What Happened To Nintendo Quality?

Remember the old Nintendo Seal of Quality? It was a golden badge that adorned the boxes of NES games, in an attempt to signal the quality of the contents within in the wake of the video game industry’s collapse in the early 1980s. Over the next few decades, Nintendo developed a reputation for rock-solid durability and performance in both its hardware and software. (Seriously, their stuff could take a pounding without flinching; I literally dropped my original Game Boy in a river once, and all that happened was a single line on the screen stopped functioning.) You could argue about whether a game or a system was good or bad, but you could never question its functionality—if it was Nintendo’s, it would run, and run darn well.

This seal is actually still used by Nintendo today; it’s on the back of the Splatoon 3 case that’s sitting next to me right now. However, the “of Quality” part of the seal was removed a long time ago, and it’s not hard to see why. Over the last few years, Nintendo’s reputation for quality has taken a major hit, as both its hardware and software have suffered some embarrassing (and occasionally game-breaking) failures during the Switch era.

I was concerned that Nintendo was rushing the Switch to market all the way back in 2017, and time has really not been kind to this hardware, which feels uniquely fragile among the company’s consoles. Issues like screen-scratching docks, drifting controller sticks, and warping/bulging Switches (all three of which my own console suffers from) have been persistent thorns in the Switch’s side, to say nothing of its network connectivity problems (which, to be fair, have never been Nintendo’s strong suit). I’ve had hardware problems with Nintendo consoles before (my N64 control sticks and Game Boy Color buttons are a bit worn down, and it can take 10 minutes to get a single NES game to load properly), but they’ve felt like isolated incidents born from years of abuse, and they’ve all held up a whole lot better than the Switch has.

Lately, however, it’s been software issues that have brought this issue back to the forefront. With the paradigm shift to post-launch updates, Nintendo has been pushing out a lot of titles that have felt less than complete, and their inconsistent post-launch support of games can make it feel like you’re buying a $60 lottery ticket. (Seriously, when was the last time anyone played Mario Golf: Super Rush? And that Mario Strikers: Battle League hype sure fizzled out quickly…) Pokémon titles in particular have also come under fire for poor performance, as games like Sun/Moon and Let’s Go! Eevee felt a bit unpolished (and in the case of Let’s Go!, a bit janky). Now, however, the problems seem to be getting worse, pushing games from “unpolished” to downright broken.

Pokémon Scarlet and Violet are currently the most visible offenders, with problems ranging from low frame rates and pop-in monsters to awkward character motions and boundaries that were far-too-easily bypassed to item and Pokémon duplication glitches. However, Splatoon 3 has been suffering from its own flood of bugs as well, from weapons that shoot through walls and can kill without actually hitting the target to brushes that don’t spread ink (as demonstrated by Wadsm in the header video). The lengthy patch notes for the last two S3 updates would make any programmer queasy, with mountains of fixes for bugs that should have been caught long before the game was released.

I declared a while ago that Splatoon 3 had been rushed based solely on its awful Internet connectivity (a steep downgrade from Splatoon 2, which itself was never a model of stability), but this constant stream of bugs and glitches makes me think Nintendo (which wanted to release this in the summer of 2022) would have been better off waiting until the summer of 2023 to release the game instead of rushing it to market the way that they did. (Pokémon is a tougher needle to thread because the game release has to synchronize with the TV series schedule, but I feel like the glitches have been so extreme and so visible that a full media delay would have been easier to swallow than the reputational hit they’re taking now.) It’s yet another body blow to Nintendo’s formerly-solid reputation on quality, and one that should really make the Big N think a little harder about their marketing strategy.

That said, the problem is that even with the bugs and glitches, these games are making bank right now, which means there’s little incentive for Nintendo and its partners to change course. In the gaming business, Shigeru Miyamoto’s old quote about a rushed game being forever bad has been flipped on its head: A rushed game might be forever bad, but a delayed game leaves too much money on the table. It’s honestly a little disheartening, and while eventually these games will plug most of the holes, it seems a little unfair to pay $60 for the privilege of being a glorified beta-tester.

Still, I think Nintendo would be better off going back to a slow-and-steady approach to game development. In fact, I think they’re in a good position to take such a stance: They backed out of the console arms race all the back in the Wii era, and their exclusive high-quality IPs means they’re not really directly competing with anyone but themselves. (Seriously, look at all the off-brand Mario Kart clones that have been announced and/or released in the last year or so. You think any of them are actually making Nintendo worry about market share?) Their brand and their reputation are their best assets, and if they cause people to start to question them, they could be in big trouble. (Just ask Sega, who went through a dark period with the Sonic franchise in the mid/late 2000s that it’s never truly been able to shake.)

In short, Nintendo’s playing with fire right now, and it’s starting to burn them. The short-term profits are nice, but the long-term damage to their reputation could seriously devalue both their software and hardware, and color how future gamers think of the company’s offerings. The cows may already be out of the barn for Splatoon 3 and Pokémon Scarlet/Violet, but for their next big releases (The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, anyone?), I’d encourage them to take their time, get everything in order, and put out a product on Day 1 that they’d be proud to stick that old gold label on.

My Reaction to the February 2021 Pokémon Presents

Is too much of a good thing still a good thing?

If The Pokémon Company were a U.S. tech company, Congress would be talking up antitrust action and grilling Tsunekazu Ishihara in a seat beside Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg. Twenty-six years after Red and Green dropped in Japan, the Pokémon franchise has evolved into an unstoppable entertainment behemoth, spanning the worlds of film, television, literature, trading cards, and video games (and that doesn’t even include the decades worth of plush and plastic merchandise that’s built up in our homes). Sadly, as the company has evolved, I’ve merely gotten older, and where once the Pokémon Face-Off series was a staple of the blog, I now barely keep up with ongoing developments in the series. I nearly missed last weekend’s “Pokémon Presents” presentation, and when I discovered that it was happening, my reaction was far more muted than 2016 Kyle would have tolerated. The company just dropped G4 remakes and a Legends game that completely reimagined how we interact with Pokémon, I figured. What else could they have to show us?

It turns out the answer was “quite a bit.”

We’ll get to the big reveal at the end of the presentation, but for me the biggest takeaway was just how massive Pokémon has become, even within just the video game sphere. There’s a Pokémon game for darn near everyone now, and The Pokémon Company has a lot of irons in the fire as it continues pushing the franchise in a million different directions. All together, it’s a massive and impressive undertaking, and the fanbase has grown immensely because of it. However, the mainline RPG games remain the core driver of Pokémon, and as people continue to question the quality of each new iteration (honestly, I’m starting to think moving Pokémon to the Switch wasn’t a great call; it created a new set of expectations that the series has struggled to meet, especially on the technical side), my question now is this: How much is too much? In the face of an accelerating development cycle, I’m wondering if Game Freak and The Pokémon Company are spread a bit too thin.

My specific thoughts on the presentation are as follows:

