There are certain dreams in life that are universal, such as world peace, the eradication of cancer, and playing a full-fledged Pokémon game on a home console. We’re still working on the first two, but Nintendo fans have been frothing at the mouth over the possibility of the third finally becoming a reality.
Pokémon rumors have been swirling around the Switch since before the new system was announced, but with E3 right around the corner, the current speculation is that a new version of the game (likely the usual “third version” of Pokémon Sun/Moon) will be announced within the next month or so. One important piece of this puzzle, however, remains unclear: What system will the game actually be released for?
On the surface, the choice seems obvious: The Switch is a shiny new system that features both a portable way to play and a ton of momentum (both in terms of buzz and actual sales), while the 3DS is an aging platform with considerably weaker specs. Pokémon is an immensely-popular game that can drive hardware sales (a lot of people bought a 3DS just for the game), which is exactly the kind of game Nintendo need to keep the Switch hype train going. The question isn’t why Pokémon should come to the Switch, it’s why shouldn’t it come to the Switch?
The problem, however, is that despite its disadvantages, the 3DS can still make a strong case for keeping the Pokémon series:
- The 3DS may be aging, but it’s aging gracefully. Its install base is 66 million+ strong,* it just got a new hardware refresh with the New 2DS XL, and a bunch of new games are coming to the system this year. Its long-term future is still a bit murky, but it isn’t going away anytime soon.
- The Pokémon series has never been known for stunning visuals—rather, it’s the gameplay that draws people in, and Nintendo has shown time and time again that Pokémon can thrive without cutting-edge graphics. Outside of the visual upgrade (and it’s worth noting that the Switch’s graphics aren’t exactly cutting-edge themselves), what upgrades does the Switch’s horsepower offer? Unless Nintendo wanted to radically redesign the franchise’s core gameplay (and I have to admit, the idea of wandering around a Breath of the Wild-style world while catching and battling Pokémon in real-time battles sounds pretty awesome), they don’t really need what the Switch offers.
- I speculated earlier that the 3DS was being positioned as a cheap entry-level system for younger gamers to contrast with the Switch’s more-mature target audience. While many of Nintendo’s franchises either favor one of these demographics or have a logical split between the two, Pokémon is a universally-beloved game across basically every demographic you can think of. It’s perfect for hooking youths on Nintendo hardware, while its competitive battle scene, complex set of battle mechanics, and strong nostalgic appeal keep older players coming back over and over.
So which system should the next Pokémon appear on, the Switch or 3DS? I offer the following Socratic answer: Why does this have to be an either/or question?
If Pokémon is a good game for casual and hardcore gamers alike, then it should appear on both systems. Pokémon 3DS would be the classic Pokémon adventure we all know and love, along with some additions that would benefit new players (showing which attacks are super or not effective against an opponent the first time they see them, for example). Pokémon Switch, in contrast, could include some competitive-specific tweaks, such as the ability to view IV and EV counts directly (none of that poor/decent/above-average/best/etc. obfuscation) and perhaps a way to assess a wild Pokémon’s potential the moment you encounter it. Sure, Pokémon 3DS wouldn’t have the visual polish of its Switch cousin, but it would still be Pokémon, and that’s all that matters. (If Nintendo wanted to take this even farther, they could split their 8th-gen Pokémon games across the two consoles, give both versions some exclusive Pokémon, and let players on one console trade and battle with players on the other.)
In short, Nintendo’s strategy should be to get Pokémon in front of as many gamers as possible, and if they ask “Should the game be on the 3DS, or the Switch?”, my answer would just be “Yes.”