In the lead up to E3 we're publishing a series of features covering game franchises that we want to make an appearance, and what we'd like to see out of a potential next entry in each series. In this entry, Nintendo Life news and reviews regular Conor McMahon considers the Pokémon franchise.
Ever heard of these little things called Pokémon? Love them or hate them, it's safe to say that they aren't going anywhere, and one of Nintendo's most beloved and long-running franchises also happens to be one of the most unpredictable. Over the years, we've seen their numbers swell from 151 to over 700, and the core concept of catching and battling has evolved greatly - awful pun intended. It's a pretty safe bet that the series will have some form of a presence at E3 - and I for one can't wait to see what's in store - but for now let's boot up TM29 and get speculating!
First things first, let's consider the possibility of another "main" entry into the franchise. While the excellent Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire definitely made some improvements, truly progressive strides were first taken by 2013's X & Y, which introduced fully 3D environments, Mega Evolution, and new ways to interact with your team. For these reasons and more it felt like the freshest handheld entry we've had in years, and accomplished this by giving the RPG formula a welcome shot in the arm. We'd love to see this momentum continue, with Game Freak taking even further risks and experimenting with new ideas. Tradition would have us expect an ancillary title in the near future, to fit alongside Platinum, Crystal, and Emerald, so could Pokémon Z make an appearance this year? The timing seems about right.
If it did, I for one would hope there's a major focus on new story elements and maybe even an entirely new mini-region to explore, alongside the usual gameplay tweaks and extra features. We saw ORAS go the extra mile with some nice end-game content, so there's every reason to expand on this and go absolutely wild with a new adventure centred around legendary Zygarde. This beast is said to arrive when Kalos falls into disarray, so it could very well make for an intense scenario that keeps us engaged with content that lasts far beyond level.70.
That being said, does the next big adventure really have to be on a handheld? I'm hardly the first one to ask for this, but imagine the dizzying heights a Pokémon RPG could reach if it tapped into the potential of a home console release! "But Pokémon Colosseum already did that!" - I hear you cry, and you deserve a rare candy for your dedication. Unfortunately, I was personally disappointed by the linear nature of this GameCube release, and baffled by the strange way you had to kidnap Pokémon from rival trainers instead of catching them in the wild. It was a decent attempt, but not enough to satisfy in the long run, and ultimately came off as a bit of a damp squib.
Game Freak has previously expressed a desire to surprise and excite people with new ideas, and nothing would get me more pumped up than footage of a fully HD world to explore on Wii U. The possibilities are endless, and the rest of this article could easily descend into a lengthy wish-list for this title alone. Fully customizable trainers, quest-style missions to complete daily, Pokémon you can actually see roaming around the environment, vibrant cities and a push for online play.
Amplify the social aspect and you could even complete story missions with friends online, teaming up to challenge the newest sinister gang in town. Expanding multiplayer beyond just competitive battling and trading would feel completely new, especially if Miiverse integration made the world seem more alive - Splatoon did a great job with this exact concept. Pokémon-Amie is a perfect fit for the GamePad as well, which could allow you add ribbons and other unique touches to your 'Mon before taking to the streets to show off. Squirtle with shades, anyone?
There are certain to be plenty of spinoff titles coming our way in the future, with previous examples ranging anywhere from Pinball to...whatever Pokémon Channel was meant to be, and I expect the free-to-play trend will probably continue as part of that. If that's the case, how about free software that interacts with a brand new Pokémon amiibo range in some way? Whether they're simply cards or a new range of actual figurines, fans are already hard-wired to keep collecting, so this would be an extra incentive to buy 'em all. In fact, it'd be brilliant to see the return of Pokémon Stadium-style mini-games that are unlocked with the corresponding amiibo. Ekans Hoop Hurl, Snore War, Thundering Dynamo; these were all playful and imaginative little distractions that deserve a new platform.
I'll let you in on a secret though - I totally lied. If I'm being honest, my hype for a new console RPG is utterly outweighed by one thing...a sequel to Pokémon Snap. From the first time I held the Wii U GamePad, all I could think was how well-suited it was for a new take on that beautifully niche N64 masterpiece. Oh it was flawed alright, but there's no reason to think those shortcomings can't be improved upon.
The brief, linear stages of the original could be expanded into larger, much more open areas that allow for free-roaming and exploration. A day/night cycle would work off the system clock, and influence what Pokémon you'll see during your expedition. From ghost houses to ocean floors, dense jungles to snowy peaks, a little variety could elevate this simple concept into something very special indeed. After all, the series hasn't just survived because of the battle mechanics. A legacy of charming character design and more lovable monsters than you can shake a Poké-flute at played a huge part as well, so releasing a title focusing on this aspect of the franchise - seeing Pokémon in their element - makes a whole lot of sense. Allow players to share photos online, and I'm absolutely sold.
One game we do know about and may make an appearance is Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon, which is due late this year in North America and in early 2016 in Europe. This spin-off series has clearly proven to be a success, with this one returning to basics while also looking rather decent. It'll likely make a brief cameo in the Digital Event, or if not could fill a slot in the Treehouse.
Whether we see the next really big thing at E3 this year or not, I actually prefer not knowing what on earth Game Freak could throw at us next. I know what I'm personally hoping for (It's been 15 years...I NEED IT), but what's great about Pokémon is how versatile the franchise can be. Whether it's a puzzle title, a new RPG, or the speculative Wii U release of Pokkén Tournament, we'll have plenty to say here at Nintendo Life when the time comes.