Has Pokémon Evolved One Step Too Far?
With Pokémon Sword and Shield on the horizon it’s got me thinking about the biggest change to the Pokémon series that nobody seems to be talking about, its shift to a home console game. This concerns me somewhat and I’ll explain why.
I’ll start from the beginning if I may. I’ve been a Pokémon fan since my first year of high school, which was back in 1999! Now in my thirties I love it just as much as I did back then. My best friend and I pretty much discovered it together, I had a copy of Pokémon Red and he had Blue.
We completed the whole journey together too, trading, battling, sharing tips etc. We puzzled over the mystery of Missingno, debated if it was a glitch or an Easter egg. We even wondered if the mythical Mew was real or legend.
We soon discovered Mew was indeed real. A kid in our neighbourhood had attended an event abroad, perhaps in Japan we never found out for sure. He had come back from the event with a Mew and he even knew a technique to ‘clone’ a Pokémon using two Game Boys and a link-cable.
This technique is well known in gaming lore today, but back then it was some kind of gaming sorcery. It basically involved doing a Pokémon trade like normal but switching the machines off at a certain point. This way one of the trainers received the Pokémon being sent to them but without losing the one they were sending. It allowed players who knew how to do it to create an exact copy of a Pokémon as many times as they liked. This was before the days of Internet patches for software. This technique still works today. We know, we’ve just done it.
This neighbour kid was charging other kids in our local area £5 per Mew, claiming they were worth £100s. Maybe they were, but he wasn’t willing to give up his secret technique and we endeavoured to find out for ourselves. One of his friends let slip enough information for us to work out the trick eventually. We spent a few hours trying, until we finally got it right and when we did the feeling of triumph was immense.
We also shared Mews with the local kids or our friends at school, but we didn’t charge money. We just used it to benefit our Pokémon Card Game trades. Throwing in a free mythical Pokémon to make the trades more favourable to us didn’t seem quite as shady. And the guys we gave them too were grateful enough. This was all to the chagrin of the original Mew owner (at least we think he was). After having his thunder (and future profits) stolen, he then started charging money to clone Missingnos, claiming they were legit. You can guess how well that went.
This is a piece of my gaming history that I look back on fondly. Not many other franchises have created such wonder or commitment, none have actually made myself and my friends set out to solve a mystery, defeat an arrogant antagonist and become the Robin Hoods of our street. Our parents certainly didn’t understand what was special about this and it also probably wasn’t part of Game Freak’s plan for the series. But it happened nonetheless and turned us into lifelong fans.
Fast-forward twenty years and I sit down to play Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu on my Nintendo Switch. My wife knows I have a soft spot for the series, so she’s bought me the game on launch. I play my Switch in portable mode mostly, but I’m keen to finally play a remake of the first generation of Pokémon on a fifty-inch TV in full HD. Where Let’s Go wasn’t a completely traditional Pokémon experience it was close enough, and for several hours I’m 12 years old again, exploring Kanto with the same wonder I had back then. Of course, I’m still familiar with the game and region, I’ve played Pokémon Fire Red (the first GBA remake of Gen 1) multiple times over the years.
I’m lucky enough to have the Pokeball accessory that offers a Mew as DLC for those who pre-ordered. I fire my Mew up as soon as I can and use it alongside my starters. Soon though I think back to when I first experienced Pokémon. How simply buying the Mew from a gimmicked controller just didn’t have the same magic or adventure that it had back when I first obtained the mythical creature.
I’m also playing online with strangers instead of my best friend by link cable. Ok I know we can use LAN settings anytime we like, but he’s now married with kids and half the world away. I’m going to have to make do. My Pokémon experience may not have the magic it once did but I’m still going to enjoy it. I then consider that I’m playing Pokémon on a home console for the first time, yes the Switch is a handheld portable too, but I start to wonder will the series lose some of its identity now it’s finally made this transition?
What made Pokémon so special back in the day was its portability. It encouraged you to go out, meet your friends, trade, battle and do things together. Discovering your own adventures in the process (like we did). I’m not so sure that’s possible now. I don’t want to turn this into another “I’m getting old and I’m annoyed about it” article, that seems to be my speciality at PUG. But I can’t help thinking either Pokémon has either evolved a step too far or I’ve just not evolved in the same way it has.
Maybe Pokemon has lost some of its identity and fallen in line with modern games too much, but maybe it needed to do so to stay relevant. Becoming a fully-fledged console game, relying on DLC, it’s all very contemporary. Game Freak kept main line entries as portable games for as long as they could to keep that sense of community and adventure. It’s something they’ve said openly several times. We could argue that the makeup and design of the Switch has forced their hand to evolve.
Pokémon Sword and Shield is coming this month and I’m excited to play it. I just hope it can live up to my nostalgia, if it can’t then I hope it sets me on a new modern adventure.