Recently, Pokemon Scarlet and Violet were released on the Nintendo Switch. These games were a highly anticipated bunch, with an open world setup that looked to be absolutely revolutionary for the series as a whole.
However, what fans realised after playing it was that they were… not exactly as stable or polished as they should have been. Indeed, with numerous glitches, poor quality assets and horrendous performance problems, what should have been the best Pokemon games on the system are being slammed as broken messes, with hundreds of clips of amusing bugs and oversights going viral as a result:
— なぎさ🌽🚑🌸 🧪🎋 (@nagisa_Vzuki39) November 17, 2022
— Kraken Mare (@KrakenMare77) November 18, 2022
— Aria (@ar_art_1) November 18, 2022
— よ (@t_a_b_e_r_u) November 18, 2022
— GENIUS | ナタ (@Nata3Pit) November 19, 2022
GameFreak deserves a round of applause for this one pic.twitter.com/EhCPt1qAXg
— Strat (@LaidbackStrat) November 18, 2022
Plus things like IGN’s performance review slamming the game for all kinds of obvious technical issues:
As a result, some fans are claiming the Switch has something to do with it. That the Switch’s technical limitations are too much for these Pokemon games, and that they would have worked better on a system with more advanced hardware.
But this is ludicrous. The problems with Pokemon Scarlet and Violet have nothing to do with the Switch’s hardware.
And a whole lot more to do with Game Freak and the Pokemon Company’s incompetence and poor development practices. After all, you know what Switch games do look and run a lot better than these games?
Just about all of the ones developed or published by Nintendo themselves. The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild may have some frame rate problems in Korok Forest, but its art style and general stability is still a million times better than Scarlet and Violet.
Same goes for Super Mario Odyssey. It’s another 2017 game with fantastic looking levels and characters that runs silky smooth on Switch with a 60fps frame rate and very few bugs coming up by complete accident.
The list just goes on and on. Luigi’s Mansion 3. Kirby and the Forgotten Land. Super Smash Bros Ultimate. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Splatoon 2 and 3. All of these games look and run better than anything Pokemon related you can get on the Switch.
So no, the Switch isn’t the limiting factor here. It’s definitely getting long in the tooth sure, and there are games that would benefit from better hardware (like Xenoblade Chronicles 3).
But those games are a million times more advanced than Pokemon Scarlet and Violet, and they look it. You can’t seriously tell us this:
Looks anywhere near as good as this:
They’re just not in the same league here.
Still, now we’ve established it’s not the Switch holding these games back, what is the real reason here? Why are Pokemon Scarlet and Violet so rough compared to just about any other major Switch title?
Well, the schedule sure doesn’t help here. Indeed, do you know when the last major Pokemon game was? When Pokemon Legends: Arceus released?
January this year.
Apparently, that game and these new ones were both in development at the same time.
And let’s face it, it shows in both cases. Both Legends: Arceus and Scarlet and Violet run terribly on the Switch, with graphics that look like something from two or three generations ago. It’s clear that whatever time they had was not enough to make them more stable, improved on the textures, models or lighting work, or generally implement a more interesting world design.
So they’re clearly stretched for time here, and desperately trying to keep up with the insane schedule of ‘one big Pokemon announcement a year, minimum’.
Which just doesn’t make sense for game development. You just can’t get a great game finished in a year or two if your ambitions as high as those of the Pokemon franchise, let alone do that alongside numerous other projects at the same time. There’s a reason Tears of the Kingdom is coming out in 2023 rather than 2018, or that we haven’t seen a Super Mario Odyssey sequel yet.
But Pokemon is in a bind here. Unlike Mario and Zelda, where Nintendo (rightfully) treats the merchandise as a secondary priority, Pokemon seems to value it far more than the games themselves. The toys, anime, trading card game and other adaptations come first here.
And that’s a huge problem. These forms of media need a constant stream of new content to keep people’s interest, and 100~ new Pokemon every year is exactly what the Pokemon Company has in mind.
So the meat grinder keeps on going. The games are rushed out, the devs pressured to hell and back, and every year or two, the series gets another set of monsters to make plushies and figurines out of.
But we can’t only blame the execs here. No, we also have to keep one other group in mind.
Game Freak themselves.
Because as a company, Game Freak are an odd bunch. Unlike the Nintendo in house teams or big third party developers of the world, they’re still a fairly small, inexperienced team with little knowledge of how to make stable or high production value games.
It’s just that said team is now at the helm of the biggest franchise in the world, and steadfastedly refuses to expand or get with the times.
And sadly, they’ve been that way for a long time too. Back in the Pokemon Red and Blue days, the games were glitchy as hell due to their questionable programming decisions. In the Gold and Silver days, they had to have ex Nintendo president Satoru Iwata come in to optimise the code so the game wouldn’t be delayed (which also gave them to space to include Kanto as a second region too). Plus the amount of lag, overly gigantic character models and duplication, etc in the 3DS games was legendary to say the least.
It’s just more noticeable now, since the demands needed have gone up, and the expectations have gone with it. Now they can’t get away with just making a sprite based game on an 8-bit console, they seemingly need to make a full 3D open world title for the Switch complete with HD graphics and all the trimmings. And they just… can’t. Not with the skill level they have right now and the teams involved.
This effect has also been compounded by the fact Game Freak are VERY late to the party with HD console game development. Like, not only did they start out making 2D sprite based games for the Game Boy at a time where bigger companies were already working on fairly complex 3D ones for home consoles, but they stuck to that style to the early 2010s, despite Nintendo having reached the Wii era by then and having mastered complex 3D game development with things like the Super Mario Galaxy games, 3D Zelda titles, etc. Add this to the time spent working on 3DS games and the reluctance to even release titles on home consoles until the Switch era, and well, you’ve got a company that’s stuck trying to play catchup with the rest of the industry while on a schedule even the likes of Call of Duty and Fifa struggle with. It’s not a great situation to be in, that’s for sure.
So we’ve got a team of devs forced to make games at an unsustainable rate, for hardware they’re still struggling to get used to, with a team whose tech skills were barely good enough to hold their previous games together as it is. It’s not really much of a surprise the Pokemon games turned out the way they did on Switch, and it’s not remotely fair to consider it a reflection of the system’s own limitations either.
Either way, it’s not a Switch problem, it’s a Game Freak/Pokemon Company one. The limitations of Scarlet and Violet have nothing to do with hardware limitations, and everything to do with unreasonable schedules and poor coding practices. Unless either the team changes, or Nintendo gives them far more support, these issues will keep happening regardless of how good the underlying console might be.