Last Friday brought us a special 25th anniversary ‘Pokémon Presents’, packed with news both entirely expected and genuinely surprising. As well as a few more details about the new Pokémon Snap and the inevitable announcement of the Diamond and Pearl remakes, we got a couple of shocks. Pokémon may actually be trying something new with the interesting Legends: Arceus and, in order to do so, they’ve passed the Gen Four remakes over to ILCA. Is this a good move by The Pokémon Company, or could it herald bad times ahead?
I’ve written before about how lazy and stagnant the more recent Pokémon games are – how the games increasingly feel rushed, as if Game Freak is willing to put out the absolute bare minimum because they know the games will sell anyway. There are several reasons for this – the core development team is really small (somewhat around 20 people, which is nothing for a gaming empire this size). Importantly too, they are working to painfully tight deadlines, forced to release new games year on year in order to keep the entire franchise (TV shows, trading cards, toys, etc.) moving on. As the games don’t benefit from the people or the time employed on them, everything suffers – the end product is worse, and the gamer is dissatisfied.
When I finished playing Shield, I felt something that I’d never really experienced before – a sense that I was finally done with the franchise, and that the potential of the series was never going to be realised. I’ve played every main series game since Blue, and I’d finally hit the wall where I couldn’t justify spending money for exactly the same content. And this was really compounded when we saw the first trailers for Snap – it was the definite proof of how good home console Pokémon games could look and how much character could exist in this world, and made Sword and Shield look significantly poorer by comparison. The most anticipated game became the one not made by the Pokémon Company.
I lay this groundwork to make the point that something had to change, and hopefully passing the franchise onto other companies may do it. Game Freak normally don’t get involved with the spin-offs, and many of these are very highly regarded – I’m talking about the Mystery Dungeon games, the Pokémon Ranger series, Stadium and Colosseum, Detective Pikachu, Pokkén Tournament… the list goes on. In recent years, it feels like other developers have been far more engaged with the franchise than its main developer, producing varied and interesting games as a result. It should be said that ILCA isn’t completely new to the franchise, having worked on Pokémon Home, but it’s essentially a fresh pair of eyes at a time when The Pokémon Company could really do with some.
I think that, looking at the spread of the upcoming games, a good balance has been struck. Snap has been made out-of-house, but the original too had little to do with The Pokémon Company, and turned out very well. ILCA is on hand for the remake, but remakes don’t generally need much more than a graphical upscale and a couple of new features when the base game is so good. And that gives Game Freak time to make something genuinely new and different, which can only be a good thing.
For too long, Pokémon has stagnated, and if clearing the slate a little helps bring in some actual innovation, I’m all for it
Of course, I write all this in a bit of a hypothetical place – I’m assuming that ILCA will bring a bit of novelty to the remakes outside of the surprisingly controversial art style, and that Legends: Arceus will be a solid game that warrants the change. After my experience playing Shield, I’m certainly aware that may not turn out to be the case. As things stand at the moment, I’m unlikely to buy either game. But the hint of change is a very good thing, and I hope it pans out. Pokémon at its best is truly amazing, and the inability of the main developers to realise its potential is a true shame. It’s taken 25 years but, if bringing new developers on board leads to an increase in quality, that can only be a good thing.