Have you ever played a game’s sequel first and thought “I like this – I should go back and play the original?” Were you disappointed? Did you then have to review the original that you were disappointed in? Because that’s what I’m about to do. It’s difficult to be impartial, and more difficult still to give a score that compares the game to its contemporaries rather than games that have come later. Like every other Pokémon game, Blue Rescue Team has a sibling, Red Rescue Team. Unlike the other generations, though, these two are on two different systems. Red is a late Game Boy Advance game, and Blue is an early DS game, and the difference between the two is limited to the second screen provided by the DS.
The two Rescue Team games share the same story, and it’s much more complex than most of the series’ stories, involving ancient legends, curses, mystery, and a character arc where you start out as a stranger who is seen as a coward but ends up as a well-known (and loved) local who has touched the lives of many members of the community. In the Mystery Dungeon games, players take the role of a Pokémon who treks through dungeons with its friends, rather than playing as a human who catches Pokémon in the wild. The different perspective provided thereby allows for much deeper characterization in your team than the standard entries in the series, which helps players feel much more connected to their Pokémon. It won’t change the way you think about writing in video games, but it may at least improve your opinion of writing in Pokémon games. (I wonder if any of the Pokémon like short pants?)
Although it’s quite different from the standard Pokémon games, Mystery Dungeon’s gameplay is fairly similar to its successor, although a few notable additions were made in that successor to improve on this game’s flaws. This is where I most felt disappointed by having already played the sequel, because the improvements were really worthwhile changes. The most significant changes were to the mechanic of recruiting new team members. In this game, teams are limited to only three members, with a fourth slot that can be filled if someone in the dungeon you’re tackling feels like joining you or if your mission in the dungeon is to rescue someone. In the sequel, Pokémon who join your team are transported to the exit right away, but in this game, you have to lead them through however much of the dungeon is left, making sure to keep them alive.
The game is divided into days. During each day, you go into town to prepare for your adventure by getting items from the store or your storage, after which you go to a dungeon and proceed through its randomly-generated levels, where enemies appear at random, even after you begin walking around on a floor. Items come in standard RPG flavors – health restoration, status correction, temporary buffs, status infliction, etc. It’s important to note that the bosses in this game are just as vulnerable to statuses as other enemies – getting to the boss fights can be more challenging than actually fighting them.
While you’re in a dungeon, everything you do aside from working with the menu is turn-based. Even moving a square (dungeons are grid-based) takes a turn, so if you start a floor within sight of several enemies, you don’t need to worry about them running up to you – they can’t move until you do, and they can only move one square for every square you move. This helps keep some of the nasty surprises out of the random battle system. Your teammates tend to get lined up behind you, which leaves the main character as the one who nearly always takes the first hit from enemies. Your teammates won’t generally move into place on their own during a fight either, which leads to many annoying situations where you have to waste a turn during battle just so that you’re not the only one of your group actually attacking the enemy.
The game includes a concept known as IQ, which governs your companions’ behavior. IQ skills are learned through feeding individual characters items called gummis, and they allow your team members to do such things as avoiding giving an enemy a status it already has. In exactly the way it works in the sequel, most of these skills are things that you’d want your characters to have by default, and the number of gummis it takes to improve a character’s IQ is high enough (especially given the scarcity of many types) that the system is useless and leaves you with a cast of dumbed-down teammates that will have you all the more frustrated because you know they don’t have to be so stupid.
Again, as in the sequel, it’s worth noting that you can continue playing after the end credits if you’re still looking for more or to complete your collection of teammates. Your mileage may vary, but I was all finished by that point. Had I not played the sequel first, I might have been more interested in doing so, but I don’t think so.
As I mentioned above, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team has a GBA sibling. They’re a somewhat disappointing pair graphically, because the graphics on the lower screen of the DS are identical to those of the GBA, despite the DS’ greater graphical abilities. The upper screen in Blue Rescue Team on the DS is not amazingly helpful, but it is useful in that it can help you keep better tabs on your team’s status while in dungeons. You can do this from the menu as well, the same way you’d do things in the GBA version, but having it immediately visible saves you a little bit of effort.
The lower screen is used for both gameplay and an automatic minimap that is extremely useful in the game’s randomly-generated dungeons, some of which are full of long, twisted hallways. Other things like a grid overlay (useful for throwing items) can be brought up using different buttons. The gameplay is shown from an overhead perspective, and fans of the Pokémon series will find all of the characters to be very recognizable.
Both the music and the sound effects in this game will keep your portable system occupied, and that’s really as much as I can say for them. The sound effects will be instantly familiar to anyone who has played a Pokémon game in the past, and while the music isn’t literally identical to what you’ve heard in previous games, it won’t surprise you either. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – it means that the music and sound don’t feel out of place – but you won’t feel that you have missed anything if you unplug the headphones and turn the speakers off.
The controls are fairly complex. Once you learn them, you’ll probably be okay, but there’s a lot of button duplication. As always, having to use one button for multiple things means that you’ll find yourself doing something other than what you wanted pretty often. It can be really annoying. The DS version gives you the option to use the touch-screen, but as is the case in the sequel, the buttons provide far superior control over your character, and it’s unlikely that you’ll use the screen more than a few times.
The Mystery Dungeon games are definitely different than most Pokémon games, and there’s fun to be had with them, but there are still a lot of better games available on the DS (including the second Pokémon Mystery Dungeon), which makes Blue Rescue Team difficult to recommend. Unless you’re a completionist who feels they must play every single game with the word Pokémon in its name, I would skip this one in favor of something else.