  • So Pokémon Go has been out for almost six years now, and you’re telling me they’re only now adding G7 monsters to the game? The “slow rollout” approach to a game’s full cast has always frustrated me, and with Pokémon Go now a long way removed from its ‘phenomenon’ status, I think they should release monster generations more quickly to let players get the full experience. (In fact, I’d synchronize Go to the mainline releases and drop G9 monsters the moment those games go live, so they can piggyback off each other’s success.) I mean, it’s better to have Alolan Pokémon now than to never get them at all, but I don’t see why the game has to continuously play catch-up when other aspects of the franchise (say, the anime and the mainline games) are synchronized so precisely.
  • So Pokémon Masters EX is…a thing, I guess? I’ve seen announcements and updates for the game over the years, but I’ve never truly seen the appeal of it. It feels a bit more character-driven than most Pokémon games, and not being able to easily customize your team seems like it would take all the fun out of it. I’m sure it’s making money because that’s what Pokémon does, but it’s not a notable part of the franchise.
  • I’m not really interested in Pokémon Café Remix either, but at least the game’s existence makes sense to me: Puzzle games expand the player base by bringing a different demographic to the franchise, the game is a good fit for mobile phones, and they’re still a collection aspect to the game by recruiting monsters to join your staff. Still, it’s not a game that generates a lot of buzz, and part of the reason I think they tossed it and Pokémon Masters EX in here is to remind people that they exist.
  • Pokémon Unite doesn’t seem to have the buzz it once did either, which is kind of a shame given that it felt like it was well-positioned to challenge established MOBA titles like Dota 2 and League of Legends. The new character reveals have really lost their luster (Hoopa looked interesting, but was anyone actually excited when Duraludon was teased?), and the constant balance issues and pay-to-win problems have really sapped this title’s momentum. It was a good idea, but it hasn’t done enough to establish itself as a true contender in this genre.
  • Back in his review of Pokémon Legends: Arceus, Zack noted that the game was fairly short, and with the Daybreak update being released so quickly with a whole bunch of new postgame missions, it really makes me wonder about Game Freak and TPC’s strategy: Is this more slow rolling? Or is it an admission that the game was trimmed down to make an ambitious deadline and they’re now getting around to filling in the gaps? Still, there’s something to look forward to here: The new missions so far tend to focus on mass outbreaks, and there’s a chance this mechanic could be a gateway to including different types of Pokémon in the game, so there’s a good chance the developers will continue to expand the game and bump up its Pokémon roster. Slow rolling or not, and the end of the day it’s more Pokémon, and this is never a bad thing.
Image from WePC.com
  • Finally, we got the big reveal: Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, the ninth generation of the mainline Pokémon series. (Looking at the timeline on Wikipedia, I feel like this shouldn’t really have been a surprise; it appears to be about time for a new generation.) The trailer opened with a bizarre, pointless security-guard scene at Game Freak’s “offices,” which never really tied back to the reveal and felt like a failed attempt to copy the misdirection/mystery of Smash Bros. character reveals. The graphics, much like those seen in early Legends: Arceus trailers, are nothing to write home about (there was still some noticeable stuttering in the videos, especially those wind turbines), but the key reveal was that the game was confirmed to be taking the next step beyond Legends: Arceus and becoming a true open-world experience, fulfilling the promise that Sword and Shield flashed a few years ago. The starting starter designs were shown off (Sprigatito, Fuecoco, and Quaxly), the new default Trainer look was revealed, and a vague “late 2022” release date was provided at the end of the trailer.

While I’m excited to see another Pokémon game on the horizon, I’m also confused to…well, see another Pokémon game on the horizon. I mean, Legends: Arceus has only been released for about a month, and Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are only three months old—schedule or no schedule, did we really need another Pokémon game to suck all the oxygen out of the room? (To say nothing of the other games it threatened to overshadow, like Triangle Strategy and Kirby and the Forgotten Land, although the latter game should be fine.) I’m starting to worry that we’re going to hit the Pikachu saturation point, and if the games continue to exhibit technical issues (seriously, the Let’s Go! games were a total mess), I would counsel Nintendo and its partners to focus on depth over breadth, and take the time they need to make sure these games are done right.

Of course, judging a game’s quality on a pre-pre-pre-release trailer isn’t terribly useful either, and given how things seemed to improve between Legends: Arceus‘s reveal and release, I think these games should turn out okay as well. Lots of people have been hoping for a 100% open-world Pokémon, and it’s still refreshing to see The Pokémon Company try to breathe life into what was a pretty stale formula. At the end of the day, it’s Pokémon, and even their “bad” games are still fun to play.

So where does that leave us with the presentation? Honestly, I’d call it pretty meh overall: Even with the big G9 reveal, there was a lot of time spent trying to remind us just how much stuff Pokémon is actually involved in, and I’m not sure it’s a good thing. (Anyone heard anything from Pokémon Sleep lately?) I’m not sure The Pokémon Company has found its footing on the Switch just yet, and it’s a fair question to ask whether it attention is too divided to give its bread-and-butter offerings the time and attention they deserve. Still, I’ve enjoyed every mainline Pokémon game I’ve played (yes, even Let’s Go! Eevee had its moments), and I’m sure I’ll have fun with the next generation. I may not get to have fun with it until 2024 given how much my game backlog is growing, but I’ll bet I’ll have fun eventually.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus: Is It Worth Buying?

Image from WCCF Tech

[Editor’s Note: We’ve got a surprise for folks today: Zack Kephart from The Musical Divide is here with a special guest review of the latest entry in the Pokémon series! If you like the review, be sure to check out TMD, where Zack and Andy post album reviews, discuss the latest country single releases, and examine the history of the genre through their ‘Fine Fifteen’ and ‘The Unbroken Circle’ series. Without further ado, let’s get to the review!]

Author’s note: While I have tried to keep this as spoiler free as possible, I am writing this from the perspective of someone who assumes the reader at least understands what this game is like on a foundational level, so as to save time and spend more time reviewing the actual game, rather than explaining it. Thank you for your understanding.

You’ll want to ready your pitchforks for this statement: I still like the classic Pokémon formula.

I don’t know, maybe it’s just the ease and accessibility of returning to something familiar time and time again, but I can go back to basically any of the past games and have a relatively fun time, at least. At its core, Pokémon is fun – simple as that.

In past years, however, my interest has waned. It’s still basically the same game, but why do I get so much more enjoyment out of returning to, say, Crystal or Black and White than I do X and Y or Sword and Shield? In a way, a lot of it comes down to us, the fans. Anyone who’s loved Pokémon from its earliest days is most certainly an adult now; we’ve grown up and changed. But, has Game Freak? In a lot of ways, no. We’ve had some changes made to the battle system here and there (though not to the same degree as Paper Mario, thankfully), but for the most part, you go through a region, form a team, beat some gym leaders, catch a legendary, and make your way to becoming the champion. And again, this is still obviously fine for an overwhelmingly large audience; again, even for me.

If anything, it’s that first-time feeling being replicated so many times over that I think has soured some of the newer games for certain fans. Still fun, but not necessarily amazing or potent beyond that initial playthrough. So when I booted up my copy of Legends: Arceus (finally, the review!), it’s like it all came back to me again. The short version of this review is that I had a blast playing through this game, and it’s likely the most fun I’ve had with a Pokémon game since over a decade ago. Unpacking the “why” or what’s really changed, however, is the tricky part. In some ways, this echoes a lot of the callbacks of that classic Pokémon formula. But it’s the way it’s all presented that finally makes it seem like Pokémon has entered the modern age.

In a nutshell, Legends: Arceus is something like Pokémon’s version of Breath of the Wild, though let’s really unpack what that means. First of all, this is the first open world Pokémon game, but there’s also some caveats. You start the game in Jubilife Village some hundreds of years before the region of Hisui became the Sinnoh we explored in Diamond, Pearl and Platinum, which acts as your main home for the duration of the game. And you’re not a Pokemon trainer – you’re a researcher tasked with exploring areas of the world (which open up to you little by little). So no, you can’t just catch a Lv. 85 creature and expect to breeze through the game (though there are some shortcuts you can take elsewhere that are gloriously fun, like catching a Togekiss while your party will likely still be in its teens), but the areas you explore are so wide open and diverse that it hardly matters. Even with a smaller cast of characters, I still found that there was often a ton to do at any point.

Of course, on the note of areas, let’s get the issue of the graphics out of the way now. No, they’re not terribly impressive, and there’s really no excuse for this to look like a Wii game in 2022. Whether or not that really bothers you is your call. For me … well, I’m willing to forgive it, but there are exceptions. First of all, you’ll be collecting stuff out in the wild just like you do in past games, only these items aren’t tucked away in neat little Poké Balls waiting to be found. And on that note, you (mostly) won’t be finding Poké Balls or Potions out in the wild, either. You make them yourself, kid.

That’s right – using items found in the wild, you craft your own supplies to survive (though you are free to buy what you want, too). And I have to say, I love this system. Money still matters, but it feels like it’s scarcer to come by, and oftentimes I found it more intuitive and rewarding to craft my own supplies. Though circling back to the graphics, while certain crafting items will stick out to players like a sore thumb, others can be hard to discern unless you’re really paying attention, and the game doesn’t ever really guide you on what’s what (spoilers: one of the crafting items for potions is called a medicinal leek, which basically just looks like a taller piece of grass and doesn’t stick out well, which I didn’t really know until, you know, a few hours in or so). And don’t even get me started on how the textures tend to glitch out whenever you engage in a battle from time to time, or how trying to find – let alone catch – Pokémon in the water is not nearly as much fun as it’s set up to be.

Outside of that, however, while I could wish for a cleaner-looking experience (though I will say the skybox is absolutely gorgeous), at the end of the day, it’s the gameplay that matters, and the element that’s changed the most. Even compared to Sword and Shield, you no longer have to run smack-dab into a creature to initiate a battle. You can either stealthily hide in the grass and wait for an opening to catch the Pokémon, or you can throw out a Poké Ball and send out your own creature to battle. And I love this system of giving players a choice of how they want to play the game.

