NOTE FROM PARTICLEBIT: This week’s article is a guest post brought to you by a friend of mine who is testing the blogging waters. Today, he’s going to talk about the recently announced Pokemon for Switch, and what it could look like. Have a look and be sure to leave a comment!
Guest Writer: Nick M.
It’s often said that today’s kids favor screen-time too much, instead of enjoying the great outdoors. Grandparents tell stories and paint pictures of running through fields and digging in dirt to catch bugs and tadpoles “back in the day”. They bemoan that modern kids will never know those joys–or at least they might not have if it weren’t for a man named Satoshi Tajiri.
Tajiri, back in 1995, decided to take his own childhood passion for catching bugs and tadpoles outside of Tokyo and create a video game, whereby others could experience the same innocent joys that he had experienced. He had recently played a Nintendo Gameboy with the LinkCable accessory and imagined creatures flowing along the wire.
He soon founded a small company called GameFreak and after almost five years of setback and rejection, enlisted the help of none other than Mario and Zelda developer Shigeru Miyamoto to pitch the idea of “Capsule Monsters” to Nintendo (it is, in fact, due to Mr. Miyamoto that we receive 2 different colored games in each Pokemon release). A few trademark issues later, the project was renamed Pocket Monsters—shortened to Pokemon—and a worldwide phenomenon was born.
If you’re like me, you may have begged a parent, relative, or Santa Claus for a Gameboy sometime between 1996 and the present. And if you did, it was more than likely because you wanted to catch ‘em all. Despite the craze that has happened since, Pokemon’s original reception in 1996 Japan was lukewarm. That is, until a special contest in which 20 people would receive the legendary 151st Pokemon (Mew) ignited game sales of Pokemon Red and Green. Manga, anime, and trading cards were created to feed Pokefever in Japan.
North America joined in the fun, as Ash Ketchum and friends made their debut on September 7, 1998 and Pokemon Red and Blue hit store shelves on September 30th of that year. In 1999, Wizards of the Coast oversaw the creation of the North American version of the Pokemon Trading Card Game, and a full length feature film starring the Pokemon clone Mewtwo temporarily become the United States’ top grossing animated film.
What makes these games so great as to spawn an entire franchise of KFC stuffed animals, cards, movies, and more and more game generations? Let’s take an overview of the franchise, focusing on gameplay and themes. Then, we’ll speculate what the future has in store with Nintendo’s recent announcement of the first ever console version of Pokemon games coming to the Switch.
Your very own Pokémon legend is about to unfold! A world of dreams and adventures with Pokémon awaits! Let’s go!
Some things never change. Every Pokemon game retains central pillars of exploration, battle, and friendship rather than corporate interest. Each game pits a youthful, forever 10-year old protagonist against the wide world of Pokemon. Players capture Pokemon and raise them with compassion to eventually defeat the Elite 4, while also performing field research for the never-ending stream of Pokemon PhDs who need a 10 year old to do what they can’t.
Along the way, the hero must battle a group of older teens with a nefarious plot and cult-like deference to their leadership who seek to use Pokemon for their own motives, such as world domination, drowning (or burning) the world to destroy all humans, and harnessing the power of Legendary Pokemon as weapons.
Key elements have also remained a part of each entry’s gameplay. Trainers are barred from capturing other trainers Pokemon, in keeping with the “lover not fighter” narrative. Trainers can only carry 6 Pokemon and use a futuristic digital teleportation system housed in a 1990s PC (developed by a group of IT gurus across multiple continents) to swap party members. Pokemon can learn up to 4 different moves, and a core set of Pokemon types dictate advantages and disadvantages in battle. And of course, Pokemon have multiple forms and evolve into more powerful (and cooler looking) monsters as they gain experience.
Pokemon itself has evolved.
