THE newest Pokémon generation is finally upon us with Pokémon Violet & Scarlet, both of which bring a whole new divide to Pokémon fans regarding which version has the better exclusives, which starter is the best and generally whether or not this newest generation will return the franchise back to its ‘former glory’ (the correct answer to these questions are: Pokémon Violet, Sprigatito and kind-of).
I’ll preface with this before I jump too far into everything (as I’m writing this retrospectively after finishing the bulk of my review). I really loved my time playing Pokémon Violet. There’s a lot gameplay mechanics and core Pokémon elements that I think they nailed on the head perfectly. Of all the recent Triple-A games to come out, this is the one I’ve sunk the most time into (the portability of the switch always helps with this).
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of glaring issues that really steal away from these positives, primarily on the technical side of things. You’ve probably seen the videos making the rounds on social media or may have already seen the scathing user review scores that have come in, but in case you haven’t – both Pokémon Violet and Scarlett are riddled with immense performance issues, graphical issues and bugs.
I played through Violet on the original Nintendo Switch, and was unfortunately exposed to far too many of the glaring issues that a vast majority of the Pokémon community have been experiencing, from framerate drops, character models disappearing and re-appearing, crashes, clipping of Pokémon and player models (the list goes on and on). It’s clearly evident the games’ finer details were rushed out, which is a really disappointing outcome for a game that does show a lot of promise.
The childlike sense of wonder is something that I’ve rarely been able replicate when I think back to playing Pokémon Red for the very first time. In my head, the world was this vast, open space for me to explore, catch and battle fictitious monsters in, and it was all in the palm of my sweaty hands (even though in reality, there was a very linear path to follow). Pokémon Violet re-sparked this feeling for me unexpectantly.
The open-world approach of ‘Paldea’ (the region the game is set in) is exactly what 9-year-old me imagined. An open world, full of Pokémon frolicking in their natural habitats, just waiting for me to add them to my unnecessarily expansive collection of monsters. The only downside of this world once you get out there, is how much off it falls apart performance-wise (especially in hand-held mode on the Switch).
Taking a very similar approach to Breath of the Wild, after getting past the slow-paced tutorial, the entire game-world is opened up to you with a couple of objectives to complete in any order you like. These three main objectives are to: beat all of the Gyms, find the Mystica Herbs, and take down Team Star, which are all marked on your map, and then it’s entirely ‘free-reign’ from here – no more linear paths to follow.
Although for some players this might come across as overwhelming, it fits perfectly with the franchise – if you want to just wander around the wilderness seeing Pokémon visible in the open world, you absolutely can (and when it’s not frame-stuttering or hiding character models, it’s incredibly beautiful). Potentially controversially as well, trainers you’ll find in the wild (similar to trainers you’d find on routes in older games) don’t stop you anymore to fight – you instead can engage them if you’d like.
It’s just disappointing to reiterate how frequently I was pulled out of this sense of immersion and child-like wonder, due to an overwhelming amount of technical issues. It might simply be the case of the game trying to bite off more than it can chew, but for everything the game does right, it’s upsetting to know that for a majority of players experience with Pokémon Violet & Scarlett will be tainted by performance issues and bugs (albeit no game-breaking experiences on my behalf).
The fighting experience is fairly standard for what we’ve come to expect in the Pokémon gameplay loop. You’ll have your party of 6 Pokémon to swap out to at any given time, and a series of elemental strengths, weaknesses and abilities dependent on their Pokémon type. From here you’ll go back and forth in turn-based, RPG styled combat, until you defeat the wild Pokémon you’re facing or opposing trainers’ party. It’s pretty stock-standard for what fans of the franchise have come to expect, with the 3d-visuals incorporated to improve the overall experience (we’ve come a long way since the Gameboy).
There is one additional feature to combat that is introduced in both Violet and Scarlett, which allows you to ‘Terastallize’ your Pokémon. ‘Terastallizing’ turns each Pokémon into a ‘crystal’ version of itself, making each Pokémon more powerful and unlocks new elemental abilities to spice up combat. It essentially replaces ‘Dynamaxing’ that was introduced in Pokémon Sword & Shield, and can only be recharged in a Pokémon center once it has been used.
Gym scaling is a massive lacking game mechanic on Game Freak’s behalf. In the notion of presenting the open-world with the premise of being able to go anywhere and follow any route you want, there’s still a linear order of gyms to follow if you want to battle at a lower level. Each has a level range that doesn’t scale at all, so you can navigate your way to a gym riddled with level 35 Pokémon while you only have a level 10 if that tickles you’re fancy, or vice versa. I’m hopeful that this easy implementable game-mechanic will be included in the next Pokémon game if they keep the same ‘open-world’ approach.
Both Pokémon Violet and Scarlet have 400 Pokémon included in their versions, each with their own exclusive inclusions and legendaries. I’m still praying for the day we’ll get a game with the full 1000, but I know we’re still a ways away form that. 400 is still a huge amount of Pokémon to catch, train, evolve, and add to your team – but it does seem that a few of the ‘newer’ inclusions are a bit lower effort than their counterparts.
I’m definitely not the first to say it – but it’s clear Pokémon are starting to run out of ideas in the monster department. ‘Sinistea’ is quite literally a floating cup of tea, and ‘Flamigo’ is such a low-effort blatant Flamingo it’s not funny. Well it is, but for all the wrong reasons. There’s one glaring ommission that I don’t even want to mention but have to – how could you not include Cubone? I’d trade my legendary for that precious little critter.
I’ll admit, seeing Pokémon in the wild of a 3D world still fills me with indescribable joy. It’s been enhanced even more so with some tweaks to the wild behaviours and overall animations of some of the Pokémon, which really adds to the immersion (when it’s all working as intended). There seems to be a lot more logic with how Pokémon behave, and where you’ll actually find them. A perfect example which I always giggled at while playing: Magikarp will swim up way too close to the shoreline, which causes them to wash up onto the beach and flop around hopelessly.
I’ll touch on the legendary ‘mount’ Pokémon as well just briefly, because it deserves some attention: I initially thought Miraidon was really gimmicky and odd, but after a few hours I realized just how beneficial end enjoyable it made the exploration experience. Walking around on-foot would’ve been unbearable after countless hours, so big tick of approval for this.
One aspect of Violet that I was genuinely surprised by was the overaraching stories. Each of the 3 objectives you’re given have a narrative story tied to them, each with their own unique characters and plots, which eventually all intertwine towards the end of the game. I won’t spoil anything in this regard, but I found myself surprised by the level of depth in each character and their personalities, alongside some of the cut-scene moments, which is a pretty hard feat for a game with no voice-acting (and some atrocious and out-right lazy animations in some of these cut-scenes)
On paper, Pokémon Violet is exactly what every Pokémon player has ever wanted, especially when comparing it back to the glory days of playing playing 8-bit Pokémon on your game-boy colour. You can see the world in a 3D perspective, do whatever you want in that world and see the Pokémon in the wild (outside of combat). No load screens (unless going indoors) or set path. Just you, your party and a legendary motorbike Pokémon to ride around on (I’ll admit this last part was never in my 9-year old fantasy, but it’s a nice touch).
I’m sincerely hoping there will be some form of patch in the not-too-distant future to clean up some of the performance issues so we can have a gameplay experience more in-line with Arceus or Sword and Shield (yes, these games had their issues too, but weren’t anywhere near as glaringly broken as Violet & Scarlett appear to be). The formula of the story, characters, monsters and world are all setup nearly perfectly, it’s just a shame everything on the performance end had to fall so short. Both Pokémon Violet & Pokémon Scarlett are available now on Nintendo Switch in either physical or digital formats.