Your main goal is literally just to complete the Pokedex, which really reverts the focus back to “catch ‘em all,” just as intended 25 years ago. You don’t go into menus to select items – you always have your team and your Poké Balls at the ready. And it even goes beyond that. Players can use berries to bait certain Pokemon to a certain position to get a better shot, or they can use other items like balls of mud (no, really), to stun them and get a better opening in battle. After all, each Pokémon is different. Some are calm, like Bidoof or Aipom, and will engage you in a friendly manner (heck, you can even play with them without claiming them as yours!). Others, meanwhile, are skittish and will try to run away as quick as possible, meaning that you have to be careful in your approach.

And others … well, there are a surprising amount of Pokémon that want to kill you in this game. Like, a lot. And while it can get annoyingly intense at points when you just want to explore at your own leisure, it’s all used to create a sense of atmosphere and adventure that’s been missing from the series for so long. You have to carefully plan an approach rather than just rely on old muscle memory tricks. Your Pokedex isn’t complete when you just catch a Pokémon – it’s completed when you actually study it. In some ways, I get the frustrations with the research tasks embedded into the main goal of this game. You may have to battle a Pokémon a certain amount of times to properly understand it, or you may have to catch a certain amount, or watch it use a certain move, or defeat it using a certain type of move. It sounds like a lot, but the fun part is that you can pick and choose which tasks you want to complete (you only need to do a certain amount), meaning that you can turn this entire game into a stealth catching mission, or you can turn it into an aggressive battling one. Or both. Or incorporate elements of both. Pokémon has needed to give players the freedom of choice for a long time now, and though it’s subtle and not quite delivered in the way we expected, it’s welcome nonetheless.

On that note, trying to untangle the strong style / agile style battle system is a bit messy without diverting this review too far off course, but I will say that I think it’s intuitive and interesting while still lacking the fine-tuning in the execution (I don’t really understand it even after two playthroughs, but I oddly like it?). To the best of my understanding, between it and the (spoilers) grit candies that buff effort levels and the return of experience candies, this appears to be a game geared toward players who want to truly use any team they want without feeling like they have to use the “best of the bunch,” so to say. To me, it appeared that they closed something of a gap with the stats, too. My early Pokémon were much stronger than they would have been in past games, but everything seemed to even itself out later on, making me think that the developers didn’t want players to worry about grinding levels too much, either. Even then, it’s much more strategy-based than before, and I like that you can turn the odds in your favor with just a little bit of planning. It’s fair yet still very challenging.

Which, really, considering how easy it is to get addicted to the catching mechanics of this game, shouldn’t come as a surprise that you’ll be overleveled for certain parts of the game and still be underleveled for others. There aren’t many trainer battles in this game, but there are some, and though they work a bit differently, this is probably the one element to feel closest to home for the series. It should also be noted that basically every battle you partake in is linked to the story in some fashion, and while I’ve seen critics note how slow-rolling this game is in its earliest stages and that the plot doesn’t really matter with a Pokémon game, this is another area that impressed me. My main critique with mainline Pokémon games of late is that they feel so linear and empty. Sword and Shield had the wild area … but it was bland, and it balanced it out with routes and towns that had no character or personality to them (it’s actually why I’ll defend Sun and Moon for bringing in some of that mystique and atmosphere back – Pokémon, to me, is better when it’s kept simple and not overblown, but that doesn’t mean it has to sacrifice that sense of adventure to achieve that).

The hand-holding is, admittedly, still there in the early parts of Legends, but it feels a bit more needed this time around. You’re a new kid in a strange land who can’t initially be trusted. Through your own actions, you help build a small town into a home full of people trying their best to understand and co-exist peacefully with strange creatures. Subtlety is, again, the key here. I loved progressing further and further through the game, knowing that a little more was being added by showing me, rather than outright telling me. The cast this time around is much smaller, and there are plenty of compelling characters within the bunch. If anything, for as many comparisons as one could throw around to Breath of the Wild, I was reminded more of Majora’s Mask. There’s a general sense of unease and dread, and like with that game, it is, surprisingly enough, the sidequests and extra tidbits that give this game its true heart and soul, rewarding players with material items but offering so much more beyond that.

Which is to say that, when it comes to the actual story, I’m a bit torn on it as a whole. On one hand, I like that this feels more lived-in and mature for a Pokémon mainline title, and there are plenty of twists and turns that keep things interesting – especially in the postgame – and actually make sense this time around. At the same time, it’s fairly easy to breeze through this game at a quick pace, and it’s really not until the end that it starts getting really good in this department. If you just want to play the game, Legends; Arceus is actually fairly short. It’s what you put into it that determines what you get out of it.

If I had to sum up the main difference with Legends: Arceus, it’s that it’s centered much more about resource management and survival than that general sense of comfort and familiarity we’ve come to expect from mainline titles. I don’t think I’ve felt this close to my team since the Gold and Silver days. But it all circles back to “why,” because on some level, every change made here does feel like it should have been implemented some time ago, or at least piece-by-piece to get here. And those who don’t want to give the game a pass for just now getting to it are free to do so, of course.

But … I don’t know. I said before that on a base level, Pokémon is, in any context, fun. And this game certainly isn’t without its many flaws. The areas are huge but can feel surprisingly empty at points. I’m actually thankful for the smaller cast of Pokémon this time around (the bulk of creatures from the fourth generation are, naturally, here … plus Paras and Spheal for some reason, even if I’m grateful to have the latter), if only to make completing the Pokedex a much more manageable goal. But there was also a sameness to the environments at points that made it feel like this was less about the Pokémon living naturally and more just showing at the exact same places every time for the player’s own convenience.

At the same time, every time I boot it back up I’m just inspired to go out into the world and watch these creatures really live and interact with one another. I’m inspired to complete the Pokedex because it’s actually very fairly doable in this game, even by yourself. I want to see everything this game has to offer because that sense of excitement and adventure is back. There’s a guaranteed way to catch a certain shiny Pokémon just like there was in Gold, Silver and Crystal. There’s a main quest that calls to mind the familial bond we saw between Marowak and Cubone in Red, Blue and Yellow. The totem Pokémon system from Sun and Moon feels like it’s been refined and better than ever before (though again, I won’t spoil anything further). And what can I say about the love and respect given to the fourth generation in scope and concept? Legends: Arceus is far from perfect, but it goes beyond that base level of fun to deliver something truly special and unique for the franchise that has plenty of room to grow, and that’s an exciting future I’m thrilled to watch unfold. 

Rating: 9/10. It feels like Pokemon has finally grown up with its audience and simultaneously recaptured that old-time magic. Give it a chance – you might be surprised.

My Reaction to the August 2021 Pokémon Presentation

Nintendo may have a few more big titles set to launch this year (WarioWare: Get It Together, Metroid Dread), but the Pokémon series has more clout, name recognition, and money-printing capabilities than most of Nintendo’s other franchises, so naturally its 4th-generation Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl remakes are the games that got the all-important late-November holiday shopping season slot this year. The franchise also has a much-anticipated open-world series debuting next year, and while the original announcement for Pokémon Legends was intriguing, the quality of the first trailer (or more appropriately, it’s lack of quality) made players more than a little concerned about how the game would turn out. Long story short, The Pokémon Company had a lot of questions to address, and this week’s Pokémon Presents video was the time to answer them.

So how were their answers this time around? Honestly, I can’t complain: The titles they showed off (most notably Pokémon Legends: Arceus) looked much improved from what we saw back in February, and while the 4th generation remakes are far from revolutionary, there were a couple of neat additions from other games that will be fun to mess around with. For a series whose presentations tend to provoke as many negative reactions as positive ones (if not more), I couldn’t see any reasons to not be excited about the games (at least, there were no new reasons to not be excited).

