Just last night, The Pokémon Company made history with a series of major announcements for its casual and hardcore fans. Beginning with Pokémon Quest, the free-to-start mobile and Switch title aimed at the younger audience, it became clear that the evening was just getting started. Following this was the official announcement of Pokémon Let’s Go! Pikachu and Pokémon Let’s Go! Eevee, which would have a worldwide release this November on the Nintendo Switch. It follows in the footsteps of the phenomenally popular Pokémon GO, which was confirmed to have been downloaded over 800,000,000 times. Think about that number! Even if only 1% of that user base was active, that’s still a whopping 8,000,000 users, much more than many games could ever dream of in their lifetime.
Speaking of Pokémon GO, the new Let’s Go! games take a lot of inspiration from the mobile title – from the catching style of throwing your own Pokéball (substituting a finger for the JoyCon or a Pokéball accessory) to the introduction of CP to the battling system. From the trailer that was presented last night, and through further confirmation from the team via a Q&A session, the franchise was in for a bit of a change, with the idea that Pokémon Let’s Go! would no longer have wild Pokémon encounters a la the traditional method of roaming grass. Much like Pokémon GO, the Pokémon battles occur in the overworld by interacting with the actual Pokémon in the environment, without the random encounter aspect. It’s a bit of simplification for a franchise that, to its devoted audience, turned some people off. Good lord, the responses to the revealing of Let’s Go!, even though the revelations were technically well-known at that point thanks to some fairly accurate leaks… you’d have thought Game Freak was committing something awful. Some hailed it as the end of the franchise. Here’s the kicker, though – this was never about the hardcore audience – it was about bringing more people into the fold through the modification of the gameplay experience.
I know several in my life who participate at the competitive level for Pokémon and I am in no way disrespecting the work that they have put in to mastering their craft. Let me be perfectly clear here. Pokémon is, and was always about, bringing people together. Think back to 20 years ago, when we were younger, and how at recess we used to show off our Pokémon card collections or battle our friends with link cables. When GO came out, through some stroke of brilliance, a bit of serendipity, and viral gameplay, The Pokémon Company, through the help of Niantic, just added several hundred million new faces to their franchise, and it’s only entirely natural that the series gravitated towards that audience, which from a business standpoint makes sense. Bringing people together was a major theme of Pokémon GO in its first months after release; for the first time, people were going out and doing things on a level that we had never really seen. I can recall that feeling of going to my local shopping center and seeing signs announcing that their location was a gym, a Pokéstop, or hearing the inevitable cheers when the crowd found a rare Pokémon, and following the giant exodus that occurred shortly thereafter.
Let’s go back to 800,000,000. To achieve those kinds of numbers for a game, a spin-off title at that, deserves praise, no matter how awful the game was set up initially, or until now. The Nintendo Switch is already immensely popular. Thanks to the insane success of Pokémon GO, Nintendo can use the new games to test the waters, while still catering to their more devoted, hardcore crowd thanks to the next game, the traditional “core” title, being released in either Q3 or Q4 2019. There are even incentives to playing both GO and Let’s Go!, with the ability to gift friends other Pokémon and raising Pokémon caught from one game in the other, and vice versa.
Looking at the main series games, the series has been aiming to include by modifying some elements. Are these dumbing down moves or are they moves to streamline? Let’s talk about both for a bit. I will draw my line, though, and say that I’m not a fan of the direction that the stories of the latest Pokémon games are going in. The story direction is something that I will firmly label as “dumbing down,” a deliberate attempt to make something easier for more people to get into. I find that the loss of the free world exploration elements in the last few titles has hurt the series overall; the stories became much less engaging and the idea of including a marker that shows exactly where to go on the map is wrong. Games like Sun and Moon suffered for this, creating an excessively linear adventure that started making itself known in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. There are elements that are questionable; for example, the gifting of the once-impossibly hard to find Latios and Latias midway through the Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire adventure. This and the story changes are examples that I will present for the series being dumbed down.
On the other hand, the series made fantastic steps to streamline once tedious elements. EV and IV training got fixed up quite a bit. You’re only kidding yourself if you say that you enjoyed wiping the floor with thousands of Zubats to increase your IVs. With the addition of gameplay elements like Super Training, that process went from a days to weeks-long process to something that could be done in a number of hours. Remember the process of hunting down shiny Pokémon? I remember in the earlier generations, that 1/8192 chance of finding a shiny. Nowadays, with items like the Shiny Charm and chaining, the process goes along much quicker.
Back, now, to Pokémon Let’s Go!. A bit of streamlining can go a long way to help ease those hundreds of millions of extra players, into a zone that’s somewhere in-between Pokémon GO and the traditional titles, so that they’re ready for the so-called “real” title in 2019. It’s not the end of the world that Let’s Go! is coming out. Face it, you’re going to buy it anyway, even if you say otherwise. By streamlining the tedious elements (like gathering candies from Pokémon GO) you can make a Pokémon experience like any other.
At the end of the day, I’m just a voice on the internet. I could sit here typing away, adding a couple thousand more words to this article. To that vocal minority, anything and everything that I say won’t be enough to justify my opinion that Pokémon was never about catering to the hardcore audience, and that’s fine. I’m content with that. I’m content knowing that Game Freak is putting forth their best foot and bringing even more people together, even if it means piggybacking on the success of a spin-off. Think of that winning formula for a second though – Nintendo is going to sell a load of Switch consoles from this, the game is going to sell like hotcakes thanks to GO, and if the games are a hit (hard to deny at this point) we may see new variants of Let’s Go! in other regions during the “off year” that isn’t involved with a core title release.