When I was a kid, Pokémon was a hit TV show, trading card game and GameBoy series. It was everywhere, and Ash, Brock and Misty were the ultimate kid role models in the 90’s. I mean, cute cuddly creatures that you get to battle? Not much else was as fun as that.
Fast forward to today and Pokémon is one of the most iconic brands in the world. There are 122 Pokémon games, and there is no sign of stopping there. However, I have to say that I don’t think the games of today can match the games of the past. What is missing from Pokémon? Is it a loss of originality? Or perhaps it’s that the generation who saw its creation is moving on, and the generations to come are into different games. Is Pokémon still as fun as it used to be?
Fantasy worlds have been a popular path taken by developers since the very beginning of video games. Designing worlds that could spark imagination and give our minds a break from the daily grind, even for just an hour, gave us games like The Legend of Zelda, Sonic the Hedgehog and Doom. When Pokémon came out, suddenly it wasn’t about a solo adventurer with a quest to vanquish evil, but one with a companion that had your back. Players could befriend creatures, each with their own personality and special ability, and bring them along to aid later in the journey. It was a game you could play with friends — heck, the whole game was about making friends. Apart from battling and collecting creatures and becoming a pokemon trainer, Pokémon redefined what it meant to never give up and treat everyone you meet, whether characters in the game or even your next-door neighbor, with kindness. The fantasy world of Pokémon was a big portion of my childhood, and I’ve carried that with me into adulthood.
If you base the popularity of Pokémon on sales alone, the company is making money, but fans aren’t as impressed. The Pokémon Company’s revenue is pretty good if not the best it’s been. On the other hand, sales alone have been steadily declining with the exception of Pokémon Sun and Moon. Pokémon Red/Blue/Green/Yellow remain the best selling games, and the games of today just can’t measure up. Sure, the series saw a revival with the release of Pokémon Go, although is has been short -lived. 55% of users don’t play it anymore, while only 13% play it regularly. Overall, Pokémon isn’t as popular as it used to be, and the decrease in sales are there to prove it.
So what else is causing Pokémon to lose its shine? To start, I think that the storyline and overall feel of the latest games are a bit lacking. Dialogue, for example, is something that really makes an RPG. When you’re not off completing the main quest, players enjoy wandering around town, and seeing what NPC’s have to offer can be fairly entertaining. In Pokémon Sun/Moon, there was little to no depth and players just don’t have a lot to discover outside the main storyline. Personally I believe lacking dialogue is enough to make a game seem uncompleted, and frankly a little boring. Now, there were some good things going on with Sun/Moon, I thoroughly enjoyed Team Skull and I liked the new Pokémon, but as a whole I was kind of disappointed with the installment.
I admit that games released after 2006 have upped their graphic game since Pokémon Diamond, which has remained my favorite game in addition to Pokémon Sapphire and Emerald. This can be said for most games released after that year, although I haven’t determined whether I enjoy the 2D graphics more than those of newer installments. The simplicity of older Pokémon games, specifically the graphics and soundtrack, is a common trait of most games from my childhood, and I think that they will always have a special place in the heart of the series. That being said, the graphics of today’s games are pretty spectacular, and I think it would be wrong of me to want Nintendo to revert back to the visual design of Pokémon games in the early 2000’s.
Moving onto another new aspect to recent games in the series is an evident increase in handholding. Tutorials last way longer than they should, especially in a series where the rules are fairly straightforward and carry over from game to game. In an effort to be all inclusive, the nature of Pokémon games has become even more kid-friendly, leaving older fans to work through somewhat childish character behavior that can cause the game to lose a bit of its appeal.
Team Skull had a few meme worthy moments, and the introduction of trials was a fun twist, but apart from that, gameplay remained pretty predictable. It may be true that fans enjoy the consistency of a good Pokémon game, but are the games becoming too calculable? I suppose this year’s Pokémon Sword and Shield will reveal whether the games are sticking with status quo or evolving.
In reality, Pokémon hasn’t been all games. From the initial game spawned hit TV shows and animated films, the most recent being a live-action film: Pokémon: Detective Pikachu. There are trading cards, plushies and books. In Japan, I was given the opportunity to visit a Poké-center that offered everything Pokémon related. The iconic brand has successfully expanded and continues to grow. I am happy to report that, even 23 years later, the focus of Pokémon is still about friendship and determination.
I am excited to see what The Pokémon Company has in store for us this year, and I hope this year’s games prove the franchise hasn’t lost its shine.