My detailed thoughts on the presentation are as follows:

  • Pokémon Unite: I know this is technically a spin-off game (and one I’m not particularly interested in playing myself), but given the massive success and popularity of games like DotA and League Of Legends, I think this could wind up being a bigger deal globally than the mainline series, especially with its expansion onto mobile devices next month. (I’m not ready to say this could eclipse Pokémon Go, but the potential is there.) The main problem/obstacle here is that Nintendo is notoriously bad at maintaining competitive balance in its games, especially early in their lifecycle (anyone remember the unstoppable Tri-Slosher in Splatoon 2?). There have already been complaints about monsters like Gengar and Cinderace being broken, and the late-game Zapdos appearance has gotten a lot of flak for making the game a bit too volatile (even a team’s that gets destroyed for most of the game can steal a win if they take Zapdos down, even if it’s just a single lucky shot after the opponents has worn them down). While it’s inevitable that some characters will wind up being more useful than others over time, with new characters (and potentially new legendary battles) being added so rapidly, I have my doubts that Nintendo will be able to keep the playing field level (especially with the ‘pay to win’ issue raised by items being upgradable via real money). Ultimately, I think this game is an intriguing idea with a huge upside for The Pokémon Company, but there’s a pretty good chance they wind up shooting themselves in the foot in the end.
  • Pokémon Cafe Remix, Pokémon Masters EX, Pokémon Go: I’m not terribly interested in any of them and the updates don’t look that major (even despite Pokémon Cafe’s change from Mix to Remix), but it’s worth noting that outside of Mario Kart Tour, these are the only mobile games out of Nintendo that seem to have any sustained buzz/momentum (and look for Tour to fizzle out when the inevitable Mario Kart 9 announcement arrives). Given Pokémon‘s ability to reach beyond the borders of Nintendo’s consoles, this franchise is probably the most important one in Nintendo’s stable, even over heavyweights like Mario and Zelda.
Image from Kotaku
  • Pokémon Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl: Now we’re talking! The major takeaway from this presentation is that the game is going to remain steadfastly true to the original Diamond/Pearl stories, so if you’re not excited to replay those games or weren’t sold on the chibi art style being used, there’s nothing here that will be interesting enough to sway you. However, If you’re excited about the upcoming remakes, there were a couple of nice touches that were shown off here:
    • Returning from HeartGold/SoulSilver and the Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee games was the ability for your partner Pokémon to follow you around outside of battle! It doesn’t have any gameplay impact, but I always enjoyed being able to see and interact with your monsters outside of battle (playing with Pokémon in Sword/Shield camps was fun; making curry not so much).
    • I did a fair bit with the underground area back in the day, but outside of mining for items and and decorating my base, there wasn’t a whole lot to do if your friends didn’t play the game. Now, however, the developers are bringing a touch of the Wild Area from Sword/Shield by including Pokémon Hideaways, where monsters roam freely in the environment and can be challenged at your leisure. This seems like a good way to introduce Pokémon into the game that weren’t available in G4 originally, and since which monsters you encounter can be determined by the layout of your secret base, the encounter possibilities are theoretically endless. (However, given the decision to trim down the Pokédex for Sword/Shield, the question of which monsters will actually be included in the game remains open. I think G1-G4 monsters will be included, but I’m less confident about G5 and beyond.)
    • I wasn’t a huge fan of contests back in the day (and I may not mess with them much in the remake), but it’s nice to see that the presentation has been revamped to be a bit more dynamic. The same thing goes for the Poké Ball decorations: Didn’t use them before, but happy to see them brought back and made a bit more animated.
    • Character customization is now present in the game, but it seems pretty limited to me, as you can only change ‘outfits’ rather than mixing and matching items. I really would have liked to see them go farther here, but I suppose the art style would have made any changes less noticeable (exchanging one hat for another would really only be visible in battle).
    • The Union Room features have been expanded for full online play, but at this point that’s a requirement for games like this. There’s not much to say here without getting some hands-on time with the game.
    • The one notable omission I noticed was the Pokétch, but I doubt it will impact the game all that watch. It really required the second screen to be noticeable, and all I ever used it for was to watch for when my Pachirisu picked up an item (I barely even remember the other features). I think it gets left behind, and no one will care that it’s gone.
  • Pokémon Legends: Arceus: This was the big question mark going into the presentation—after the rough state of the game in the original trailer, how would things look this time around? The short answer is “much better”: Not only have the character model frame rates improved significantly, but the environments appear a bit more lifelike (and we actually saw NPCs in town this time!). The mission structure of the game seems straightforward enough, and I like how the game answers the age-old question “what if a Pokémon attacked you instead of your Pokémon partner?” You’ve got limited health and are vulnerable to wild Pokémon attacks outside of formal battles, so you’ve got to be sneaky and/or agile to avoid damage. Different wild monsters will react to you in different ways, so you’ll have to plan your approach carefully if you want to capture them. The Speed stat of a creature comes into play a lot more than in mainstream titles as well, as faster monsters may be able to attack multiple times in a row (different battle styles also allow you to trade off between having more power or more speed), which should make battling in the game much more interesting and strategy-focused. The new monsters look well-designed (and you can use some of them to travel around faster), the Pokédex now includes more information and incentivizes you to engage with monsters multiple times…I’ll be honest, I can’t find anything at all to complain about here. This really looks like the sort of Pokémon re-imagining that people have been asking about for a long time, and I’m really excited to see if it lives up to our lofty expectation next year.

After being disappointed by Mario Golf: Super Rush, not getting a ton of replay value out of Pokémon Sword, and really being worried by that initial Legends trailer, I really needed to see a presentation like this to have my faith renewed in the franchise and the companies involved. Both of the mainline games shown off here made a respectable showing, and I’m looking forward to grabbing both games when they’re released. (Yes, I know I just said we should be taking a “wait and see” approach with Nintendo, but this blog’s unofficial motto is “I suffer so you don’t have to,” regardless of whether it’s Pokémon or Brantley Gilbert.) With their time-tested formula, Pokémon games seem to have a floor that limits how much pain they put you through, and with all of the potential changes here looking positive, I think Pokémon fans both new and old will find something to enjoy here. I had a lot of fun in the the region formerly know as Hisui back in the day, and I’m hoping the eventual return trips will bring more of the same.

My (Belated) Reaction to the February 2021 Pokémon Presentation

Sorry Caitlyn Smith and Old Dominion, but the pairing I want to discuss today is Dawn & Lucas.

During Nintendo’s recent Direct presentation, there was a conspicuous lack of information regarding the Pokémon franchise, and while this wasn’t a huge surprise (The Pokémon Company likes to do its own thing which it comes to big reveals), it still seemed a little awkward to have the franchise completely unrepresented during its 25th anniversary (at least Zelda got Skyward Sword and new Joy-Cons for its 35th). As expected, a new Pokémon-centric presentation was announced soon afterwards, aiming to lay out the company’s plans for the entire year.

Pokémon announcements seem like they’re better known for the anger they generate than the joy, and I’ve been more than a little ambivalent on some of the recent games (Sword and Shield would up just feeling okay, and the less said about the Let’s Go series, the better), so I tried to go in with my eyes wide open and my expectations sufficiently tempered. Therefore, it will come as no surprise that my overall reaction to the presentation…was that I loved everything about it? Not literally everything, of course (that retrospective intro was way too long and not interesting enough to justify its time), but the game announcements left me feeling surprisingly positive, even regarding some of the non-gameplay details that were revealed. While I fully admit that this was a presentation targeted directly at series veterans like myself, aiming your weapon and actually hitting the shot are two very different things (trust me, I’ve flailed around with enough chargers in Splatoon to know), and The Pokémon Company put together a nearly-flawless run here.

My individual thoughts on the presentation are as follows:

