Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team Hands-On

We spend some quality time with a near-finished version of Nintendo's upcoming Pokémon RPG for the DS.

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Currently scheduled for release in North America next month (November in Europe), Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team is a role-playing game in which you'll assume the role of a child who has mysteriously been transformed into a Pokémon. To determine which type of Pokémon you get to play as, the first thing you'll be required to do is answer a number of questions about your personality. After being told that the Pokémon that we're most like is Bulbasaur, we were then asked to choose a partner for our upcoming adventure from the following roster: Charmander, Squirtle, Pikachu, Totodile, Cyndaquil, Torchic, and Mudkip.

Your responses to a brief personality test will determine which Pokémon you play as.
Your responses to a brief personality test will determine which Pokémon you play as.

After sitting through a short conversation between the Bulbasaur and Totodile duo that we opted for, we were approached by a distressed Butterfree who explained that her baby Caterpie had fallen into a fissure and needed to be rescued. Earthquakes and other natural disasters have become commonplace in the Pokémons' world of late, it seems, and though nobody knows why, it's clear that Pokémon everywhere are in need of help.

The "dungeons" in Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team take the form of caves, and you'll be tasked with navigating and battling your way through one floor at a time. The caves that we've been exploring have no more than 10 floors, but we understand that as you progress through the game, you'll be rescuing Pokémon in distress from dungeons containing as many as 99 floors. On each floor, you'll find a staircase leading to the next, as well as aggressive Pokémon to defend yourself against and numerous items to pick up, such as berries, seeds, gummies, money, and rocks that can be thrown at enemies.

It's possible to play Mystery Dungeon Blue using the Nintendo DS stylus, but we found using the directional pad and face buttons to be preferable. What's strange about the game is that although you're moving around and hitting your attack button in real time, the battles between Pokémon (and even your enemies' movement) appear to be turn based. Initially, this can have the effect of making the controls feel unresponsive, but it's actually a pretty good system that you can use to your advantage once you get the hang of it.

Most of the enemies that you encounter early on can easily be defeated using the basic attack button, but you'll earn more experience points for your entire party if you choose to use some of your Pokémon's special skills. As in previous Pokémon games, you'll start with only a few different abilities at your disposal, but as you level up, you'll learn plenty more--all of which will be familiar if you're a fan of the series. When playing as Bulbasaur, for example, the growl and tackle moves that we started out with were soon joined by vine whip and leech seed. You won't be able to exert the same level of control over your partners, but you can influence their behavior by assigning them different "IQ" and "tactics" settings. You can tell your partner to attack foes on sight or to follow you at all times, for example.

Check your mailbox regularly for news on upcoming rescue jobs.
Check your mailbox regularly for news on upcoming rescue jobs.

When you're not inside a dungeon attempting to complete one or more rescue missions, you'll either be checking the mailbox outside your home for pleas for help or spending time in Pokémon Square. At the Square, you'll find stores; a bank; a post office, where you can find out about rescue jobs; and a "link shop," where you can pay to link your special moves. We've only scratched the surface of what Pokémon Square has to offer, but we suspect that the option to combine moves and items with each other will add a lot of depth to the game as you spend more time experimenting with them.

Toward the end of our session, a Magnemite that we'd rescued earlier was invited to join our rescue team but was unable to accept because we had nowhere for it to live. It's clear that you'll be able to recruit other Pokémon as you progress through the game, though it appears that a maximum of four will be able to enter dungeons simultaneously. We look forward to bringing you more information on Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team as soon as it becomes available.

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