Gotta catch ‘em all! That’s message Nintendo has been drilling into our brains with the Pokemon franchise for over 25 years. From the bygone days of the GameBoy all the way up to now, with the Switch, the colourful critters of Pokemon have been in the limelight and capturing the imagination of gamers everywhere. So how does the latest iteration stack up?
Probably best I get a couple of things out there before diving into the review proper. Firstly, at the time of writing, both Pokemon Scarlet and Pokemon Violet are suffering with several performance issues. Constant framerate drops, long loading times and a rather terrible draw distance that mean objects on the landscape, as well as Pokemon, will pop into view only when very close. So there’s no looking off into the distance for a rare Pokemon to ambush. The end game suffers the most with constant texture pop-outs and the worst framerate drops in the game cause it to crawl along. But there’s hope! Nintendo have issued an apology and the developers - Game Freak - are working tirelessly to get these issues fixed as soon as possible, with one patch already out to remove some of the framerate issues.
And secondly, I am not a hardcore Pokemon fan. I didn’t have a GameBoy back in the day and my first experience of playing a Pokemon title was Pearl on the Nintendo DS. After that I dabbled with Pokemon Go while at work as my office was close to a Pokemon Gym, but that was short lived. It wasn’t until the re-release of Pokemon Pearl as Shining Pearl on the Nintendo Switch that I jumped back in, which was enough to get me hyped for Scarlet. If you want a review from a long-time Pokemon fan, then you’ll want to jump over to Pokemon Violet and read Lauren Skinner’s thoughts. But if you’re after the incoherent ramblings of an outsider then stick around!
A Whole New World
Scarlet and Violet both boast that they’re the first truly open world Pokemon games. After the standard introduction and tutorial where you select your starter Pokemon, learn how fighting works, you’re given your first mission - go to school! Huzzah? But don’t worry, as a student you won’t spend much time at school and will be sent out into the wilderness after a couple of cutscenes. By this point you’ll have three questlines to complete - collect all the gym badges, defeat Team Star and defeat Titan Pokemon. You can complete these questlines in any order and at any time - another first for the series.
You’ll also have a Pokemon to ride around the map on, for Scarlet it’s Koraidon a strange animal shrouded in mystery. Initially you’ll only be able to run around on Koraidon, but as the game progresses your noble stead will learn to glide, swim, climb, jump and sprint. Not only that, but as you explore the region you’ll unlock fast-travel points to get around even faster.
A New Fantastic Point Of View
So, yes, once the introduction is out of the way and you’ve been heavily funnelled to you first few destinations (including invisible walls to keep you on track) the entire map opens up and you can explore it in glorious third-person rather than the top-down view of old. Another difference is all the wild Pokemon are now visible as you walk around. This isn’t new for Scarlet & Violet, but is for me and I loved watching wild Pokemon. And it always raised a smile to see a group running together... it didn’t stop me from attacking the slowest one, imprisoning it and forcing it to do my bidding. But it was nice to see and really made the landscape come to life. This does mean that random battles are a thing of the past, as are other Trainers stopping you in your tracks to battle. With the except of the occasional wild Pokemon running at you (which are easy to avoid), you initiate every battle in the game.
For some this is a blessing, for old skool RPG players born and raised on random encounters, like me, it was never an issue. I do appreciate how this streamlines the experience. Hunting down Pokemon to either recruit, battle for XP, or to fill your Pokedex is extremely easy and you’ll wrack-up an impressive catalogue in no time. The ability to go anywhere on the map at any time further streamlines everything. I immediately went for the gym leader that used Pokemon types that were weak against my own and spent a short amount of time gaining easy XP.
No-one To Tell Us No, Or Where To Go
But it’s not all plain sailing. Scarlet & Violet claim you can go anywhere, which you can, but there is a very clear optimal path to follow. This can be worked out by simply seeing what level the wild Pokemon are in each region. So, although you have the option to travel anywhere, most places will prove more difficult than others as Pokemon strengths and weaknesses don’t seem to matter when facing off against an opponent 10 levels higher/lower than you.
Or Say We’re Only Dreaming
Another new feature for Scarlet & Violet is Pokemon now having the ability to “Terastallize”. This ability allows Pokemon to transform into weird crystal versions of themselves that would look right at home on your grandparents’ mantelpiece. This transformation increases a Pokemon’s strengths and change their weaknesses, and if used the right time can turn the tide of a tough battle.
These Tera Type Pokemon are also the main focus of Tera Raids, which allow you and upto three friend fight incredibly challenging Pokemon for huge amounts of XP and the chance to capture said Pokemon. If you aren’t connected online then the game will set you up with three AI companions to take on the challenge. In some ways this is better as only one Trainer can capture the Pokemon from the Raid and, being the only human involved, it was alway me that got it.
Let Me Share This Whole New World With You
Tera Raids aren’t the only co-op mode in Scarlet. The entire adventure can be played co-operatively. It’s a lot of fun and a welcome addition to the franchise. I hope the ability to play alongside friends rather than just against continues in future titles.
There’s also a colourful cast of characters to meet on your journey, there are teachers, gym leaders, members of Team Star (who are all excellent cosplay-fodder), Pokemon Champions and, last but not least, Nemona. Every Pokemon game gives you a rival who you’ll battle periodically throughout your adventure. Nemona is a breath of fresh-air, she’s fun, energetic and positive. A far cry from my rival - Tommy - in Pearl who was an annoying whinny twerp. Nemona wants you to do well and she wants you to get stronger. She loves battles, wants to be challenged and doesn’t sulk if she loses. I thoroughly enjoyed the message of healthy competition portrayed in Scarlet. Gym Leaders celebrate your victories, teachers love to hear of your wins and Nemona will celebrate more than you do when you win.
I’ve Run Out Of Aladdin Lyrics
But not everything has changed from previous titles. The glorious gameplay loop of fighting, capturing and training is still the same and is as satisfying as ever. Each of the new Pokemon are as colourful and smile-inducing as their predecessors (especially Fidough) and fit right into the Pokedex line-up, which now has a mind-blowing 400 entries to discover.
Sadly, it’s not all positive. Graphically the game looks dated with many, many textures, including Shop fronts repeated throughout. Most of the landscapes looks jagged and somehow worse than the DS days I remember. Going into shops presents you with a menu screen rather than a shop interior to explore. Character animations are stilted and, rather than your character walking up or down things using a different animation, Game Freak have opted to rotate the character model to match the slope of the stairs/hills and have the run or walk animation continue on. All of this combined with the complete lack of voice-acting lends a look and feel of a low budget PlayStation3 era game and not a first-party Nintendo one. I know Nintendo games aren’t graphical powerhouses, but this lacks the Nintendo polish everyone has come to expect and rely on.
Pokemon Scarlet is a fun experience. It’s not very challenging, but then it’s not supposed to be. Pokemon is for two sets of people - children (deal with it) and people who like to have fun. Each instalment keeps the core gameplay the same and adds a few new gimmicks. Pokemon games have been doing this for 25 years and they aren’t going to stop - if it ain’t broke and all that. The introduction of a fully co-operative experience and an open world to explore are welcome additions that I hope will stick around. The Terastallize ability is a nice touch, but feels more like a way to make more toys and collectibles rather than to add anything of substance. When it’s all said and done, this is more Pokemon, you’re either excited by that or not. If you are then get Scarlet (or Violet), if not there’s plenty more Magikarp in the sea.
That concludes our thoughts on Pokemon Scarlet. Do you agree? Let us know your thoughts and tag us on social media @zatugames. To buy Pokemon Scarlet today click here!