  • New Pokémon Snap: While I have absolutely zero interest in playing this game, I know a lot of people who are very excited for the sequel to the N64 original (now over twenty years old?!), and from what I saw, this is a faithful recreation of its predecessor’s gameplay. The visuals are exquisite, the terrain is varied and lively, a diverse array of monsters are here (although we’ll likely only get a fraction of the total Pokédex – if they couldn’t fit them all in Sword and Shield, they probably won’t be able to do it here either), and there appears a decent potential for action scenes (although how repetitive they may get remains to be seen). The Illumina orbs are a nice addition, as they give the player more options for pictures while also making nighttime shots a bit more viable, and after making such a big deal out of photo modes in Super Mario Odyssey and Super Mario 3D World, the mode returns here for perhaps its most fitting title. (The on thing that confused me was that photo-sharing was only mentioned in a specific setting, likely tied to the Switch Online app, rather than more widely via traditional social media; however, the Switch already has decent photo sharing capabilities, so it shouldn’t be too hard to glam up your ‘Gram with Pikachu highlights.) This is a game that appears to know its audience and delivers exactly what they want, so I expect to see decent sales from the game when it releases in late April.
  • Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl: First, a disclaimer: G4 remains my favorite generation of the Pokémon franchise, and I’ve probably sunk more hours into Pearl than the other games combined. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the remakes for these games ever since Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire appeared, and at long last they’re finally here! Contrary to most of the Internet, I don’t mind the Link’s Awakening-esque art style of the remake—it’s a faithful recreation of the original cities and landscapes, and from the typical top-down perspective of the game, you barely notice the change at all. (If there’s one thing I would have done differently, I wouldn’t have started the gameplay with a closeup shot of the player character, as it made the style change a bit more jarring than it needed to be.) Sure, it’s a very different look than Sword and Shield, and certain mechanics such as visible monsters are removed, but there were definitely times where I missed the mystery of the random encounters (especially when you’re thinking about future Nuzlocke runs), and I was never that enraptured by the G8 graphical style (or that of any Pokémon game, to be honest). This is a simple nostalgia trip for people who enjoyed the classic style of Pokémon gameplay, and I’m ready to book my ticket. (The only questions: What sort of post-game content will we get, and is there any way to top the Zinnia battle from Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire?)
  • ILCA: Game Freak has been the lead developer of every Pokémon game up to this point, so it was a shock to see the reins of Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl handed to a different studio—in this case, ILCA, a studio whose only previous experience with the franchise has been working on Pokémon Home. It can be a bit nerve-wracking when a new team takes the lead on one of your favorite franchises, but I’m excited for this development for two reasons: The game is a remake with a already-written script (just follow the instructions, right?), and it frees Game Freak up to do something a little more ambitious, which brings us to…
  • Pokémon Legends Arceus: As a series, Pokémon is caught between a rock and a hard place: If they crank out the same game with the same basic formula and minimal improvements, they’re criticized for being stale; if they act boldly and try to reimagine the series, they’re criticized for messing with a formula that everyone knew and loved. With the announcement of the Legends series, however, Game Freak (now newly freed from the Diamond/Pearl remakes) gets a chance to safely thread the needle and experiment with Pokémon’s core gameplay is a safe (okay, maybe just relatively safer) environment. The introduction of the Wild Area in G8 led people to speculate about a full open-world experience in the next generation (including a certain individual who proclaimed “I’d like to see Nintendo and company take it to the next level in G9”), and Legends seems to be a bold step in that direction (it looks like Breath of the Wild with Pokémon tossed in). Sure, seeing monsters running at approximately 60 frames per hour was awkward, but the team has a year or so to iron out all the glitches, and with rumors of a Switch pro once again heating up, perhaps Nintendo will be providing them some hardware backup. From the brief glimpse of the trailer, this looks like a solid mashup of both classic battle mechanics and Pokémon Go-like capture mechanics, and honestly, I’ve always thought the Sinnoh region would be a perfect place to set a game like this (I can’t wait to climb Mt. Coronet). I’m sure Legends will be a good game, but I consider this more of a development environment for G9, and I’m excited to see what the Pokémon team tries here, and what innovations wind up in the next-gen mainline games.

Overall, I think this presentation was a big win for both Nintendo and The Pokémon Company, because there’s something for everyone: The staunch traditionalists, the boundary pushers, the side-series enthusiasts, and everyone in between. 2021 is shaping up to be a banner year for Nintendo (and with Splatoon 3 and Pokémon Legends Arceus, 2022 looks pretty great too), and for someone who was beginning to wonder if they were drifting away from the series, these are some pretty convincing reasons to stick around.

Now if only The Legend Of Zelda would get a bit more TLC this year…

What Kind Of Pokémon Trainer is Kyle?

I’ve always fancied myself an Electric-type trainer, but will the data come to the same conclusion? (Image from the Pokémon Fandom site)

Extreme isolation will drive a mind into some very strange places…

Longtime readers of this blog will recall that despite my Splatoon 2 obsession, the Pokémon franchise occupies a fair bit of my time as well (see: my annual Nuzlocke runs). My Pokédex knowledge may not be was it once was (my post-G4 knowledge is a lot worse than I care to admit, and Fairy-type monsters still catch me off guard a lot). While sitting around this evening wondering what the heck to write my next post about, a question popped into my head, once that I had pondered off-and-on for many years: If I were appointed a Pokémon gym leader and had to pick a single type to specialize in, what type would that be?

Usually, my answer was simple: Despite not being a Pikachu fan, I was an Electric-type trainer through and through. I made a point of putting an Electric Pokémon on nearly every team I formed, and my most memorable teams (Pokémon Red and Pokémon Pearl) featured multiple Electric types in my top six. Me and Lieutenant Surge were the true power players of Pokémon!

However, with Pokémon Sword becoming the 22nd game I had conquered in the series, this time I realized that actually had enough data to conduct a proper analysis and put some rigor behind my answer. How did my head and heart compare to the cold, hard facts of (Pokémon) life? It was time to crunch the numbers!

(Yes, I’m fully aware of the silliness and pointlessness of this experiment, but it was either that or review Adam Hambrick’s new single, and I’m kind of tired of reviewing songs this week anyway. Bring on the Pokémon!)

The ground rules for this experiment are as follows:

  • Examine every Pokémon that was part of my “A-line” that beat the Elite Four and Champion (minus HM lackeys and field fillers), and record their types. Total up the numbers across all 22 games and see which type comes out on top!
  • All types are recorded as they were at the time of the generation they were used in. For example, Wigglytuff only counts as a Normal type because I used it for Pokémon Gold, but Gardevoir from Pokémon Y counts as both a Psychic and Fairy type.
  • Dual-type Pokémon count towards the final tallies of both of their types.

My hypothesis is that Electric Pokémon will lead the pack, but if I had to pick a few more contenders, my original Pokémon Red team relied primarily on four types (Water, Electric, Ground, and Flying), and that formula remained a common theme for succeeding teams as well. Therefore, I expect those four types to dominate the competition.

Without further ado, let’s check out the data!

Type Total
Normal 23
Fire 14
Water 23
Electric 19
Grass 11
Ice 3
Fighting 4
Poison 9
Ground 10
Flying 30
Psychic 11
Bug 12
Rock 3
Ghost 4
Dragon 5
Dark 8
Steel 3
Fairy 3

…Well, that was not what I expected! There are a few major conclusions we can draw from this:

  • I’m apparently far more of a Flying-type trainer than anything else, with Water coming in at #2 and Electric getting denied a podium slot at #4. However, this makes sense given the mechanics of the early-generation games: HMs like Surf were required to traverse certain areas (there’s always a water section somewhere), and Fly was your only method of fast-travel across the world. Ergo, Water and Flying appearing prominently on this list shouldn’t be a surprise (this doesn’t completely explain Flying’s utter dominance here, but we’ll get to that). Electric types have no natural HMs and are thus more of a personal pick, which is why they seemed more prevalent in my mind than they actually were: I wanted Electric-types on the squad, but I needed Water and Flying types.
  • But where the heck did all these Normal types come from? Not only did they deny Electric types a spot on the podium, they forced Water to share its silver medal with them! This, I believe, can be explained by one of my major quirks when constructing a Pokémon team: I tend to fall in love with the first few monsters I capture, and stick with them against all logic and reason for the rest of the game. If you look at the individual monsters that make up the squads, this pattern pops up again an again: Linoone in Pokémon Sapphire, Bibarel in Pokémon Platinum, Stoutland in Pokémon Black, Watchog in Pokémon White, etc. However, there’s one particular type that always shows up early in Pokémon: The classic Normal/Flying type. These show up a lot of my teams: Fearow, Noctowl, Staraptor, Unfezant, and three separate Pidgeots. (Early Bug/Flying types like Butterfree and Vivillon also made their presence known as well.) I’m glad that The Pokémon Company has tried to branch out its early-bird typing with monsters like Talonflame and Corviknight, but there’s a lot of Normal/Flying history in this franchise, and it’s reflected in my team compositions.
  • Ground types didn’t make much of a showing at all, getting beat by Fire (which I’ve used more often recently), Bug (a small but steady presence across generations), and even Grass and Psychic (which tend to be more niche picks for me, though I’m starting to appreciate Grass’s healing powers as of late). Of the “core four” I highlighted earlier, Ground was definitely the Mark Herndon of the bunch, picked usually because Water/Flying/Electric teams had no reliable counter to Electric opponents. Still, I’m surprised they wound up this far back in Flying’s rear view mirror.
  • There’s little else to speak for the remainder of the types, but I want to give a shout out to one type in particular: I had three representatives of a single type in my top six on five separate occasions: Flying (four times) and…wait, Poison? This is what happens when you’ve played through Kanto a million times and are trying to use different monsters than you usually do: You end up running a Victreebel, Arbok, and Venemoth in Pokémon Let’s Go! Eevee. (All three of them acquitted themselves quite well, by the way.)

