Photo by: Charlie Martin
What should have been a huge step forward for the Pokémon series has turned into a stumbling mess.
Pokémon is a series that has largely remained the same since its inception on the Game Boy, with the changes being largely visual and refinements to the existing linear, set-progression formula. However, Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet present a new formula for the series with their open world. Looking at the ideas behind them, these are two of the most well-thought out games in the series.
The story is different from every other mainline Pokémon game. Rather than having a story about battling gyms in a set order, taking care of criminal gangs and world-ending calamities because they got in the way of your gym battling, the player is open to explore however they prefer, with the protagonist’s goal simply being to find what makes them the happiest through a school assignment called the “Treasure Hunt.”
There are three different objectives as you travel the region: battle in the Pokémon League, investigate Titan Pokémon, and put a stop to the delinquent gang Team Star. The gyms are by far the biggest part of the game, but the other two help keep the game varied, preventing the game from being yet another slog of gyms to get through like previous titles. This variety in challenges makes Scarlet and Violet the most substantive mainline games Pokémon has put out.
There are also a lot of small changes from previous Pokémon games that have made these entries less tedious than older mainline titles. Pokémon no longer spawn randomly and can be seen roaming in the wild, allowing players to challenge what Pokémon they want, when they want. This works well with another new feature called Let’s Go, where you can send out one of your Pokémon to attack wild Pokémon much quicker than in the usual turn-based battle system. This lets you level up your Pokémon much quicker than in previous titles, and the game is much better without all that repetitive grinding.
Getting around the map is also much more interesting than in previous titles thanks to the Legendary Pokémon you can ride around the map: Koraidon in Scarlet and Miraidon in Violet. The two start as merely a faster run option for the player, but as you defeat Titans you unlock abilities like surfing and scaling walls. While this is more restrictive than systems in similar games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, this system works well here. It’s not only a good substitute for the HM system in older titles, but also a fun way to reward players for their efforts.
All of these additions would have made Scarlet and Violet not only two of the best games in the Pokémon series, but potentially two of the best open world games overall. Unfortunately, while the game has many great mechanics and ideas, the game itself is a complete mess.
Scarlet and Violet are two of the most buggy, unfinished games released by a triple-A studio since Assassin’s Creed Unity back in 2014. Characters will randomly stop animating, characters will randomly start animating, the player will occasionally clip through walls, and models will sometimes either morph wildly or completely disappear.
Playing with the Switch docked — rather than handheld — and restarting the game every few hours seems to mitigate the most egregious glitches, but these tricks won’t fix the camera clipping through the ground, the poor framerate on anything that isn’t within a few feet of the player, the frequent pop-in of models that should have been rendered long before or the laggy gameplay in high-model density areas. There’s a lake in the northwest part of the region where, no matter how many times I restarted, the game would slow down significantly when the Pokémon started spawning in.
These problems are especially frustrating when considering that Pokémon is the single highest-grossing media franchise ever, ranking higher than Star Wars, Marvel and even Nintendo’s own Super Mario series. And despite having the resources to avoid these performance issues, The Pokémon Company chose to release the game in an unfinished state.
Pokémon is under a self-imposed release schedule: The Pokémon Company needed Scarlet and Violet to release now, not only so that they could be out in time for the holidays, but also so they can get started on the next wave of merchandise, trading cards and anime episodes. Even though the games are not ready, they cannot be delayed or else everything in The Pokémon Company’s catalogue gets pushed back with it, meaning the player is left with a broken mess of a game.
There is still fun to be had in Scarlet and Violet, however it’s hard to recommend a game that feels this rushed. There are so many other open world games that provide a similar experience with far more polish, usually with a cheaper price than Pokémon provides. If you’re still on the fence about picking up either of these games, I suggest you either wait until these issues have been addressed, or find something that’s actually worth your money.