Talking Point: The Future of Pokémon
Posted by Mark Reece
Time to evolve onto 3DS
Given that the 3DS console has been on sale worldwide for nearly a year now, the desolate wastes of its almost non-existent software library have finally blossomed into a variety of must-have titles. But there’s one Nintendo property that’s still criminally under-represented on the handheld: Pokémon. The franchise has already began its show of force on 3DS with the decent Pokémon Rumble Blast, and the 3D novelty of Pokédex 3D.
For the true Pokémon fan, however, these are surely nothing more than palate cleansers. Neither title truly delivers on what the franchise is all about: roaming around an expansive world while collecting, training, trading and battling Pokémon, while trying to be the best in the world. Indeed, die-hard fans don't have anything concrete to look forward to in the near future as far as 3DS releases are concerned: only the inevitable announcement and eventual release of another duo of releases — named after colours, no doubt — in the next few years.
With the 3DS gaining some impressive momentum in recent months, we can only assume that Pokémon Black & White will be the last entries in the core Pokémon RPG series to appear on the DS before Nintendo and Game Freak shift their focus. But what can we expect to see in the sixth generation of core Pokémon games (which we'll refer to from now on simply as Pokémon 3DS) when they do finally surface? One thing's for sure: since the US release of Pokémon Red and Blue in 1998 — with the European release following a year later — the core series hasn't evolved all that much. Apart from a few tweaks and admittedly ingenious innovations, Pokémon has stubbornly rested on its laurels. How could the series innovate or evolve to take advantage of what’s possible with the 3DS?
Apart from a few tweaks and admittedly ingenious innovations, Pokémon has stubbornly rested on its laurels.
Gotta catch ‘em all!
Remember the good old days of wandering through the Kanto region in Pokémon Red and Blue, when the Pokédex consisted of a mere 151 creatures? Back in the late 1990’s, finding a fellow player with the alternative version of the game was relatively simple, and catching every Pokémon in the game — except the elusive Mew — was perfectly feasible through engaging in some mutually exclusive trading. Nowadays though, the new additions in Black and White mean that there are a staggering 646 species knocking about. Attaining every last one involves owning multiple games over no less than two generations of Nintendo handhelds, while a handful can only be legitimately owned by attending events in which these super rare Pokémon are handed out to ravenous hordes of completionists.
Of course, you could always use illicit means to get your hands on every Pokémon, but it should never have come to that in the first place. Pokémon 3DS really needs to go back to basics when it comes to completing the Pokédex, regardless of how many new monsters are added. Just give us two versions with every Pokémon acquirable either through trading between the two games or sinking enough time into training or breeding. As it stands, the amount of hoops that need to be jumped through in order to accomplish this mammoth task makes a mockery of the series’ motto. Gotta catch ‘em all? Well at least give us a chance!
While we’re on the subject of collecting and trading Pokémon, there are significant improvements that could be made in this area in a potential 3DS instalment. Pokémon Diamond and Pearl introduced a fantastic trading mechanic: players were able to deposit unwanted Pokémon in a server and request a specific Pokémon, provided they’d already encountered it in-game, so you could drop off a monster and come back days later to find you’d initiated a successful trade. Having the ability to trade with anyone in the world was a massive leap up from requiring two people to be in the same room and linked via a cumbersome cable. Why not extend this idea to StreetPass? 3DS owners can already receive ghost data in Mario Kart 7 or new challenge rooms and items in Super Mario 3D Land, so why not include the ability to exchange Pokémon while on the go? If it's satisfying to get the green light for StreetPass Puzzle pieces, imagine opening up your 3DS after a long commute to find that you’d finally managed to acquire a particularly elusive monster.
War! Huh! What is it good for?
