Pokémon Sun and Moon were a hit with players and critics. Many of the series’ long-standing weaknesses were tackled, a compelling plot and fresh take on Pokémon training being two of the most welcome additions. But with Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon set to return to Alola, it seems Game Freak might be getting comfortable again. Are we ever likely to have a Pokémon game that pushes the envelope again?
The Pokémon franchise has never really been the most innovative – at its heart, every game has essentially been the same as Red and Blue, but with more features added on and more Pokémon to catch. Sun and Moon were the first to really alter the formula with the kahunas and the island trials, but it still wasn’t a million miles away from the gym challenges of games past. But then, if the fans aren’t desperate for anything massively outside of the box – familiarity works, so why change it?
After the success of Red and Blue, hailed at the time for their own innovative properties, Game Freak had their work cut out in creating a follow-up. But with Gold and Silver, they succeeded. Unarguably the best games in the series, a whole host of new features were added that made these games seem every bit as fresh as their predecessors, including an in-game clock, two new types, the ability to breed Pokémon and the chance to visit a different region. Incredibly, no other game has this feature, despite consistent fan requests.
But then, if the fans aren’t desperate for anything massively outside of the box – familiarity works, so why change it?
But from then on, the games never particularly changed, I don’t mean this as a slight – I love the franchise, and I’ve played every game. We’ve seen little tweaks; weather affecting the game, the double and triple battle, buying clothes for your character, walking in more than two dimensions, but every game from then on has been the same one with snazzier graphics, some different creatures to catch and a different region. On top of that, we’ve also had a bunch of remakes and sequels – the quality has remained intact (even taking the somewhat disappointing X and Y into account), but once the novelty of the new minor additions wears off, you could be playing any game in the series.
It’s looking like the same situation as Ultra Sun and Moon edge closer to release. Most of the changes seem to be new Alolan forms of Pokémon and some more Z-Moves – it’s the customary little tweaks added on to the same package. Will we ever receive another fresh new Pokémon game? Well, possibly. And maybe even a lot sooner than we expect. Rumours have been circulating about Pokémon Stars, a core title that is supposedly coming to the Nintendo Switch within a few years. The first Pokémon home console ‘core’ game. The catch – most speculation is that it’ll be an upgrade of sorts to Sun and Moon, much in the vein of Crystal or Emerald rather than anything massively different.
But let’s just suppose that it is different – what form could that take? Fans have made the same demands for years – perhaps it would be worth visiting some of them? A game where you can play as Team Rocket, for example, or become a Gym Leader? A Pokémon hunting game, similar to Snap, which sees you tracking creatures rather than just wandering into long grass? A detective game, seeing you team up with fan favourite Looker to investigate cases? Or perhaps, just maybe, we could see the giant 3D MMORPG-style game that every Pokémon fan dreams about? Nintendo sit on a gold mine of ideas and innovations for their franchise.
The Pokémon franchise has always shown itself to be capable of innovation, but it always manifests in the form of small changes and gimmicks. I love these games, but I would also love Game Freak to really push the boat out and try something different with the franchise. Pokémon may very well be going through a period of great evolution, and if so the future for the franchise looks bright.