Has Nintendo Just Sacrificed Pokémon Sun/Moon?

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Pokémon is perhaps Nintendo’s most well-known, lucrative, and beloved game franchise (seriously, not even Mario can touch these critters). When times are tough and things look bleak, the Big N can count on a dose of these collectible monsters for a shot of money and goodwill. Exhibit A of this fact are Pokémon Sun and Moon, which were announced when spirits were low around the company, and have merely gone on to sell 4.5 million copies and become Nintendo’s fastest-selling game ever. In short, the true mascot of Pokémon is not an electric mouse but a golden goose, and Nintendo would be absolutely insane to ever undermine this franchise.

Desperate times, unfortunately, called for desperate measures, and Nintendo’s new console rollout has put Pokémon Sun/Moon in a precarious position, and the success of one may come at the expense of the other.

When Nintendo introduced the Switch as a hybrid home/portable console, it meant that the Switch would be competing against the company’s existing 3DS console line. This in itself is not a bad thing: The 3DS is aging (and not aging terribly well, as anyone who’s tried to play Pokémon Sun/Moon on an original model can attest), and while it has been fairly successful, it was probably due for retirement in another year or so anyway. It does, however, mean that late-life 3DS games, despite are doomed to be overshadowed by the Switch’s shiny new releases/ports.

Although the 3DS and Switch both use cartridges for games, the Switch does not provide backwards compatibility for any prior console. This forces diehard Nintendo/Pokémon fans to make an uncomfortable decision: Do I really want to carry two separate devices around to play all the games I want?

As someone who is usually also carrying around a laptop, phone, and other assorted electronic gizmos, I am not looking forward to having another device cluttering up my bag, especially if I’m flying. As someone who is also a huge fan of Pokémon and many other Nintendo franchises. My choices, and the choices of other Nintendo fans like me, are these:

  • Carry only my 3DS, and miss out on the Switch’s biggest selling point (being able to play Splatoon 2Super Mario Odyssey, etc. anywhere I want).
  • Carry only my Switch, and miss out on playing Pokémon Moon.
  • Carry both, and suffer a lifetime of TSA frustration and orthopedic problems because my shoulder bag has too much junk in it.

The problem will eventually sort itself out as the 3DS fades away and the Switch (hopefully) gains prominence and market share. Any games caught in this transition period, however, are going to suffer, especially if they’re on the receding console.

Pokémon Sun and Moon aren’t the only games caught on what appears to be the wrong side of history (Poochy and Yoshi’s Woolly WorldFire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, and Ever Oasis are also in trouble), but they’re by far the highest-profile games caught in this trap, and will likely be the hardest game to give up for those planning to jump on the Switch train. Regardless of how the community splits, either the air gets taken out of the Pokémon community or the Switch user base, which means Nintendo loses. (Then again, if someone’s already bought all the hardware, maybe Nintendo wins.)

Unfortunately, I think Nintendo had to take this course of action: They needed Pokémon to shore up their present, and they needed the Switch to sell people on their future, which meant Pokémon Sun/Moon was going to end up a sacrificial Mareep all along. While the decision was understandable, it doesn’t make the situation suck any less.

There was, however, a way for Nintendo to ease the pain of this transition:

An early release of Pokémon Stars/Eclipse/WhateverTheyCallIt would have been a perfect way to bridge the gap between the 3DS and Switch, as Pokémon fans could transition away from the 3DS confident that Nintendo had their favorite franchise covered. Throw in a few new Pokémon, expand the storyline slightly, and throw in a $10 discount for owning Sun or Moon, and everyone would be happy. Nintendo has yet to officially announce anything about Pokémon on the Switch, leaving fans to speculate about the franchise’s future (Maybe an E3 announcement? Maybe 2018?)

While Pokémon Stars could technically be a 3DS release, doing so would completely undermine the Switch, as Pokémon fans would start wondering “What’s the point of buying this new console if I’ll never get to play Pokémon on it?” My guess is that this only happens if the Switch completely tanks and Nintendo has to rely on the 3DS to stay in business.

In short, the Nintendo Switch’s portable capabilities are about to upset the apple carts of both Pokémon and the 3DS, and Pokémon Sun and Moon are going to bear the brunt of this cost. Enjoy the online scene while you can, because it’s going to take a major hit starting March 3rd.

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