Image from Bulbapedia

So apparently I’m more Falkner than Lt. Surge, and my teams tend to soar and fall on the wings of birds and bugs (true to form, my Sword team backs Inteleon with a Corviknight/Xatu combo). As big a role as electricity has played in my life, when it comes to Pokémon, maybe I should avoid lightning more in the future.

Either that, or I should never leave home without a Zapdos. 🙂

My Reaction To The Jan. 2020 Pokémon Direct

These look great…but are they too little, too late?

When I first heard that The Pokémon Company was holding a Direct this week, my reaction was mostly confusion: Pokémon Sword and Shield had come out less than two months ago, previous generations didn’t receive any major updates after release (and the “third game” concept seemed to be falling out of favor), and G9 figured to be at least two years away, so what could TPC and Game Freak possibly have to talk about? I figured the presentation would focus on the QoL initiatives they teased last year (does anyone remember Pokémon Sleep? Anyone?), so I didn’t give the Direct much thought.

I did not, however, take the possibility of DLC into account, which is exactly what we got: In addition to a remake of the original Pokémon Mystery Dungeon games (I’ve never played them, but I’ve heard a lot of good things about them), the Pokémon Company announced the Pokémon Sword and Shield Expansion Passes, encompassing two new worlds, hundreds of new and returning Pokémon, and a ton of new character (and bike?) customization options:

  • The Isle of Armor (coming June 2020) puts you under the tutelage of Mustard (…That’s the name they decided to roll with? Seriously?) at a Pokémon Dojo, where you compete against new rivals and explore a new, tropical, Wild-Area-like region.
  • The Crown Tundra (coming Fall 2020) is a frozen wasteland (wait, did I actually predict this?!) that apparently focuses on co-op play, where players head up an exploration team and can work together with others to catch Pokémon (including legendary monsters) both above and below ground. We didn’t get a ton of information about this, but it looks to be another wide open, 360-camera-control area as well.

Each expansion pass (you’ll need to buy one for each version of the game) is $29.99, and can be pre-ordered starting today (you get some Pikachu and Eevee gear as a bonus).

So where do we even begin with all this stuff? Let’s get the unsavory conclusion out of the way first: This announcement makes the whole ‘Dexit’ controversy feels less like a workload issue and more like a cash grab from Nintendo and company. I couldn’t understand why The Pokémon Company and Game Freak left popular Pokémon like the Squirtle and Bulbasaur lines out of Sword and Shield, but it all makes sense now that they’re suddenly headlining the “new” arrivals in the expansion passes. (It’s the same trick record companies used for years by always leaving one key song off of a compilation or greatest hits album.) I understand that companies are allowed to slice up and portion out their IPs as they see fit, but I wish they’d been a little more honest and transparent about the move up front. (In fact, it makes the whole hornet’s nest they stirred up with Dexit even worse, because they could have just quelled it by saying “Don’t worry, more Pokémon are coming soon!”)

With that out of the way, we can judge the DLC on its own merits, and honestly, it looks pretty good so far. The developers are expanding on the Wild Area idea just as I had hoped, the character additions hint at an expanded storyline, and I’m a sucker for adding a plethora of new customization options (even when I know I’ll never actually use them). I’d really like to see more concerning the length of these adventures (are they 5 hours? 10? 20?), but at least there are two of them coming, which means we get to stay and play even longer in the Pokémon universe.

The problem, however, is that by the time The Isle of Armor drops in June, I’m not sure if I’ll still care enough to pick up the DLC. As much as I loved playing through Sword and Shield, the minute I finished the post-game story and stuffed a certain legendary monster inside a Poké Ball, I hit the power button, shouted “Next!” like I was Mark Grondin, and moved on to Fire Emblem: Three Houses. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Pokémon Sword really didn’t have any staying power, and I’m not interested in picking it back up right now. Will I feel differently in June (especially with another Nuzlocke run coming this summer)? Maybe, but Animal Crossing: New Horizons will also be out by then (along with at least one or two unannounced Switch titles we’ll likely be learning about this month, not to mention some of the already-released games that are still on my radar like New Super Lucky’s Tale), and I don’t see Splatoon 2 giving up its monopoly on my attention anytime soon either.

My concern is that we could be staring at another Super Mario Maker 2 situation: That game couldn’t keep my interest beyond the 30-40 hour mark, and by the time the Spike/Zelda update came out, it was too late. The expansion pass content looked good, but there was nothing there that grabbed my attention and demanded that I fork over thirty bones rightthisverymoment. In the end, despite how interesting the new areas looked, my reaction to the whole thing wasn’t much of a reaction at all.

I imagine that this take is more of a reflection of how my own gaming habits are evolving than of how the Pokémon series is evolving, but after eating the full course meal that was Sword and Shield, it appears that I need more time to digest it before jumping back into Galar with both feet. Let’s wait and see how my stomach feels in June.

Pokémon Sword: Early Impressions

Image from GameSpot

Let’s be honest here: It’s Pokémon. How bad could it possibly be?

The leadup to the eighth generation of the behemoth that is the Pokémon franchise has been a bit rocky to say the least. With the decision to cut the available Pokédex in half for this generation, Pokémon Sword and Shield inspired a wave of hashtags (#Dexit, #GameFreakLied, and eventually #ThankYouGameFreak), drove fans to harass Game Freak staff on (anti) social media (which is not cool in any context), and even inspired petitions on change.org demanding that the National Dex be restored. Like everything else in our society these days, everyone in the community was forced to pick a side: Either you were with Game Freak and The Pokémon Company, or you were against them.

You’ve likely heard enough opinions on whether or not the games should have included all the monsters, so I’ll refrain from throwing my own thoughts at you now: However, I think the controversy overshadowed the biggest question about the game: Is it any good? It is still fun? I mean, this is still the same “catch ’em, train ’em, bludgeon your opponents to death with ’em” formula that’s been making smiles and printing money for twenty-plus years—would it still be able to work its magic and charm another generation of fans?

After a week or so with the game, I’ve come to a shocking conclusion: This is Pokémon. For better or for worse, this is the same game we’ve been playing since the dawn of time. If you’ve liked previous entries in the series, you’ll probably like this one too.

My specific thoughts about the game are as follows:

