Pokemon Needs a New Developer; Here’s Why
Recently, Game Freak has come under a lot of fire for Pokemon Sword and Shield. Basically, they recently said that players would be unable to transfer Pokemon not found in the Galar Pokedex into said games, making people’s cherished Pokemon teams and collections from previous titles unusable in these ones.
It’s a move that’s annoyed a lot of longtime fans (especially given the expectation of backwards compatibility among the series’ games), as well as sparked off various protest movements like #BringBackNationalDex on sites like Twitter.
And you can’t blame said fans for feeling that way. For them, the Pokemon they’ve collected over the past ten or so games are like pets or companions, and to see them unavailable in a game is like losing a friend or being forced to live in an apartment with a strict ‘no pets’ policy as a result.
But as bad as it is, here’s the thing:
The National Dex being removed isn’t really the main problem here. Instead, it’s just a symptom of said issue.
With said issue being that Game Freak are lazy as all hell, don’t understand how to develop games up to modern standards, and are rushing out games faster and faster to cash in trends in recent years.
Seriously, think about it for a moment. When were the last games which felt like they had a lot of work put into extra features or mechanics? You know, beyond a simple gimmick?
Honestly, we’d say it was likely Pokemon Black 2 and White 2 back in the DS era to be honest.
And the generation that included said games arguably had it all. It had a ton of new Pokemon to collect, with interesting designs. The story was decent, and arguably the best the series has ever had. Replay value was through the roof, with dozens of sidequests, tons of challenging battle frontier like areas and the world tournament. And things like seasons were added too, giving a bit more depth to the environments and exploration.
It made them feel like full games, not just a short main story with a few extras tacked on.
It made them feel like Game Freak actually gave a damn, and were trying to push the series as far as it’d go.
Which wasn’t the case with the games that came later. Those games didn’t have any of that stuff at all.
Instead, they were cut back, watered down experiences rushed out to meet deadlines rather than given the time to shine.
I mean, look at X and Y. They provided a few graphics updates sure, and mega evolutions did add a bit to the formula, but the overall package was just so barebones all round. You had gym leaders and elite four members without full teams, you had a region which provided very little in the way of sidequests or extras, a difficulty curve that was virtually flat and a plot that felt undercooked at best, somewhat illogical at worse.
Caption: Plus without sequels or a third game, you had a region that felt unfinished too, with tons of mysteries and plot hooks being swept under the rug and ignored.
And the pattern continued throughout the later games. Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire had some impressive gameplay mechanics, but they also removed many fan favourite ones like the Battle Frontier, under the insulting reasoning that ‘kids play too many mobile games for those sorts of challenges any more’. Sun and Moon varied up the gym structure with trials, but ended up creating an even more linear experience in the process, where exploration was blocked by pointless roadblocks at every turn and most islands felt like a straight path from one end to the other.
Meanwhile Ultra Sun and Moon just rehashed the first two games, with their additions mostly being extras that could have patched in via DLC. It was disappointing as all hell, and showed a general lack of enthusiasm on the part of the development team.
Yet it wasn’t just the lack of enthusiasm that was the problem. No, the technical shortcomings didn’t heelp either. For instance, Sun and Moon lagged like all hell, especially on a standard 3DS. Why? Because Game Freak in all their ‘wisdom’ didn’t bother to compress the character models properly, so models the system could barely handle were being used instead f ones that’d work better on the limited hardware.
It was also clear they struggled to understand loading zones and overworld animations too. Every single gate reloaded the entire screen rather than just opening the path and letting players through immediately. No other game on the 3DS did this, but Pokemon? Oh, it needed to apparently.
Hell, even the basic look and feel of the games didn’t hold up in comparison to their peers. After all, while Pokemon thought this was acceptable in 2013:
Nintendo and Next Level Games had put out titles like Super Mario 3D Land and Luigi’s Mansion Dark Moon, which looked a million titles better in every way:
Pokemon was always about a decade behind in terms of tech.
But we all accepted it. We accepted that the games were dated as all hell, but they appealed to a certain audiencee, and the focus on backwards compatibility was a nice change in an industry where every game gets treated like a blank slate.
We also thought that things might improve on the Switch. After all, the problems present in Sun and Moon were technical in nature, and in large part due to Game Freak putting in character models too ambitious for the hardware. They were trying to make the most of a dated system, and they were doing the best possible with the limited resources available.
Alas, as it turns out, this was all just wishful thinking. Game Freak’s lack of effort was structural as well as technical, and the problems inherent in the past games came down to a team that didn’t have the resources or interest to do a good job with what they had available.
And the Switch only made that more obvious. I mean, can you really say this Sword and Shield trailer:
Is comparable to any other major game on the system?
Of course not. It’s a game that appears to be from the late N64/early GameCube era with less content than those that came before it. That’s appalling, especially given it’s on the same system that brought us such masterpieces as The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey and Super Smash Bros Ultimate:
Caption: The comparison is especially apt given Super Smash Bros Ultimate’s tagline of ‘everyone is here’, a motto Pokemon had working right up until Sword and Shield.
But CM30, you say. Game Freak’s only a small development team, how can they have the resources to put out something like Breath of the Wild?
Well, quite easily actually. If they’re business savvy, they’ll realise their working on the biggest media franchise in the world, and scale up the team to be capable of making games on par with Mario Odyssey and Breath of the Wild.
