I wasn’t much of a fan of Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield. I played it when it was first released, eager to see the new generation of Pokémon on a new generation of console, but something was missing for me. It tried a lot of new things, which was certainly welcome, I just think at the time it just wasn’t exactly what I had wanted. Fast forward to this last year, having played the classic-style Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Pokémon Shining Pearl and then the brand new and amazingly different Pokémon Legends Arceus, I was clambering for something in between the two. That game is Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet.
The opening hour or so is the typical slog we have become accustomed to for practically all mainline Pokémon titles. Once you create your character, you are sent off to an academy to learn all about Pokémon training. This whole section isn’t particularly fun, but thankfully it doesn’t involve having to attend any classes or anything like that. It is all just set out like this to give you a bit of backstory and a reason for you to go out and battle and catch Pokémon. Through this entire section, the game holds your hand through a rather linear path, teaching you each facet of the game and meeting with various NPCs you will become accustomed to throughout your journey. Just after this section, you encounter either Koraidon or Miraidon depending on the version you went for. These are the legendary Pokémon that sit pretty on the front of the game’s cover artwork. They join you straight away and act as your mode of transport throughout the game, on land, air and sea.
Once this segment is over, you are then thrown out into the sprawling fields of the Paldea region and it suddenly becomes all The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, allowing you to choose where you want to go (for the most part). It’s a level of freedom that’s never been seen in Pokémon before and something I hope sticks, as it shakes up the formula in a positive way. An open-world isn’t necessarily a new thing in Pokémon games, as some before had areas that felt very open indeed. However, this is the first time that the entire game feels truly open-world.
There are three main story points you can tackle. First, we have Pokémon Gyms which, if you are a seasoned Pokémon player, know that these badges are needed in order to fight your way up to the ultimate Champion. Next, we have the Path of Legends, which sees you tracking down what are known as Titan Pokémon. These beasts, upon defeat, grant abilities for your rideable legendary Pokémon. Lastly, we have Starfall Street, which challenges you to tackle Team Star, who are this game’s version of the bad guys (think Team Rocket and the like) that ultimately need to be stopped. Each one of these can be tackled in any order you want – it isn’t like before when you beat a gym leader, then there was a run-in with some bad guys, and so on. You can completely mix up which ones you want to concentrate on first and which ones you want to ignore for now.
Of course, catching Pokémon is still very much the name of the game and I genuinely love the way it is presented in Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet. Having an open-world environment and being able to see the Pokémon roam around – which has only really become a thing in the more recent games – really adds something. I can spend hours just running around finding different Pokémon. It makes you want to travel to every section of each area and see which Pokémon you will see, new and old. There are 400 Pokémon in Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet, with just over 100 of them being brand new Pokémon. Of course, some of these are version exclusives, so to catch them all, you’ll either need access to both copies of the game yourself or get some trades on the go.
I feel that each generation always has at least a decent amount of cool new Pokémon, with some certainly having more than others. I felt that Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield had more misses than hits, as I personally don’t think they had many great designs or many Pokémon that I genuinely cared for. With Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet, I think these games have a very strong line-up of new Pokémon, with some truly brilliant designs. That’s not to say there aren’t some stinkers in here, because it’s impossible for it to get every single one right. Either way, it is still just as great as ever to come across brand-new Pokémon (unless you have already researched all the Pokémon in the game beforehand). Each time I saw something brand new, my initial reaction was always that I wanted to use each one in my party and felt bad when having to drop one of the earlier Pokémon that I was training, down to box duty.
Combat hasn’t changed much in the last 25 years or so, because it has never really needed to. Everything is still turn-based here, with Pokémon types playing a big part in battles and which Pokémon you should consider putting into your team. If you have ever played a Pokémon game before, you will know exactly what to expect. If we take the starter Pokémon as an example, if you choose Sprigatito, the Grass type, it has a type advantage over Quaxly, the Water type. However, it is at a disadvantage to Fuecoco, which is a Fire type. If you pick a team full of one type and don’t mix it up a bit, whenever you come against a trainer who uses a Pokémon that you’re weak against, you’re going to have a hard time getting out unscathed.
There is a new mechanic during battles and it is called Terastallize, and what this does is effectively crystalise your Pokémon and it can either change the type of your Pokémon or allow your current type to deal more damage. You can only use this ability once before you need to heal up at a Pokémon Center, meaning it never feels overpowered. You get access to this ability very early on and while I don’t think it adds a whole lot, I do think it is a clever little mechanic that could be expanded upon in future games. It helps that it genuinely looks cool and it’s a neat way to change up how the Pokémon look.
One issue with a lot of open-world games is there sometimes isn’t a lot to do or their environments feel rather empty, despite how big the game appears to be on the surface. With Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet, this isn’t an issue. The reason behind this is that there are Pokémon everywhere, so it always feels like each part of the map is relevant in some way. Add the fact that there are items littered throughout the region for you to find, and you’ve got yourself somewhere that you want to explore to its fullest.
I guess it’s time to address what has been and will undoubtedly be, the main gripe most people have about these games – and rightly so – the performance and graphics. Now, I don’t always need the best-looking game or something that plays in 60 or 120 frames-per-second. It’s great if it’s there, but it isn’t always essential. Having said that, a solid 30 frames-per-second would be the minimum we should expect and that would be fine (at least for me). The unfortunate thing is these games consistently drop below this level and can be so choppy at times, especially when travelling around the open-world on your mount. Even small things such as opening the map or Pokédex somehow feel slow and unresponsive. On that note, the map isn’t the best at all, it’s very cluttered and it never seems clear how you are meant to get from A to B.
They’re also not the prettiest games to look at, either. The textures are very low resolution and bland, they honestly frequently look like they’re from a game a few generations ago. While it is genuinely great to stand upon a cliff and look out in the distance, you can see right away that big compromises had to be made, as the landscape looks very basic. The draw distance is also particularly bad, especially when it comes to the Pokémon themselves. Ideally, you would want to be looking across the land from afar, see a cool-looking Pokémon and then go off in that direction to capture it, but it doesn’t work like that due to the draw distance. Once you get a certain distance away from something, such as Pokémon, they disappear.
Despite any gripes about the performance, I really think that this generation gets a lot of things right and I feel confident in future games if they continue in this direction. The battles are as good now as they were in Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue all those years ago, and somehow capturing Pokémon has become even more addicting. The ability to tackle what you want to do first and in which order to do them is a great addition to the formula. Pokémon was always destined to become a fully open-world game at some point, and Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet demonstrate a very good effort to achieve just that.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Nintendo