I don’t know if I’m ready for another Pokemon adventure. As Nintendo set out to celebrate the 26th anniversary of Pocket Monsters: Red and Green, the publisher made it clear that there’s never been a better, nor a more exhaustive, time to be a Pokemon Trainer. I don’t know about you, but I came to this realization following the announcement that Pokemon Scarlet and Violet are not only in active development but set to launch later this year.
It feels like an extraordinarily tight turnaround for Game Freak, with the developer having only just released Pokemon Legends: Arceus a little over four weeks ago. But it’s a tight turnaround for players too, who are now being asked to somehow summon the time to begin hunting for Gen 9 Pokemon before 2022 draws to a close. The Pokemon Company has already asked fans to invest a hundred hours into the Pokemon series over the last two-and-a-bit years – easily triple that for the enthusiasts who live and die by the ‘Gotta Catch ‘Em All’ mentality.
Pokemon Sword and Shield launched in the dying weeks of 2019 and was later expanded in 2020 with the Isle of Armor and Crown Tundra DLC. That was followed by New Pokemon Snap, and Pokemon Diamond and Shining Pearl in 2021. Pokemon Legends: Arceus kick-started 2022 in style and has already had an update of its own, with Daybreak expanding the endgame challenge. And that’s all while Pokemon Go introduces captures from the Alola Region, and Pokemon Masters EX, Pokemon Cafe ReMix, and Pokemon Unite bring in a host of bonuses and items to try and draw players back in.
Listen, I love Pokemon as much as the next elder-millennial with a wasted youth headlined by the adventures of Ash, Brock, and Misty, but even I’m beginning to wonder whether this is too much too soon.
Into the open
Pokemon Scarlet and Violet should have been an announcement years in the making. Nintendo describes these upcoming Switch games as “an evolutionary step, allowing you to explore freely in a richly expressed open world.” The European-inspired Region, full of vibrant colors and beautiful architecture, promises to have “various towns blend seamlessly into the wilderness with no borders,” with local Pokemon inhabiting the streets, skies, seas, and forests around you. “You’ll be able to experience the true joy of the Pokemon series,” Nintendo teases, “now in an open-world game that players of any age can enjoy.”
It sounds delightful. It sounds transformative. And I think we’re all big enough here to admit that it also sounds a little exhausting. After two decades spent dreaming of open-world Pokemon games, I didn’t want it to be this way – with two launching back-to-back, in quick succession. While it may not be fully open-world, Pokemon Legends: Arceus comes close enough – it’s arguably the most significant evolution the series has encountered since Game Freak first outlined its foundations, and I’m still trying to allocate the time to make my way through it without rushing.
Traditionally, Game Freak iterates on systems and mechanics more slowly than EA Vancouver and EA Tiburon does with its annualized FIFA, NHL, and NFL entries. It’s phenomenal really, how little Pokemon has changed in the last 26 years. The tide has started to shift, of course, with more change coming during the Switch era than anything we’ve seen during other Nintendo hardware generations. Pokemon: Let’s Go brought Pokemon out of the tall grass in 2018, Sword and Shield introduced more explorable open spaces with its Wild Areas in 2019, while Legends: Arceus expanded upon both concepts further in ’22 – sprawling open spaces, full of opportunities to catch Pokemon in the actual wild.
There was some expectation that Game Freak would take the lessons it learned through Legends: Arceus and feed them into the next mainline installment, building up to a fully open-world structure while working to mitigate the visual and performance problems that were so clear in Sword, Shield, and Legends: Arceus. Game Freak is clearly struggling to balance its ambitions against the power it is able to leverage out of the Nintendo Switch, something that its traditionally iterative design could have helped the studio figure out.
It’s time to catch ’em all, again
Instead, it now appears that Legends: Arceus was positioned to prepare an audience who is both reticent for change and desperate to see it for a massive shift in play that is on the very near horizon. Pokemon Scarlet and Violet is still very much a mystery, although you have to think that wide-scale changes to catching mechanics and battle systems will be introduced to help smoothen the transition to a truly open-world RPG. Pokemon Legends: Arceus hints at those changes, and I wish I had more time to appreciate them before a new adventure starts tugging at the tendrils of my attention.
The truth is, I should have expected Pokemon Scarlet and Violet to launch in 2022. Ever since Red and Blue, the series has followed a pretty predictable pattern (barring just a handful of divergences). We tend to get a mainline installment and then, two years later, an enhanced version or a remake, and then a year later we’ll get a brand new generation of Pokemon game. That’s what it looked like the Switch was going to give us, although Pokemon Legends: Arceus upended the cadence completely – I’d been half-expecting Gen 9 to launch in 2023 or 2024, giving Game Freak the time to invest, iterate, and expand the scope of play.
Instead, we are being pushed onto a new Pokemon adventure before the last has really been given a chance to conclude. I’m excited to play Pokemon Scarlet and Violet, but I fear that the full extent of my excitement won’t stretch into yet another PokeDex this year.
Here’s everything we know so far on the Pokemon Scarlet and Violet starters – Sprigatito, Fuecoco, and Quaxly – so far.