That’s how business works. You start off small, and once your product or service hits it big, you scale up the team to match. Just look at how every game developer in the world does it. Or how your average Silicon Valley company grows from a tiny team of two to five people to a thousand person corporation as they garner more users.
Point is, Game Freak should have hundreds or thousands of employees working on these games, not just a hundred or so in total. They should have more than enough resources to put out something that’s competitive in today’s market.
Besides, it’s not like this is the best they can do. Seriously, look at this:
It’s as clear as day that they’re recycling many of the animations from Pokemon Sun and Moon.
And that minimum work has been put into said animations in general. This isn’t acceptable in 2019:
So don’t give me any crap about this being the ‘best they can do’. Because it’s definitely not, and even the most delusional Pokemon fans can see that right away.
But they don’t need to change! It’s working well and selling millions of copies!
True. The games are selling tens of millions of copies, and their laziness hasn’t quite bitten them in the arse yet.
Yet here’s the thing:
Many other video game series are also selling extremely well, and they change things up significantly more than Pokemon does. Popular does not necessarily mean ‘no effort is put into each installment’.
And you can see that right away if you look at any of Nintendo’s other popular series.
Like you know, the Legend of Zelda. Or Super Smash Bros. Or Splatoon.
Hell, you can see that with Pokemon’s only real competition in the best selling video game franchises front too; Mario.
Cause if you’ve not been living under a rock for your entire life, you’ll probably know that the Mario franchise is absolutely massive. It’s the best selling video game franchise in the world, one of the best selling multimedia franchises period, and Nintendo’s flagship series all round.
It’s the perfect series for Pokemon style stagnation, and to some degree, it’s got that problem too where New Super Mario Bros is concerned.
Yet most of the series isn’t like that. The 3D Mario games are all blockbuster efforts that break new boundaries for gameplay innovation and technical quality, Mario Kart looks amazing, and has gotten better in every installment, the Mario RPGs mix things up on a regular basis and even New Super Mario Bros gets a fair few new mechanics and a couple of level editors to liven things up.
It’s like night and day here in terms of how the series are treated.
And it’s a difference that can be seen really easily by looking at Luigi’s Mansion 3. That game was also announced at about the same time as Pokemon Sword and Shield, and went through the exact opposite cycle in terms of fan feedback. Whereas Pokemon came out of the gate strong, with people hyped all round, Luigi’s Mansion 3 had a weak debut, with a trailer that many fans saw as uninspired and kinda uninteresting.
Yet the way both games were handled just completely turned it all around. For Luigi’s Mansion 3, Nintendo and Next Level Games listened to fans, confirmed that beloved features and gameplay changes would be back (like portrait ghosts and free form exploration), and seriously tightened up the visuals between the Direct trailer and E3. Now the latter looks amazing, and it’s taken many people’s top spots on their lists of highly anticipated games in 2019 as a result:
Meanwhile over in Pokemon Land, Sword and Shield just completely fell on their face after the reveal, with every piece of information making them seem worse and worse. No Mega Evolutions or Z-Moves! No National Dex! Can’t bring in Pokemon species from outside of Galar!
Every one of these announcements took people’s interest in the games and damaged it more and more.It’s like a masterclass on how to kill interest in your game, piece by piece.
So what can be done? How can Pokemon be turned around?
Well it’s all rather simple really; give it to a new developer.
Because it’s clear as day that Game Freak don’t have as much interest in these games any more. They don’t want to be known as the ‘Pokemon Development Company’ their entire lives, and I really can’t blame them there at all.
Caption: Especially when the mobile games may be becoming more of a focus for the Pokemon brand than the main series. Via by SilphSpectre on YouTube
Hence the solution is to let a new team take over and make the next games. Maybe that could be a Nintendo internal development team, since the people behind Mario or Zelda could certainly make a more ambitious title than Sword and Shield. Perhaps it could be a trusted team not usually used for these things, like Retro Studios or Next Level Games (both of whom have a much greater eye for detail than Game Freak ever did).
Or perhaps it could be an external company of some sort. We all know there are at least a few die hard Pokemon fans out there running indie development companies, why not give ’em a go here? It worked for Sega with Sonic Mania!
Point is, it’s clear that something needs to change here, and some fresh blood on the development team could be just the change the series needs.
It shouldn’t stop there either. No, things needs to stay changed, and one good game might not be enough to guarantee there.
So once the first externally made Pokemon game is made, I feel it’d only be right for Nintendo to make a simple demand to Game Freak. Namely:
Either up the level of resources put into future games, or we outright give the series to another development team.
Yeah, it’s a controversial idea I know. Possibly even an impossible/illegal one, depending on how exactly the contract setting out ownership of the Pokemon series works.
But it’d be useful if possible none the less. Imagine Nintendo saying that unless promises to put X amount of resources behind the next game, they’ll get someone else to make it. That’d certainly guarantee a more technically proficient product, and it’d encourage Game Freak to put the work in again.
So that’s how I think the Pokemon problem can be solved here. Take it out of Game Freak’s hands, give the series to a few other developers to play around with, and maybe remove the company from the franchise altogether. That way, we’ll see the kind of games the series deserves, not just half assed efforts by a team who’s clearly lost a lot of interest in their own work.
Thanks for reading!