  • For all the talk about utilizing the power of the Switch, the graphics here are not really that impressive. It’s basically Pokémon Sun/Moon scaled up to 1080p, and even the grandness of the Wild Area drew little more than a “meh” from me. To be fair, I don’t play Pokémon for the graphics, and Sun and Moon looked completely fine to me, but this still feels like a missed opportunity to take advantage of the more-advanced hardware and give us a presentation that’s really special.
  • So what about this “Wild Area” anyway? I think it’s a great concept, and the execution mostly lives up to the hype. You’ve got full control of the camera, there’s no shortage of Pokémon to catch (although waiting for the right weather can be a bit tedious), and it gives the Galar region an expansiveness that its mostly-linear towns and routes lack. Max Raid Battles don’t add a lot to the gameplay, but they do allow you to catch Pokémon that might otherwise take a while to find (thank goodness for that Natu raid!). All in all, I think it’s a positive step for the franchise, and I’d like to see Nintendo and company take it to the next level in G9.
  • The story is exactly what you’d expect here: Young kid gets monster, trains up a frighteningly-lethal band of creatures, and smites everyone on their way to the top. I like how the game tries to make the Gym challenge more of a thing in G8 (before G7, the “journey” just kind of happened and no one really cared about it), but the developers kind of missed the mark here. Sure, there’s a stadium of screaming people cheering during Gym battles and the music is absolute fire, but when you’re trying to figure out how to exploit a type matchup, it’s all just background noise. (I kinda-sorta recall the crowd cheering during the first Gym battle, but the whole thing didn’t move me any more than Thanos’s latest single.) In the end, you’re just traveling around trying to be the best, and whatever carnival that pops up around doesn’t move the needle (at least not yet—perhaps the intensity will pick up deeper into the challenge).
  • Pokémon games are not known for their difficulty, but this one’s got noticeably more starch in it than previous titles. The opponent levels seem to ratchet up a lot more quickly than in previous games, and it forced me all of my usual all-out-attack style and made me try some status moves to find an advantage (not only did I actually use Tail Whip in this game, I used it a lot). I’m not ready to call this a hard game yet (I beat the first Gym leader without bothering to Dynamax my Pokémon), but there’s more of a challenge here than past players might expect.
  • So how have the battle mechanics changed this time around? The splashy, unnecessary gimmick this time around is Dynamaxing, where a Pokémon grows freakishly large for three turns and gains the ability to unleash “max” attacks on its opponent. It’s no more interesting than Mega Evolutions or Z-Moves were, but at least Game Freak and The Pokémon Company installed a restrictor plate this time: The technique can only be performed in Max Raid or Gym leader battles, making it feel like a true ace in the hole that only comes out at important moments. (Gigantamaxing is basically a more-powerful version of Dynamaxing, but only certain monsters can do it and I haven’t encountered any yet.) Besides that, battles take place just as they always did, with physical/special attacks and type matchups and OP starters (mwah ha ha, no one can touch my Drizzile).
  • With all the uproar over existing monsters, I think the design of the new Pokémon has been mostly overlooked, and it’s a darn shame, because most of them are pretty darned cool. With the pointed exception of Chewtle (it just looks like a deformed Squirtle, which makes me think “We gave up Squirtle for this?”), I’ve been really impressed with both the designs of the G8 Pokémon and some of the Galarian forms of other monsters I’ve seen (you have no idea how much I lol’d when I saw Galarian Meowth). Yamper and Rookidee are my current favorites, but I’m excited to see what other Pokémon the game has in store.
  • From a quality-of-life standpoint, this might be the most-improved game in the series. The “access your Box anywhere” feature returns from Let’s Go!, there’s a Name Rater/Move-Remember/jack-of-all-trades in every Pokémon Center (and wouldn’t you know it, I made a mistake choosing moves for my Thievul and didn’t need a Heart Scale to fix it!), and for as much as people rage about the Exp. Share, it really helps cut down on the excess grinding and let’s people dive into the story more quickly. (Supposedly there are a lot more improvements to help people create Pokémon that are viable on the competitive scene, which is never a bad thing.) Sword and Shield are more of an incremental refinement of the series than a swing-for-the-fences step forward, but it’s worth noting just how good these incremental refinements are.
  • The online features are…okay, I guess? The annoying “Surprise Trades” are still here, and Max Raid Battles might be fun with a big group (I had one person with a powerful Gardevoir jump into my battle and one-shot the massive monster before us), but I really didn’t explore these too much. The game is still all about the single-player experience early on, so that’s where I spent most of my time.
  • What about all this talk about “camping” and “making curry”? It turns out to be a mashup of Pokémon Refresh from Sun/Moon and Poffin making from Diamond/Pearl. The latter is not a good thing (I absolutely hated making Poffins in G4), and not only did I found core curry ingredients to be surprisingly hard to come by (Berries are everywhere though), but the whole “rotate the R stick to stir the pot” mechanic is just mind-numbingly tedious. Playing with your Pokémon at camp is much more fun, however, and the developers added a nice incentive by giving your team both happiness and experience points for doing it. (Also, it looks hilarious when all your Pokémon start attacking you when you wave the feather around.) I’d probably never use this feature without the friendship bonuses, but it’s pretty neat nonetheless.

So 1300+ words in, where does that leave us? Like I said, this is Pokémon, and amidst all the inspired and boneheaded decisions made by the developers, the soul of the series is still here. I still want to be the very best like no one ever was, and Sword and Shield still give you the power to do so. I’m not ready to give a full “is it worth buying?” call yet, but even without the full Pokédex, the signs appear fairly promising.

Five Burning Questions About The Future Of Pokémon

Image from Nintendo Soup

“Everything that has a beginning has an ending.” Jack Kornfield

“…unless it prints money.” Kyle

The Company just dropped a few more nuggets from their upcoming Sword and Shield releases, and…honestly, there isn’t a whole lot to unpack. Galarian Weezing may resemble EpicLloyd’s J.P. Morgan costume, Marnie may throw out her Poké Balls like she’s Bob Gibson, and a stadium full of Team Yell members may be a tough place to play on the road, but really, there wasn’t really anything unexpected or surprising in this reveal. (Poké Jobs may be new to this series, but the idea of sending “extra” characters on separate quests has popped up a fair amount in other RPG series, from Final Fantasy Tactics Advance to  Xenoblades Chronicles 2, so I wouldn’t call it an earth-shattering addition.) Pokémon Sword/Shield is shaping up to be a standard mainline Pokémon game, and there isn’t much to say beyond that.

Instead, I’d like to dig out my crystal ball and try to peer into the future of the series, and see what some of these recent developments might lead to in Pokémon games down the line. Let’s start with the freshest controversy first:

  • What is the future of Pokémon creation? The latest word on the National Dex seems to be that it’s not coming back, and while the door was left open for Pokémon to rotate in and out of future generations (what’s here in G8 might be gone in G9, and vice versa), the fact is that Pokémon has a scalability problem that’s going to pop up from here on after.Since getting rid of existing monsters really seems to upset the Internet, one strawman proposal would be to simply stop creating new monsters and put a hard cap on the National Dex. However, even if we set aside the fact that the scaling issue is already present at current monster levels, this solution is infeasible because new Pokémon play a big part in driving interest in new games. Cycling back through previous starting Pokémon and legendary monsters just wouldn’t be as exciting, and older players wouldn’t have much of a reason to play GN when it’s essentially G(N-1) with a tweaked storyline (although that’s essentially what happened with Ultra Sum and Moon…). Pokémon needs to have new creatures for players to meet, even if they’ve already got 800+ options to choose from.What I expect, therefore, is for The Pokémon Comapny to limit the number of new monsters each game introduces in the future. No one will lament the loss of something they don’t know exists, and it would (hopefully) keep this scaling problem at a somewhat-manageable level. (I’m also curious to see if the company leans more on making new forms of old Pokémon, although maintaining something like Kanto and Alolan Exeggcute seems just as onerous as maintaining two separate monsters.) In others, the days of having a G5-esque explosion of new creatures are definitely over.
  • What is the future of Pokémon combat? Let’s see, we have Single Battles, Double Battles, Triple Battles, Rotation Battles, Sky Battles, Inverse Battles, Mega Evolutions, Z-Moves, Dynamaxing, Gigantamaxing…is anyone else getting a “feature creep” vibe? We’re having debates over which Pokémon will be supported going forward, but the franchise faces the same problem with battle mechanics.I’m a bit torn on this one. I think The Pokémon Company would like to keep pushing the envelope to keep battles from being “spam the same move until something faints” affairs, but where do you go after blowing up creatures like Godzilla? (The only way I can see TPC topping this is by turning fights into free-range, semi-open-world affairs like PokkénTournament, and that would be a very disruptive change.) In other words, I see a period of relative calm for battle mechanic changes after G8, simply because there isn’t a whole lot more that can be done with the current system.Then again, The Pokémon Company may have a bit more license to be creative, because the Luddites among the fanbase have another option…
  • What is the future of Let’s Go remakes? I feel like the hype for the Let’s Go! Pikachu/Eevee series fizzled out pretty quickly, as it was caught in the mushy middle between Pokémon Go and Pokémon Sword/Shield. The titles still had strong sales, however, and if the mainline series starts getting a bit more experimental, these games could fill a niche for older/lapsed fans who just want a nostalgia trip and don’t want to be bothered withe a bunch of newfangled ideas. (In other words, it could become the Mario & Luigi to the mainline games’s Paper Mario.) Throw in the fact that the Pokémon scalability and mechanic feature creep issues above are mostly mitigated by the limits of previous generations (at least until we get to Pokémon Let’s Go! Togedemaru), and yeah, I’d say we’ll be seeing a lot more of these coming out in the future.
  • What is the future of mainline Pokémon remakes? Unfortunately, the emergence of the Let’s Go! series leaves the mainline remake series without much of a target audience. Sinnoh, Unova, and Kalos don’t seem to have nearly to emotional grip on players that earlier areas did (G5 gets more credit than the others for its story, but no one seems to be itching to go back to that region specifically), their presumed support of G5, G6, G7, and now G8 monsters means the Pokémon roster and battle mechanic issues remain a problem, and the translation of large regions like Sinnoh and Unova to the G8 art style would be a massive undertaking. As much as I would love to revisit Sinnoh, I have a feeling we’re not going to get that chance.
  • Finally, what is the future of Pokémon regions? In some respects, Pokémon areas are getting as formulaic as the Mario universe: You’ve got your grass, your mountains, your deserts, your snow, your ghost houses, etc. Even with the overall tropical theme of something like Pokémon Sun/Moon, you’re forced to go to the same sorts of areas in every generation to catch certain types of Pokémon. Is TPC ever going to change this up?Believe it or not, I actually hold out some hope that the answer may be “yes.” Nintendo isn’t big on social commentary, but it likes to slip some subtle messaging in from time to time (note that humanity getting destroyed by rising sea levels is part of Splatoon 2‘s lore). With the way things are changing (and not for the better), perhaps The Pokémon Company might explore more dynamic environments and how those changes might affect what Pokémon you might see and how they might behave. I’m not expecting the Ice apocalypse that I mentioned earlier, but I wouldn’t rule out a few of our own problems influencing those that appear in-game.