Well, quite a lot actually when it comes to Pokémon. In fact, arguably a core pillar of Pokémon’s gameplay involves taking a team of six Pokémon — moves customised, stats buffed, hand-picked to complement each other and form a formidable and meticulously trained unit — and pitting them against friends who have poured in an equally absurd amount of time, blood, sweat and tears honing their own teams. However, other than bragging rights for the victor, neither combatant gains any tangible rewards in doing so.
How about a system that lets gamers gamble in-game money or — even better — Pokémon, with the winner staking claim to the prizes? Not only would that provide an extra incentive for trainers to take extra care in ensuring their teams are infallibly polished before taking on the world, but it could also add a further shot of excitement to the battles themselves. Being able to set up actual tournaments or further customise the parameters of the battles would be great as well.
Actually, while we’re at it, why can’t Pokémon gain experience whenever they battle against other human players? Obviously, there’s potential for the less honest and principled gamers to constantly grind against the same person non-stop just to achieve a team of level 100 Pokémon: that’s nothing a cap on how many times you can fight against the same person in a 24-hour period couldn’t fix.
The storyline in Pokémon games has become, let’s say, somewhat formulaic.
The storyline in Pokémon games has become, let’s say, somewhat formulaic. A 10-year old kid gets to choose one of three Pokémon from a friendly neighbourhood professor and — for some strange reason — his or her mother allows their only child to wander halfway across the world, talking to countless strangers of questionable character along the way. Now, by all means let that tradition live on, but it could be infinitely more refreshing if there’s the option to buck that trend and carve out a new path and experience.
We’re already able to personalise our Pokémon to a certain degree — governing what moves they learn, whether they evolve or not, etc — so why not let us enter our actual age into the game and have it construct a basic template of a character, which we could then customise and subsequently follow an age-range specified story?
Naturally, any potential story deviations should always culminate in the player becoming Pokémon League Champion, but once that’s achieved it’d be great to defend that title. For example, while you’re out and about further exploring the region and hunting down every single species of Pokémon, you could be contacted and summoned back to the Pokémon League to fight various AI opponents who desire to take the title for themselves, with the experience levels and aggression of the challengers gradually increasing with each subsequent defence of your status as champion.
See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil
Arguably, Pokémon games haven't been technically impressive since Pokémon Gold and Silver arrived on the Game Boy Color. Even when the series graced the Game Boy Advance and DS — both capable of far greater feats of visual wizardry than their predecessors — Pokémon has clung onto the same zoomed-out top-down view, with minimal increments in graphical prowess. Likewise, the idea of sparsely animated sprites stiffly bobbing up and down in every battle is one that was wearing thin for some gamers nearly a decade ago.
A large chunk of a revitalising wow factor could be achieved were Pokémon 3DS to take a leaf out of the same book as some of the home console spin-offs. Gamecube entries, Pokémon Colosseum and Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness both featured fully realised 3D environments to wander around in, brimming with character and aesthetic variation, rather than limiting players to moving in four directions amidst the same sprites of houses, gyms and Pokémon centres. Likewise, these games exhibit the kind of grandiose spectacle during their heated battles that the core series on handhelds has perpetually lacked. The 3DS has proven itself more than capable of emulating this level of graphical proficiency and thus Pokémon 3DS should aspire to raise the bar, with visuals that make the next generation of Pokémon games a duo of bombastic, visually appealing extravaganzas that more closely match the animé.
Speaking of which, many Pokémon fans know what they're meant to sound like, right? Accomplished sound design can make or break a game and Pokémon has such a rich history in TV and film that it’s frankly baffling why no one has thought to further intertwine the two; to have Pokémon actually sound like they’re supposed to. It could help to maintain a stronger connection with these elemental killing machines, plus we’ll actually be able to switch the volume up without having our ear drums pierced by uncharacteristic screeches.
What do you think? Are you happy for Pokémon to retain the time-honoured traditions it has adhered to for the last decade and a half? Would you like to see some or all of the above suggestions come to pass, or do you have entirely different ideas as to how a potential 3DS instalment should evolve and innovate? Let us know in the comments below.