I Have Things To Say: A Pokémon Scarlet / Violet Review

J’s Verdict – ☆☆☆

It seems only yesterday that Pokémon entered into its eighth generation and brought about Pokémon Legends: Arceus, a heck of a departure for the franchise. And yet here we are, THE NINTH generation. We go open world, we climb to 1000 Pokémon and…we get a lot of jank.

Scarlet and Violet are set in Paldea Region, a sunny, colorful realm packed with lush forests, mysterious caves and stormy deserts. Once you sign up to the Naranja / Uvo Academy and familiarise with yourself with the cast of characters you are setting forth on a treasure hunt — to find yourself.

Three paths lay ahead of you. Take on the troubled Team Star’s fortresses of fun. Meet the bhemoth Pokémon guarding mystical items. Challenge the eight gym leaders and get them badges like old times. Do any of them in any order you like, the choice is yours. The world, for the first time in the series, is open.

Pokémon Scarlet and Violet really is a tale of two cities – the worst of times and the best of times. On one hand, it feels awesome to explore the world, find Pokémon new and old in the field, doin’ their thang, watching you battle from the sidelines — Man, I had a psyduck waving at me as I was standing there looking at a cute little Pokémon. That was great.

On the other hand? Man, is it a MESS. A GLITCHY, BUGGY, LAGGY MESS. Characters in the background walk in a stop motion manner, scene transitions shutter to black, Pokémon pop in and out of the world, out of battles, the camera zooms so far in during capturing Pokémon — and ALL THIS just wears down on the 3DS-type of graphics.

It’s disappointing that it’s released at this state, it’s disappointing that the game has these cool ideas for the series —- but looks like it’s a 3DS port that has been poorly optimized for the Nintendo Switch. It’s disappointing to ponder the idea that this might not matter at all because Nintendo and The Pokémon Company made so much money in sales.

I mean, what the hell happened? Nearly everything feels sluggish and drags down the experience. Want to battle a rando? The game seemingly pauses to process as you initiate the battle. Want to open your box to swap out Pokémon? The game shutters through the lag between menus. How about those new terra raids? They work fine but a disconnection leads to a time out and even WHEN you connect it is sluggish and laggy.

It’s almost like I’m playing an early access game. It makes my heart sink, man. Because there’s a wondrous sense of what Game Freak is trying to do here but it’s rushed out the gate. A whole other Cyberpunk 2077 dealio.

Beyond that, some creative choices are a bit odd. The lack of interiors, for one – a staple in the series, let’s be honest. Who doesn’t like wandering around homes as a strange kid in these games? It just robs the towns of exploration. Then there is the lack of an option to see the levels of Terra Raids on the map. You have to mark it and approach it.

The map needs some work – you can’t mark certain points of interest for later, you can just set a destination waypoint. Zooming in and out is a little sensitive to use too. I tried to zoom out a little to get more of an idea of the landscape and it took me way, way out to view the whole region itself.

The picnic system seems rushed in and half hearted. A step back from Sword / Shield’s curry making. Wasn’t a fan of the awkward sandwich making, though the buffs help, nor was I a fan of lamely throwing a ball to my Pokémon as opposed to Sword and Shield’s use of letting me power up my throw and interact a little more.

But on the other hand, there’s other cool designs here – accessing your box on the go is such a delight, the option of freedom in the world to go where you want and climb over the next hill is lovely and the Pokédex animation that feels like packing away books in a library is oddly satisfying — I enjoyed those.

The thing here is —- maybe it’s nostalgia weighing in but Scarlet and Violet has an air of magic to it still. There’s just something about setting forth, looking at new creature designs, exploring new towns, meeting the new cast of characters. It’s FUN – and it helps that its three inter-weaving stories are heartfelt, touching on some heavy themes that – hey – might reach out to that 12 year old and resonate. For that I’m happy.

Paldea is massive to explore, there’s so much to wander by and see, with this sense of not knowing what Pokémon you’ll find or wacky beardy child-man thing you’ll battle against. It has its charms —

One of which is its banging soundtrack – it gets my hips moving, my toes tapping, whether it’s the funk-infused battle music or a rousing flamenco jam or a bluesy desert number. I really, really like the soundtrack here. It’s catchy and fun.

Pokémon Scarlet and Violet are fun entries – often capturing that magic and wonder of setting forth and filling the ‘dex – but for every new feature it introduces – open world, multiplayer that’s fun but kinda empty with loved ones – it’s bogged down by bad performance issues, some head-scratching creative decisions and just this overall disappointing feeling of being rushed. I enjoyed my 42 hours with it but I wonder what an entry would look like with a visual overhaul, meaty endgame and a design that could truly take things next-gen.

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