I Would Already Die For One Of My New Pokemon, So Really This Whole Thing Is My Fault

Look, the new Pokemon game isn’t good. Our willingness to simply not care about that has baffled me since the game’s launch last Friday. There’s some charm to a few of Scarlet & Violet’s character designs, and (while poorly executed), the open world go-anywhere design is a positive step forward for the series. But it’s still not very good. I don’t even think it’s a case of occasionally bugging out, I think the battles are too slow, the exploration too vague, and the pacing abysmal. It feels like Cyberpunk 2077 again – you’re all talking about the bugs and I’m thinking ‘if they fixed these bugs, it still wouldn’t be that great a game’. Unlike Cyberpunk 2077, I have found a new Pokemon I would die for, so really this whole thing is my fault.

It sounds obvious, but Pokemon’s unique selling point has always been Pokemon. It doesn’t matter if it’s too slow, too easy, too boring. It doesn’t matter if it causes your Switch to leak battery acid into your bare hands. It has Pikachu, so that’s what we’re all playing. Many games have tried to take what Pokemon has, but even as we complain about some of Pokemon’s more eccentric designs, nobody has been able to bottle the same magic. Digimon has come closest, and is still way off the pace.

This has been Pokemon’s armour for a long time. There’s a growing sense among some observers that games should be critiqued primarily on how ‘fun’ they are. I think this comes from both prestige games like God of War Ragnarok and technically or artistically impressive indies like Pentiment and Immortality getting 10/10s while many play them and find them not to be to their liking. Meanwhile, the janky but loveable Sonic Frontiers and the borderline broken Pokemon Scarlet & Violet score lower, and certain players adore them.

But we need our critical consensus to be deeper than just ‘I enjoyed this’. Perhaps God of War did not deserve its fawning praise across the board, but the solution has always been to be more rigorous in our critique, not to throw around even more perfect scores simply because a game is a good way to kill a few hours. While Pokemon Scarlet & Violet offer something of a step forward in the open world philosophy, getting through the first few hours, arriving anywhere new, and having a battle of any kind is a turgidly slow affair.

The simplest form of Pokemon gameplay, a turn-based battle, is the slowest and least imaginative implementation of this mechanic across all of gaming. Scarlet & Violet improves the game around it (admittedly while also breaking everything), but at the most basic level Pokemon is still being held back by its own ineptitude. Quite why a triple-A launch for $60 from the biggest selling media franchise in the world is getting a pass for all this is beyond me.

Except, when it all comes down to it, it’s not really. I’d like to think I’m more prepared to criticise than most, and can be honest about the disparity between the game’s quality and my enjoyment, but I still bought it at launch. Sure, I need it for work to whip up some spicy #content, but I’m not covering the game for us in any official capacity. The truth is I would have bought it anyway. ‘It’s Pokemon’ usually means a nonsensical story, dull (if occasionally charming) characters, rote progression, and terrible battles, but still I buy it because ‘it’s Pokemon’.

So it goes again. I’m endeavouring to play as a Gym Leader this time, specifically using an all-Grass team so I can reunite with Tsareena, leaving me a limited selection to appreciate the new ‘mons. And still, I have found one I adore. Toedscool, a Pokemon completely unrelated to Tentacool but, thanks to convergent evolution, looks exactly like it,, has become my partner in crime. While I hate Tentacool, Toedscool’s goofy little run, it’s Mario-NPC style design, and the soft colouration makes it a winner. Pokemon Scarlet & Violet is still a bad game. It’s still broken in a way beyond justification. It still probably wouldn’t be all that great even if it did work. But it has Toedscool, so I guess I like it. Hi, it’s me. I’m the problem, it’s me.

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