Pokémon, undeniably, has the biggest cultural influence of any game series on society, ever. Call of Duty, Tetris, Battlefield – they don’t even come close. And that’s thanks to the primary developers of the monster-hunting adventure, Game Freak. Having made or overseen all of the games in the series, from Pokémon Red and Blue, all the way to Pokémon Sword and Shield, releasing this November. The CEO of Game Freak, Satoshi Tajiri, created the franchise 22 years ago and has stuck with it ever since, and has never faltered. The Pokémon formula has always managed to lead to success in its long-running series. But that same strength is also one of Pokémon’s biggest weaknesses. Therefore, begging the question; are Game Freak getting lazy?
If it Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix it
Now we all know the famous saying ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ True in most contexts, but not always accurate in gaming. Although it’s the staple Pokémon ingredient, the storyline is and has always been very similar in each game. An older man gives you an option of three Pokémon to choose from. You choose first, your ‘rival’ takes the option of your own Pokémon’s weakness. And then you battle gyms, get badges, defeat a team of terrorists, maybe catch a few legendries and defeat the Pokémon Champion. End. It’s the most linear, but most successful storyline in any game. But it can get boring. You know the story before you play it.
Though, with the release of Pokémon Sun and Moon, in some cases, one game-changing mechanic was replaced with another. The traditional gyms were replaced with trials and Kahuna’s (which, is an island own ‘Pokémon Champion’). It caused some discontent in the Pokémon community, as changes weren’t welcomed to such a tradition that many fans already appreciated for what it was. The series can’t change, and when it tries to, it simply receives backlash. This leads to the majority of possible players put off. They’ve played Pokémon Sun – why should they play Pokémon Sword or Shield? So maybe Game Freak isn’t lazy – they’re just scared of losing their core player base, or just receiving backlash for a change that isn’t traditional enough to fans. But if we’re talking gameplay-wise, this is a different story.
A New but Old Pokémon Game?
When the trailer was released for Pokémon Sword and Shield, it’s setting and appearance was different from any Pokémon game we’ve seen to date. Inspired by the small, yet the diverse country of Great Britain, the Galar region brings a whole host of new Pokémon alongside some fantastic new graphics. At least, that’s what it seemed like. When gameplay footage was released and reviewed by those who played it, apparently, the Switch could barely keep up with it. It was failing to hold 30FPS, stuttering and not looking as clean as what was advertised. Now that’s an iron tail to any fan’s face. And ironically it was rumored the same game engine that was used to support the 3DS Pokémon installments. Though, this was later cleared up with an interview with Famitsu, where Game Freak specified that it was a new engine built specifically for Sword and Shield.
Though, the engine is clearly unable to produce a stable framerate. Maybe there was some sort of technological time limit or time constraint. But it’s also important to note that there are three months until the game releases. So that’s three months, hopefully, to polish the game, though Game Freak did have three years since the last generation. So, despite the new setting, 150 odd new Pokémon, and cleaner graphics, Game Freak is falling behind the 2019 gaming standards.
Recycled Pokémon Animations?
Unfortunately for Game Freak, that’s not where the controversies end. From the gameplay that was shown from the new games earlier last month, it’s evident that the company is reusing animations, mainly from Pokémon X and Y.
This video highlights (by DistantKingdoms) the exact same battle animations used in Sword and Shield as well as an earlier installment in the series. Although Game Freak is supposedly using a brand-new engine to support the Switch, it seems like they’ve copy and pasted the Pokémon reactions when there sent to battle, attack, and are hit by a move. Though this isn’t a huge issue, it would be refreshing to see some new animations alongside a brand-new game. And maybe some actual physical movement of the Pokémon, rather than them staying in one space for the entire battle. Several YouTube channels and other news outlets have highlighted the fact that other spin-off Pokémon games do this. So why can’t the main series?
Pokémon in the Wild
It’s a pretty cool change that we can now see Pokémon actually roaming the wild. Rather than just walking in some grass, with an invisible Pokémon suddenly appearing and challenging you to a battle. It also adds a new gameplay aspect of having to purposely dodge these obstacles on your journey, which could prove to be interesting. This new mechanic is unique and refreshing and doesn’t sound lazy at all.
But after seeing the gameplay of these roaming Pokémon, they all act very unnaturally. Much rather like a computer code, than a creature in a world of another Pokémon. Wingull’s are a prime example. In the gameplay, they move like robots, not moving there wings an all, in a constant frozen state. It looks wooden and unfinished. A Youtuber (Ardy [SFM]), using animation software, showed how easy it was to make the Wingulls, as well as attack animations easily. Strange how a multi-billion-dollar company couldn’t achieve this.
It’s also kind of a bummer that the 800 odd Pokémon from the old games won’t be added into the new series, nor will a national Pokédex. Which means fans will be limited to the regional Pokédex of the Galar region. Though the company did reach out to fans through the media and make it clear, it was due to technical limitations. But still, a company with several billion dollars behind it couldn’t invest in new technology to make it possible? Sounds a little lazy to me…
Lazy, or Just Plain Crazy?
It’s understandable that Game Freak is working with the Switch, which isn’t something that they’ve worked with before. But they have had three years to develop a new main series game. It’s also clear that fans don’t really like change to this traditional series. So Game Freak could be afraid to implement it. But the moving and living Pokémon on land is a great addition. But it was executed terribly, emphasizing the unfinished, lazy persona of Sword and Shield. With the few months that Game Freak has left to polish of its latest entry into the 22 years running series, hopefully, they’ll see all the backlash, and fix these Pokémon animations, create newer ones, and possibly improve the gameplay.
It may be difficult to heavily alter the traditional storyline of the series that’s been repeated over most the Pokémon installments, but a multi-billion-dollar company could definitely have the ability to update some aged animations as well as improve the gameplay experience. If not, then its clear Game Freak has become somewhat idle, and therefore become lazy in its production of Pokémon Sword and Shield. For more on the eighth generation Pokémon installment, releasing November 18th, stay tuned to TheNerdStash.