POKEMON MYSTERY DUNGEON: RED RESCUE TEAM / Nintendo / Gameboy Advance
 
 
The Roguelike genre is known for difficulty, and is associated with tech-savvy adult gamers going back to its roots on PCs in the '80s. Pokemon is pretty much the polar opposite. Pokemon is all about constant collection and level-grinding, while the Roguelike brings you back to near-zero with every new play . So some credit is due to Chunsoft here for managing to make the almost completely contrary mechanics of Pokemon work within the framework of a Roguelike; there's no Trainers or Gyms this time out but you're still catching and collecting, managing move sets with TMs and leveling the little Pokers up to evolve them. The sacrifice made to make all of this work, unfortunately, is one of the hallmarks of the genre; the challenge.
 
 

The setup is that you'll have a starter Pokemon chosen for you by answering a series of Ultima-like questions at the outset, and then you'll pick a permanent running buddy from a list of the starters from the first two generations. Your avatar used to be a human, but awakes as a Pokemon with no recollection of how that happened. They happen to run into the buddy character, and since neither has anything better to do they decide to get by by forming a "rescue team," which is all the hotness now since Mystery Dungeons are appearing everywhere and derpy Pokemon are getting themselves trapped in their depths.
 
 

Aside from being a plot contrivance, the "rescue team" aspect also drives the multiplayer. If you die in a dungeon, you can opt to generate and send a passcode to another player of the game, whereupon they'll be able to enter that same dungeon and take a crack at rescuing you so you don't lose your items and money. You're not going to be dying at all if you have any experience at all with Roguelikes, however, since this is the softest one I've ever seen.
 

You do lose your current inventory and money if you get offed in a dungeon, but that's the only real nod to traditional Roguelike difficulty left. Character EXP and levels remain, as do any moves you might have learned through leveling or taught yourself via TM. Each dungeon has a certain level threshold where all the enemies in it will only do 1 damage to you and you'll stomp right through it, and that threshold is reached in pretty short order for most of them, so future rescue missions in them are a foregone conclusion.
 

You also get access to a bank and unlimited item storage right off the bat, and that storage will soon be overflowing with stuff you've hauled out from your numerous successful runs. You're also able to "link" two moves together, which leads to extremely potent debuff+attacks and double attacks.
 

If you're still having trouble fighting somehow, however, just step behind your tank-like follower and lob the almost infinite supply of rocks that you'll find that do a generous amount of damage and rarely miss. I'm honestly not sure if this is true of all the follower characters, but I picked Totodile and he was continually two levels or so ahead of me and just a complete beast that the enemies couldn't touch, he was even stomping through the handful of boss battles. Brotodile tbqh. Brotodile most definitely was lifting.
 

And that isn't even the end of it. As in predecessors Shiren and  Torneko, there's a hunger meter that decreases with each step, but the game throws tons of food at you. When you're on a rescue mission, finding the subject of the rescue allows you to bail from the dungeon early. Status effects are wiped out when you change floors, and there's usually at least a couple of "Wonder Tiles" generated on each floor that heal all status effects when stepped on too. Healing items are almost as plentifully generated as the food. You don't have to identify items with a scroll, you can immediately tell what they do when you pick them up, and I've never seen one that backfires on you. Stairs to the next floor seem to generate right next to you almost half the time, even in the allegedly tougher dungeons.
 

So basically, there's almost no challenge whatsoever unless you restrict yourself to not using most of the game's features. Go into each dungeon naked, don't link moves, don't bring throwing weapons, don't raise any other Pokemon, and tell your one forced constant companion to never attack. And even then, you'll eventually level to a point where each dungeon is trivial due to enemies doing 1 damage per hit. You can counter with the argument that the game is meant for kids, but kids are among the best at adapting to over-difficult games because they have the most free time to throw at them. I think even the youngest will quickly find this one a boring piece of cake.
 

At least it does look pretty nice by GBA standards, packed onto one of the few 32 MB cartridges the system saw. And though the soundtrack unfortunately does not see the return of Dragon Quest vet Koichi Sugiyama, it's very good in spots, particularly late-stage dungeons in the story mode. Apparently it was a two-man composition team of unknowns, and one guy was way better than the other one, so the soundtrack is like half mediocre and half great.
 
 

In other reviews of Roguelikes, I've sometimes complained that they need to incentivize repeated plays more by giving you a *little* something to carry over to future plays with each good run you make. Mystery Dungeon swings way too hard in the other direction, however, plying you with entirely too much stuff and making the whole thing a cakewalk. To be fair to the game, while you will stomp through the story mode with little effort, there's a ton of bonus dungeons to unlock once it's completed that are a little more challenging (and post-story is also the only time you're allowed to evolve Pokemon). Even at it's toughest the game is still weaker than even the early going of many other games in the genre, however. It might serve as a good genre introduction for Pokefans, but Roguelike vets will probably find this too trivial to bother with.
 
 
 
 
 
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