Since 1997 Pokemon has seen many changes to both story and gameplay through plot twists and quality of life improvements (Are you sure you want Charmeleon to forget Ember and learn Flamethrower?). Players have learned to run faster (if you have those special shoes from Mom) and even rollerblade in Pokemon X and Y (“XY”). Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire and Emerald (“RSE”) introduced the double battle, and subsequent generations introduced both new types (Steel, Dark, and Fairy) as well as the horde mechanic where players can encounter massive groups of Pokemon at a time.
New items are always abound, and new obstacles such as whirlpools, waterfalls, and special areas requiring you to ride a Pokemon have been introduced in each generation. Some games brought us special mystic areas and other dimensions like the Shadow World of Pokemon Platinum. These areas have even spawned some fan theories that the Pokemon games run in concurrent different dimensions, and defy the laws of physics.
Recent 3DS versions of the game have introduced the mechanic of Mega Evolution and Z-Moves, where certain Pokemon can “mega-evolve” once per battle to create maxed out, awesome looking version of themselves. Mega-Evolution research drives the plot of X and Y, and Z-Moves (special, elite moves to be used once per battle by a Pokemon of a specific type that do not count toward the 4 move limit) provided players with rewards for battling through Island leaders in Pokemon Sun and Moon (“SuMo”).
One of the most interesting features added in the fandom is the shiny mechanic, whereby the game generates a very, very small chance that a wild Pokemon’s sprite will be off-color from the regular sprite. This idea was introduced in Pokemon Gold and Silver (“GS”) with the Red Gyrados at the Lake of Rage. This mechanic has spawned a mad hunt for shinies across all generations, as Twitch streamers search for hours to find shinies, utilizing items and soft resets to help their quest. The Global Trade Center is chock full of shinies, both real and fake, to be dealt to enhance one’s collection for bragging rights.
And of course, no mention of new features would be complete without discussing the competitive play aspect of the games. Pokemon breeding, where individual Pokemon can mate at a Daycare facility (which seems odd) if they are compatible and produce an egg that will eventually, with enough steps and love, hatch into a baby Pokemon. While some Pokemon have “baby forms” that are only attainable via eggs, the consequences of breeding are far reaching.
Each Pokemon game generates a set of base stats for Pokemon, and the alters how each individual ‘mon can grow and change based on their EVs, their nature description which awards a 10% bonus to one stat and subtraction from another, and which Pokemon they KO in battles as they level up. These were largely hidden mechanics, until Pokemon Sun and Moon. However, the collective deciphering of these numerical systems has led players to a nearly infinite end-game of collecting, breeding, and super training (read: grinding) to create the “perfect Pokemon” with a strategically chosen move set.
Good luck trying your hand at competitive play if you aren’t a participant in the EV/IV game. Though it can be very fun, it is a slog, and many casual players prefer the much more direct, level up and go on offense approach to the mainline story.
Can Pokemon Work on Console?
While over the years there have been console additions to the Pokemon franchise such as Pokemon Stadium and Snap on the N64, XD Gale of Darkness on Gamecube, and Pokken Tournament on WiiU, no mainline RPG in the series has ever been released on console. This comes despite fans (like me) drooling and daydreaming about “what ifs” since 1998. But now that day seems to be fast approaching, with Nintendo’s recent E3 announcement that GameFreak is producing a core RPG Pokemon game for the Nintendo Switch.
What will a game for Switch, where trainers can play both on the TV and handheld, entail? It’s tough to say. Fans have speculated (and begged) for everything from remakes of old games, to adding Pokemon Snap elements, to a mashup game that OD’s on nostalgia and pushes the player through all the continents and endless gym battles. The future is unclear, but there are several possible paths that GameFreak could explore:
- The Long-Awaited Gen IV Remakes:
Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum represent an odd time in GameFreak’s history. The first games to be released on the DS with a new story, these games represent a trio that many original fans missed during their high school and college days. They also represent a series of games that ignited a passion for Pokemon in younger fans, for whom the DS was their first console, and were just entering elementary school.