You could throw a sixth question in here (“what is the future of the franchise’s popularity?”), but frankly, that doesn’t seem like much of a question. Pokémon is a craze wrapped in a phenomenon wrapped in a movement, and I don’t see it going anywhere anytime soon. I wouldn’t have predicted in 1998 that we’d still be talking about Pikachu and friends in 2019, but right now I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re still talking about them in 2040. I don’t know exactly what the future of Pokémon is, but I’m reasonably confident that it has a future. 😉

Pokémon X Nuzlocke Appendix A: Ollie vs. Kelly

Bambi may have been “The Kalos Konquerer,” but how would their game play in Hoenn?

When we last left Ollie, he was a celebrating a Nuzlocke triumph over Pokémon X, leaning on his team “Bambi and the Xerneaires” to dominate the Kalos region. The way Ollie’s crew crushed the hopes and dreams of trainers around the region made me wonder: Where did these Pokémon rank in the pantheon of my championship six-stacks?

There was no easy way to answer this question against Ophilia’s Hammer-led squad, or my superstars from Sinnoh, or Unova, or Johto, or even Tressa’s Eevee-fronted Kanto crushers. I did, however, have two G6 games handy that might test Ollie’s mettle: Y, and Omega Ruby. While Kyle’s team from Y was higher-leveled, I was more intrigued by the potential matchup against “Kelly” and her Hoenn-based team:

Although Kelly had her own legendary leader in Bernie “The Revolution” Latios, its Dragon typing meant that Bambi would eat it for breakfast if the pair ever met in battle. Instead, it was Amy the Dustox that seemed like the most interesting matchup: Not only did she have a solid staller moveset (Toxic, Protect, and Moonlight) that I’d used to beat several legendaries in online battles back in the day, but her Poison typing and Toxic/Venoshock made her a real threat to even a tough Fairy Pokémon like Bambi. (The rest of the team was no slouch either, with both Blaziken and Gardevoir sporting solid track records.)

However, at the time I made the decision, the Omega Ruby team was a fair bit lower-leveled than the X squad (low to mid 70s vs. mid 70s to low 80s), so Ollie decided to help make the fight fair by offering his Lucky Egg to Kelly to speed up their training. In return…

…he finally got his Conkeldurr!

A quick trip back through the Hoenn Elite Four and a little wandering through the Battle Resort brought level parity to the battle, although it turned out not to be necessary once the rules were established.

Speaking of which…

The Rules

  • Each player would choose three Pokémon to participate.
  • All Pokémon levels would be reset to Lv. 50 (gee, I wish I’d remembered sooner that the game would do this automatically).
  • Special Pokémon (like Latios and Xerneas) are allowed, but items are not.

The Teams

Since both players would be limited to three monsters, they would have to make some hard decisions about who to send out.

For Ollie:

Since it’s been two weeks, here’s a refresher on Ollie’s team.

  • Bambi starts the battle. Full stop.
  • With Amy a likely pick for Kelly, it might be nice to have someone with an advantage against bugs. Nala fits that bill.
  • Travis the Blaziken is probably coming out too, so Katie better be around to counter that pick.

For Kelly:

  • Amy starts the battle. C’mon, it’s the matchup we all want to see!
  • Wait, does Ollie really want to see that matchup? He could use someone like Nala or Thumper to counter Amy easily. And wait, he doesn’t have any Flying-type counters either! Put it all together, and Willard seems to be a logical choice.
  • Hoskins scares me too, and I’m not comfortable relying on Willard’s Hurricane to deal with him. I’d better bring Travis along too.

With the teams decided, it was time to settle this matter on the field!

Round 1: FIGHT!

The battle began with the marquee matchup of Bambi vs. Amy, and Ollie decided to lean into the fight rather than back away, confident that once the Dustox was gone, the rest of the battle would be a cakewalk. Making a Dustox go away, however, would be hard when you only have one move (Thunderbolt) that the poisonous moth doesn’t resist.

The first round brought a Toxic from Amy and a lightning bolt from Bambi, and while Thunderbolt did some decent damage, it just missed turning Amy’s health bar yellow, which likely meant a 3-hit KO. Amy’s follow-up Protect let Toxic work its magic, and she prepped for Round 3 confident that Bambi couldn’t do enough damage to knock her out.

…Except that the crit hit monster wanted in on the action, and sided with Ollie for a change. Thunderbolt #2 did the trick, and Amy went down.

Round 2: Mutually-Assured Destruction

Kelly’s choice for her next monster was really no choice at all: As a Fighting-type, there was no way in heck that she was letting Travis face Bambi straight-up, so Willard was called to take the mound despite a 4x weakness to the Thunderbolts that had felled Amy.

However, Willard had an ace up his wing: Like Amy, he also counted Protect among his moves, and after three rounds, the damage from Toxic was starting to add up. Could he stall Bambi long enough to let the poison work its magic?

With few other options, Willard pulled out his shield…and in yet another astounding turn of events, Protect actually worked twice in a row! Without a great counter to the big-billed bird, Ollie stuck with Bambi to the bitter end, but not even “The Franchise” could stand against five turns of Toxic.

…or could it?

In an astounding final act, Bambi gutted out one last turn, and KO’d Willard with one last Thunderbolt before succumbing to the poison. Who would have though a Pokémon battle against myself (which would normally be the sorriest thing ever) would be so exciting?

Round 3: Mistakes Were Made

Kelly had no choice now: Travis had to face the music, and the conductor would be Katie the Floatzel. The battle, however, was far from over: While Ollie’s starter had been a bit of a disappointment, Travis had been a workhorse for Kelly in her own League challenge, and he also had an ace up his sleeve: His Blazikenite meant he could Mega-Evolve to boost his stats (and hopefully his chances of survival).

The problem was that even with both a two-level and a Mega Evolution advantage, Katie was still faster than him, and she opened with a powerful Hydro Pump.

Hydro Pump connects!

Wait! Travis survived! He can retaliate with…

…wait, he’s using Brave Bird?!

In perhaps the saddest moment of the whole spectacle, I managed to overthink my “opponent’s” moves, bypass a perfectly-usable option in Sky Uppercut, and instead choose a non-STAB, recoil-inducing move as my attack. Katie survived; Travis didn’t. It was all over, and Ollie had emerged victorious.

Upon Further Review…

Unlike Little Texas, I couldn’t help but think of what might have been. Why didn’t I choose the right move? After kicking myself for a good five minutes over the decision, I decided to replay the situation and see what would happen if Travis had used Sky Uppercut instead of Brave Bird.

It turns out that Sky Uppercut would have still required two hits to KO Katie.

So was Kelly’s fate sealed no matter what move I had selected? Well…the truth is a bit more complicated:

  • Kelly was faster in Round 1, but Mega Blaziken’s Speed Boost ability would have been enough to allow Travis to go first in Round 2. He would have gotten a chance at a second Sky Uppercut.
  • However, Sky Uppercut is only a 90% accurate move, which means connecting twice in a row would have not been a sure thing. (Note that Katie’s 80% accurate Hydro Pump missed in the above test, which is why Travis remains at full health.)
  • Even if Katie went down, wouldn’t Nala have had a say in all this? Based on my tests, no: Speed Boost would all but guarantee Travis first strike, and one Sky Uppercut would KO Nala.

Throw in the critical Thunderbolt and the miraculous double Protect, and it’s clear that the biggest factor in deciding this battle was sheer dumb luck (with some operator error thrown in for extra flavor).


There is one solid conclusion we can draw from all this nonsense: As good as Bambi is, they weren’t able to dominate the competition like they had in the official Nuzlocke run. Truth be known, this is part of the genius of Pokémon: With level parity, no one monster is all-powerful enough to run roughshod over the field.

So, is this the end of my summer Pokémon series? Well, Pokémon Y is still out there for challenging, but I’m not sure it’s worth extending this Nuzlocke series for it. This was an interesting thought exercise, but at it’s core it’s just a guy playing both sides of a Pokémon battle.

If this does turn out to be the end of the series, I certainly had fun with it, and will have to look for another game for next summer’s series. You know, I’ve never actually played through Pokémon Black 2 or Pokémon White 2