[Nintendad Coffeehouse] Recapturing Childhood Awe with Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX

Fleeting childhood

It seems that cynicism is unfortunately an intrinsic element of growing up. As children, we question the world and revel in its minutiae. Something as simple as a grassy hill is an afternoon of fun, something as grandiose as a snowstorm is a day of adventure. As we age, though, the curtain is drawn back, the mechanics of the world around us become creaking cogs and gears, no longer the oiled behemoth that inspired awe as we came to age, synthesizing a worldly fascination. For as illusive as such childhood wonderment can seem in its totality as we age, though, it still ebbs and flows around us, begging to be recaptured. It can be found in the most picturesque of peaks and valleys that dot the natural landscape around us. Sometimes, it can be vicariously recaptured through the youth of others. Sometimes, it strikes acutely when it is least expected, through avenues that wouldn’t appear to be obvious when considered in a vacuum. Sometimes, that avenue is a Pokémon game.

The Pokémon Direct

The time was nine twenty and I had just awoken a scant ten minutes before another decade of Nintendo Directs was poised to begin. Ushered in by the Pokémon Company, this January extravaganza hoped to reinvigorate and reunite a fanbase cleaved in two by last November’s Pokémon Sword and Shield. I was ready for this deluge of information, presently engaged by the tantalizing machinations of the next step for the Pokémon series, something that I considered once beloved. Simultaneously, as I awoke on a futon with a friend on the floor after a night of Super Smash Bros. and The Mandalorian, I was also ready for a bit more rest, and my valiant efforts to catch the Pokémon Direct live slipped away as I slipped quickly back into a light sleep.

Reawakened by a subconscious itching to catch them all, my eyes fluttered back open at a fashionably late nine thirty-three, barely missing the start to the Pokémon Direct. As my fatigued fingers thudded their way through YouTube and onto the livestream, I was pleased to discover that I had seemingly missed only introductory exposition, as prominent figures in Game Freak continued to posture about the future of the series in a vague manner, one that suggested an imminent announcement. That announcement, of course, was the Pokémon Sword and Shield Expansion Pass, a poorly revealed but seemingly content-rich add-on to the first Pokémon outing in the series’ storied history that I couldn’t even bring myself to complete. The presentation fell flat. That is, until I checked Twitter and found myself greeted by a wave of excitement for Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX, a title announced in the early minutes of the Direct that I had slept through.

A link to my past

Immediately, I wasn’t stretched out on a futon scrolling Twitter, but in the backseat of my mother’s silver Volkswagen Passat, my hyperactive seven-year-old fingers fumbling a preowned copy of Pokémon Blue Rescue Team out of the GameStop bag in my lap. Purchased on my grandmother’s dime, probably as reward for some menial, but at that age herculean, accomplishment, my mind wandered excitedly into the world of Pokémon.  My eyes, though, couldn’t wander as they were fixated on the cast of foreboding Pokémon that reflected dazzling colors upon the game’s sparkling cover art. Unbeknownst to me, I was a short car ride away from beginning my journey into the rich universe created by a Satoshi Tajiri and Game Freak.

The Pokémon series, perhaps more so than any other pop culture franchise, defined my childhood. Being a Pokémon fan did not begin and end with the Power switch on my Nintendo DS, though, as Pokémon was a lifestyle. I didn’t need Pokémon Go to become a trainer. I had a backyard and more Pokémon toys than I could fit in all the pockets of my cargo shorts, more than what was required to live out the fantasies of exploration and individualism that the series championed. I spent an incalculable number of hours dialed into my parent’s GoldStar bedroom television, watching episode after episode of the Pokémon anime. I met my elementary school best friend through a Pokémon math binder and took refuge in the series after abruptly transferring schools for seventh grade. Eventually, Pokémon found me my middle school companions too, after my shy self overheard two kids in the art room debating the merits of Pokémon X and Y’s starters. The series was always there when I needed it, and so many of staple moments of my childhood are tied to it.

On a larger scale, though, the series amplified the very childhood wonderment that I’ve lost touch with as I’ve grown older. The world of Pokémon encouraged me to wonder. It broadened my imagination and deepened my creativity and I simply would not be the writer and thinker I am today had I not grown up and evolved alongside my Turtwig in Pokémon Platinum. But, as I became older and more cynical, I almost forgot this—forgot what Pokémon means to me beyond a game series that I have a particular affinity for. I allowed myself to become disconnected from the personal, sentimental value that Pokémon holds purely due to my discontent with the current trajectory of the franchise. Currently, I find Pokémon unfortunately annualized and entirely stagnant, positing only the occasional creative idea buried within an avalanche of status quo design philosophy.

A Rescue Team reunion

All that I needed to remember the significance that Pokémon has always and will always hold sat in front of me on my Twitter feed, though. Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX proved to be the catalyst for the chain reaction that unlocked these memories and sentiments in my mind. The announcement on its own sparked these contemplations but getting to experience the game firsthand through the demo sparked a tumult of emotion. Hearing the music swell resonated at my core, reconnecting me to a time when the world was at its most fresh and exciting. I felt a sting at the corner of my eye where I knew the tear was forming, brought forth by the symphonic ambiance and aesthetic beauty of Rescue Team DX’s world. Some might chock it up to nostalgia, but I’d chock it up to recollection: the opening of a window into a more youthful time.

Coming to terms with the loss of innocence and the step beyond childhood can be hard to reconcile, when the prize for understanding is only a clearer lens that sees the bleak realities of our world. Making this realization is imperative but doing so without the attempt to reconnect with that which is lost makes the world seem that much colder. How you reconnect is largely a personal choice, but by reading this installment of Nintendad Coffeehouse, the chances are that video games are one such avenue to explore in the pursuit of what once was. There is a tendency, I may even call it the necessity, to analyze and critique every game that crosses our paths. Such discourse is integral to navigating and improving our industry but doing so inherently places us within the mindset of the adult. We question instead of wonder. Often, we need to do the former.

Learing to wonder again

From time to time, though, the latter is just as integral. Playing the demo for Rescue Team DX, I found myself starting to see behind the curtain once more, grumbling at the game’s systemic design. For a moment, though, I made the conscious decision to stop. Like the human turned Pokémon that is the protagonist of the game, I decided to accept what had become and enjoy what was around me. I stopped questioning and played the game as though I was seven again. Allowing ourselves these lapses back into youth reinvigorates the mind and sharpens it for critique later, it reminds us that art is more than an evaluation but a machination. It’s the catalyst for a thought and the opportunity for an experience. Allow yourself to simply enjoy from time to time, and your appreciation for the medium will grow that much deeper.