There has long been speculation that these games could get a remake, updating them to the graphical style of XY/SuMo. Many fans were disappointed this spring when Nintendo announced a Pokemon Direct, and unveiled Pokken Tournament for the Switch rather than remakes of Gen IV. While this possibility does provide ample opportunity for Nintendo and GameFreak to cash in on nostalgia across 20 years of players, it seems unlikely that they will try to transition Pokemon to a new format on the home console by rehashing a set of games that wasn’t as popular with core fans in the first place 10 years ago.
- A New Adventure, Capitalizing on the Switch’s Graphics and Features.
GameFreak has stated that it will take some time, possibly beyond 2018, to develop the new game. That’s fairly indicative that this won’t just be a 3DS port. Combined with recent reporting that GameFreak is staffing up with experienced console developers for “cartoon-like super deformed characters, monsters and items” for a “globally popular RPG”, it seems that Pokemon at the very least is going to get a major graphical facelift–if not rework.
At a time when the franchise is set to make its biggest hardware change since implementing a dual-screen on the DS, it would make sense to start the adventure fresh and take some risks. GameFreak showed its willingness to abandon what were previous core elements of the game in SuMo where it dropped the idea of Gym Badges in favor of the Island Trials and Totem Pokemon. While that received mixed reviews, this time around players will buy the franchise’s first iteration on the Switch without asking questions. That makes it undoubtedly a moment where experimentation could pay off.
Imagine a game that pushes innovation using the Switch Joycon’s to toss Pokeballs and capture wild Pokemon. Or utilizes the Switch’s camera and augmented reality to bring a PokemonGo or Pokemon Snap-like feel to the mainline game. Multiplayer could see significant revamping with local area battling, trading, and even shared world co-op, if GameFreak gets creative.
It is also true that many of these changes (and those still unimagined) may be unwelcome by fans; many of which are seeking that sweet hit of nostalgia and for whom TV and Joycon gameplay is a bonus but not a primary focus. It would be a big risk by GameFreak to change up core elements, and you could argue that the first release on Switch both is and isn’t the time to take it. But a full payoff in fan approval of changes and a new story might justify the inevitable $60 price tag on the Switch version of the game.
- The Full Monty: Recreate the Red/Blue Experience in Full 3D
More modern acolytes of the series have spent the past few iterations frustrated that much homage has been paid to Generation I (Red and Blue). In Pokemon X and Y, we were randomly awarded a starter in Bulbasaur, Charmander, or Squirtle from the original game world of Kanto. We were able to catch the original legendary birds Zapdos, Moltres, and Articuno, and we were also able to obtain (and mega-evolve) the infamous 150st Pokemon, Mewtwo.
The most recent version of the game (SuMo) followed a protagonist who had moved to Hawaii-esque Alola from Kanto and ends with another nice tie-in to Kanto. In fact, many Pokemon in SuMO received special Alolan forms, that changed their appearance and type.
These were universally Generation I Pokemon like Sandshrew, Vulpix, Executor, and Grimer. And of course, Kanto has received much love from GameFreak, appearing as special content after the Elite 4 in Gold and Silver, in the Game Boy Advance FireRed/LeafGreen remakes of the original games, and again in the Heart Gold/Soul Silver remakes on the DS.
These subtle hints have drawn speculation that GameFreak could try to live up to the 1998 dreams of original fans, and release a completely 3D, open-world style game that remakes Pokemon Red and Blue. Fans salivate over possibility of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild style gameplay, merged with the Pokemon Company’s recent mobile phenomenon, PokemonGo.
Imagine a game with all the 3D glory of PokemonGo, seeing wild flocks of Pokemon in the forests, rivers, caves, and skies, and then getting to capture and battle them. While this seems certainly like an overreach and very unrealistic expectation, we did just get a Metroid Prime 4 announcement, so anything remains possible over the next year or two.
These remain only three paths, and we have been surprised before. Regardless of what GameFreak decides to do in its next installment, this is a franchise that I haven’t stopped buying (and re-buying) for 20 years. When Pokemon comes to the Switch, sign me up and take my money.