You know, Pokemon is kind of amazing. Despite all predictions for multiple decades now, the franchise remains the single most popular and profitable entertainment property in the world. Seriously. The pokemon craze that started all the way back in the mid-90s is still going strong almost 30 years later! Wow! What’s even more amazing is that we’ve been getting more and more of it each year, with this year even seeing three major releases within a single year span: Pokemon Brilliant Diamond/ Pearl, Pokemon Legends: Arceus and now Pokemon Scarlet/Violet! I would say that it’s amazing we’re not seeing fan burnout, but maybe we are.
I’ve been out of the pokemon loop for a few years now, with my last real outing being Pokemon X all the way back in 2013. That was the last time that I feel the series really took an overall positive step forward in terms of mechanics and presentation. They basically did everything right in that game as far as I’m concerned. It looked good, the new ‘mons were cool, much of the drudgery was reduced and a lot of the hidden, meta-game stuff was much easier to access and influence. Of course, much like the studio responsible for a certain blue hedgehog, Game Freak has a habit of throwing babies out with the bathwater.
While something of a step up in terms of presentation, I feel that both Sun/Moon and Sword/Shield were regressions in terms of gameplay. Much of the quality of life improvements from X/Y were inexplicably absent and the new stuff felt largely pointless. I suppose you could say that Dynamax was interesting, but that’s about it. It was more or less the same for the Diamond/Pearl remakes (was there really anything notable there?) and Pokemon Legends: Arceus. The latter of which, albeit flawed, actually does at least offer fans something new.
This brings us finally to Pokemon Scarlet/ Violet. I don’t know what exactly was possessing Game Freak during this one’s development, but this has to be their weakest effort by far. Sure, we can finally properly explore a world of pokemon (15 year after getting the necessary technology), but what other positives are there here?
Pokemon Scarlet / Violet has, for some reason, entirely dropped the series’ signature art style for this strange, uncanny valley-ish cross between real-life and anime aesthetics. Like, it just looks weird. Not to mention the whole of it is oddly washed-out in terms of color. There are only a handful of interesting-looking new pokemon, lots of “eh” ones, and some really downright ugly, “what were they thinking?!” designs. Ah, but I shouldn’t just sit here and dump on the game for things that are mostly subjective when it comes to whether they’re actually good or bad qualities. No, the real issue, the one that’s got everyone talking, is the games’ utterly awful technical performance.
Pokemon Scarlet/ Violet are certainly playable, but the internet hasn’t become awash with problem-filled videos out of nowhere. For whatever reason, Game Freak (and by extension Nintendo) let a lot slide with this latest entry in the series. The problems are so obvious that one cannot help but wonder how they missed it, and, if they didn’t, why they felt it was okay to release it such a rough shape. There’s the obvious answer (“because they could”), but is that really all there is too it?
Why have these companies ramped up the pokemon releases to this degree? Why have they suddenly decided to absolutely inundate fans with poke-stuff even at the cost of quality? Is it simply because they know fans’ll gladly buy it anyway? I hope it’s not that simple, but it sure seems like it is. I mean, just look at the likes of Madden, FIFA and Call of Duty; those series do even less than this each year and always seem to grow in popularity anyway. If they can do it, why not Pokemon, right?
There was a time when a new Pokemon release was something really special to look forward to; something that , while not always ground-breaking, at least offered some gameplay innovation and interesting new pokemon to play with. You could also count on enjoying that release for a couple of years.
Now though, not only are the new games not offering truly new stuff, but they’re less polished and are only separated by just a few months. In other words, Pokemon is well on-track to becoming even more disposable than the big sports series if they keep this up. I don’t want to see that happen, but I wonder if there’s anything that can stop it.
What do you think of the modern state of Pokemon? What do you think of the new games? How about the sheer amount of stuff coming out lately?
Image from Pokemon Legends: Arceus announcement trailer