Pokemon Scarlet and Violet Preview – Promising but Rough
After ten minutes of announcements for existing games and minor updates, the Pokemon Presents showcase for February 27 ended on a shocking reveal. A suspense-building live-action trailer showed a security guard investigating a mysterious building. Afterward, the Pokemon Company confirmed that Pokemon Scarlet and Violet, the ninth generation of its pocket-monster-catching franchise, is set to release on the Nintendo Switch later this year. This new set of games will bring players into a never-before-seen region, with new and old Pokemon alike appearing along their journey. Much like in the reveal of Sword and Shield in February 2019, the trailer only showed a brief glimpse of the region or gameplay. But in those passing shots, TPC revealed enough content to allow us to speculate about what the future of Pokemon games will look like going forward, and it’s not promising. Following the mild innovation that Pokemon Legends: Arceus displayed it seems that the Pokemon series is going back to safer footing.
Shifting the Formula: Will it Be Enough?
Saying that the Pokemon franchise has always tended towards stagnation is one of modern gaming’s greatest cliches. That doesn’t make it any less true: take a look at past generations of Pokemon titles. It’s hard not to notice how the franchise has ground to a halt in terms of reinvention or innovation beyond the barest mechanical changes or graphical updates. This stasis is exactly why Pokemon Legends: Arceus presented such a breath of fresh air for many. Not only does it do away with random encounters altogether, but it also introduces new dimensions in terms of interacting with the environments and Pokemon, leading to one of the series’ most believable and engaging worlds yet. You can argue that Pokemon Legends: Arceus is technically a spin-off, but it promised great things that could be one direction for the series going forward. At the same time, that’s exactly why the announcement of Pokemon Scarlet and Violet following so quickly after the release of Arceus could be a worrisome sign.
Pokemon Legends: Arceus included a plethora of changes that are a step in the right direction, but it’s far from perfect; its story verges on the nonsensical, the vast environments feel bland and empty, and its combat is underdeveloped. With its release window slated for later this year (around November 2022), I’m doubtful that Scarlet and Violet will have enough time to learn from Arceus’ mistakes and offer meaningful advances in its gameplay. Even if Scarlet and Violet manages to make improvements, its promise of an open-world adventure feels far less enticing – especially now that players have had a taste of the exploratory gameplay loop in Pokemon Legends: Arceus.
Pokemon Scarlet and Violet Doesn’t Look Great
I’m only basing my impressions contrary to the trailer reveal, and from what I’ve seen, Pokemon Scarlet and Violet haven’t given the best first impressions. Its starters may be adorable as always, but boy does the gameplay in the debut trailer come riddled with stuttering performance and graphical glitches – even an indie dev team could do better in this department. Now, before you flame me to oblivion, I know this footage comes from a pre-release build of the game and there’s a chance that these concerns could all be corrected ahead of launch. Then again, I must argue that this is Game Freak we’re talking about; Pokemon fans know never to expect too much in the technical department.
All signs are pointing to the ninth generation of Pokemon having yet another rushed release for Game Freak for the Holiday (can’t pass up that sweet, sweet Christmas money!) – a schedule that hardly seems necessarily considering that Arceus is already a hit for early 2022.
An Unwanted Guest
The imminent entrance of Pokemon Scarlet and Violet seems even more unnecessary when compared to all the other possibilities that the Pokemon Company could have focused on this year. They’ve been knocking it out of the park lately when it comes to their spinoffs and side games in recent years, with titles like New Pokemon Snap, Pokemon Unite, and even Pokemon Cafe ReMix posting as new possibilities for what Pokemon gameplay can be beyond the usual turn-based battles. Each of the titles I’ve mentioned introduces new takes on the franchise, and with Pokemon Legends: Arceus already filling the gap for a large-scale single-player adventure this year, the Pokemon Company could’ve taken the chance to further emphasizes different kinds of Pokemon experiences.
And yet here we are, and Game Freak once again churns out a meaty RPG to prop up the company’s multimedia empire. I’m not doubting that Pokemon Scarlet and Violet will be one of this year’s biggest blockbuster successes – even if I sit here all day to nitpick its graphics or complain about the untimely release schedule, the Pokemon franchise is just too big to fail at this point. Ultimately, what we’re seeing now is a time of change for Pokemon, and Scarlet and Violet will be the “test” to see whether Game Freak’s strategies need reevaluating or if it’ll be the tone of how the Pokemon games will work in the years to come.