Rescue Team DX is the most “Pokémon” Pokémon game ever made. No doubt about it. And no, not because of the obvious fact that you play as a Pokémon living in an all-Pokémon world. It holds this coveted status because, in a franchise fueled by the powers of friendship and teamwork, there is absolutely nothing more “Pokémon” than a game about Pokémon helping other Pokémon and becoming friends along the way.
The plot of Rescue Team DX is a bit all over the place, but at its core is your main character and their unexpected new best friend forming a rescue team to help other Pokémon in need. All the while, their relationship grows, and their heroic selflessness inspires other Pokémon to shower you with respect and, sometimes, even to join your cause. Sure, the main-series Pokémon games dabble in these themes in their plots too, I think that more of the teamwork and friendship sentiments people associate with Pokémon come from the anime and manga than the games themselves.
The thing is, the main-series games don’t value friendship and teamwork in the actual gameplay. Sure, there’s a few friendship-based evolutions and the ability to scratch your Poké-buds’ heads. And obviously, in competitive doubles play there is a lot of using one Pokémon’s moves to benefit another or self-sacrificing to protect your partner. But these are either small components or niche experiences, at least compared to Rescue Team DX. In Rescue Team DX, these themes are not only deeply embued in the plot, but they are also the entire gameplay.
The core mechanic of Rescue Team DX, recruiting other Pokémon to join your fledgling rescue team, is what makes Rescue Team DX so special. Instead of catching Pokémon in claustrophobic balls, in this game, you develop kinship through your fights or inspire them with your rescue efforts to choose to join your team. It’s much more like in the anime when Pokémon typically only get caught when they choose to themselves. To make it even better, you buy camps specialized for their needs to live in, open, free, and alongside other Pokémon.
A new mechanic to the Rescue Team DX remake is that you can find fainted Pokémon randomly throughout dungeons. If you are able and willing, you can offer them an apple from your own supply to revive them. To me, this is the ultimate symbol of friendship and teamwork. Apples are a necessary part of traversing dungeons. Without them, especially as the game goes on, you will get hungry and faint yourself. Sacrificing this key item to a Pokémon whom you have no connection to is emblematic of all that makes Rescue Team DX the ultimate Pokémon game. It’s not about beating other Pokémon and taking money from little kids here. It’s about protecting the vulnerable, lifting others up, and then giving them the opportunity to lead.
Another fantastic new edition in Rescue Team DX is that you can switch which Pokémon is leading your party with the press of a button. Originally, you were only able to control your main character until the end of the game. Now, while you still need you and your partner in your party to progress the story, you can swap any new recruit in or out at will and let somebody new take charge. This allows you to distribute hunger more tactically across your party and pick better typing advantages while conducting rescue missions to farm items, experience, or rescue points. This also means that if your main character faints, you can still carry on without them as another Pokémon.
Expanding the ability to have up to eight party members in Rescue Team DX from the usual four also strengthens the feeling of teamwork and camaraderie. When I found myself in the first major boss fight of the game, my full retinue of Pokémon really made it feel like I was building a team and not just a cadre of friends — a team that relied on and supported each other as we passed healing items around and maneuvered about the arena to line up weaker teammates with long-range moves in the back and stronger buddies with short-range moves in the front. One thing I will say though is I did also feel like I was kind of ganging up on the other Pokémon we were fighting. It was eight against three and while yes, they were a team of bad guys, it kind of felt like maybe we were the bullies? Also, #NotAllEkans.
At long last, Rescue Team DX has also mastered its online functionality. You have always been able to send friends a code to let them come and rescue you mid-dungeon if your party fainted. But of course, that required having friends who have seen the Truth™ and own Pokémon Mystery Dungeon too. Or using online forums, I suppose. Now, asking for help is seamless. If your team goes down, you can still put out a code for a friend rescue, but you can now also use the internet to have a rescue request automatically posted for strangers to accept. You can even offer rewards for your rescue to thank folks for their selfless work.
There is not always a huge incentive to go on online rescue missions. You can’t tell what rewards you might receive in advance and you can’t accept other single-player rescue requests along the way. The only guarantee is rescue points and the satisfaction that you did the right thing. But, that’s the whole point the game tries to make all along. Your partner in Rescue Team DX makes it clear from the beginning; none of this is about the thanks you receive, it’s about doing the right thing.
I have never once had a rescue request go unanswered. They last for seven days online and I have always been saved within 24 hours. And of course, having been saved myself several times, I also make sure to pay it forward with a few online rescues a day. I am also quite sure that once I am in the endgame and trying to recruit every Pokémon in the game, I’m going to be doing my level griding and recruitment drives in online rescues so that I can help other players while working on my own goals.
So, @ me if you have to, but Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX is hands-down the most “Pokémon” Pokémon game yet. It masters incorporating the franchise’s most powerful themes into not only the plot but the very mechanics of the gameplay itself. The result: a deeply satisfying and inspiring experience.
Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX is available now on Nintendo Switch.