thing that I’m very nostalgic about, but understandably new players will not have this gripe.
While I’ve talked about the distasteful parts of this game, what I can say for sure is that it’s a very enjoyable game regardless of the setbacks. I love Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, and this is no exception. The music and story really rang true with me, and the updates to many cutscenes before boss fights and the like were a welcome change to sprites just smacking each other in the originals. If Pokemon games do one thing well, it’s identifying a gameplay loop that is enjoyable. Dungeon crawlers and Pokemon are a great match in theory, and we’ve seen success with the older ones like Explorers of Time, Darkness and Sky. The only real shame is that features keep getting cut in subsequent releases, rather than building on the foundation of a strong story and gripping gameplay that was displayed in the original releases. While this is a fun game and nice introduction to the series, there is more to be expected from Pokemon and a full price title, hopefully we will begin to see that in future releases or remakes.
Score: 6 out of 10
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch