Last week, Nintendo of Canada flew me out to New York to give me an hour-and-a-half-long guided tour of the Pokémon Scarlet.
Now, I feel as though this generation received a greater amount of internal Nintendo press through Nintendo Directs, so going into the guided tour, I felt as if I had a lot more preconceived motions to go off of. And for the most part, what I’ve experienced so far is a game that improves off of its predecessor, but is also somewhat held back by the technology behind it.
A world full of the paths you chose to take
Pokémon is going totally open-world RPG for the series’ ninth generation and it’s looking to be the most expansive entry yet.
They have broken the game’s overall story into three different paths that you can explore at your own discretion.
It’s not new news that a player’s adventures fall under three categories titled Victory Road, Path of Legends, and Starfall Street.
One of the big problems that our Editor Bobby Pashalidis had with the eighth generation is that despite having a vast open area to explore and catch Pokémon, Bobby felt shoehorned into a traditional Pokémon story. I think he’s going to like what Game Freak and Nintendo have done here with making the game feel more like a traditional RPG.
In the interests time, I was granted markers showing the location of a mission in each of the three storylines. So I did get to feel how each of these missions play out and how the ability to choose them plays out.
In my preview build, there were already several points of interest on the map, including a Pokémon Center, the town of Artazon and a handful of quest markers.
Moving between these was made easy with the legendary Koraidon, who I was able to experience dash, climb up walls and glide with little effort and seemingly no stamina gauge to be mindful of.
One thing I did not get to see that I am wondering heavily about is backtracking. In my preview, I really only got to experience a single mission from each of the three-story paths set in one of the game’s provinces. They were all close together and didn’t involve much of using overworld traversal.
Giant Pokémon take a giant step forward
My experience with Path of Legends was battling with the very oversized Klawf we’ve seen in the Nintendo Directs. It played out very similar to the Gigantamax battles of the previous generation, where you are facing unique versions of Pokémon with all manner of boosted stats and visual appearances. Only here, you cannot use the ability to grow in size.
Between you and I, I’m not sure that I got enough experience in fighting with the Titan Klawf to totally assess the full value of what these battles have to offer.
It seemed relatively easy to use boosted elemental attacks with Tera Typing, but it’s also clear to me that there’s going to be a lot more to this form of doing battle with Titan Pokémon than what I’ve seen so far. Because when I had him down to a quarter of his health, Titan Klawf decided I was no longer any fun and scuddled off to somewhere my guide told me I wouldn’t be able to follow.
I am sure we will have more to speak on this during the general review, so stay tuned!
Quality of Pokémon life
I was super excited to see how many little quality-of-life improvements there have been to the overall UI this generation.
Pokéballs have an automatic button for throwing now during battle.
There’s also an automatic button in your Pokémon menu that will utilize any and all healing items you have to make sure your team is ready to go again.
I really enjoyed how the new TM Machine menu is organized so that only TMs you can craft appear illuminated. Once you’ve crafted a TM, you’ll automatically receive a prompt asking if you wanted to teach the TM to any of my Pokémon. When I selected yes, a red or green bar would appear under each telling me if I could or couldn’t teach them the selected move.
Finally, the “Let’s Go!” command is the greatest of innovations! Not only is it super charming to see Bellibolt burst forth and jiggle like I do when running on a treadmill, but it also significantly speeds up the game’s battling and item-farming mechanics.
Another new addition that really caught me off-guard is that trainers no longer instigate battle with you upon locking eyes. You will have to run up to them and hit the action button if you want to take them on.
Call me conservative, but this feels like removing the very essence of Pokémon. However, I think that it’s something I’ll be able to get behind as I explore the game more.
Now, before I offer this criticism, I want to highlight that the build I was given a chance to play is not the final build that fans will boot up on November 18th, so Nintendo may very well have been able to solve the problem I’m about to talk about: frame rate stutter.
Starfall Street is by far the freshest of the Pokémon game experiences that I’ve had as part of my preview. It pits you alone against a horde of Team Star students.
In the challenge I got to experience, I had 10 minutes to defeat 30 various fire Pokémon using three of my own Pokémon as part of the new “Let’s Go!” automatic battle command. Paying attention to typing is important in these challenges because you will take a time penalty each time one of your Pokémon needs to be revived. I made the mistake of bringing the ice-type Pokémon Cetitan with me, which very nearly cost me.
The problem is that this is a Pokémon game that finally looks great in terms of its open world, but it is already pounding the Nintendo Switch’s hardware graphically. So having a number of character models popping in and out together seemed like it was just too much for the Nintendo Switch to handle.
There were portions of this challenge where I was getting no more than 15 FPS, and things like offering commands to my Pokémon or even moving felt so slow.
This poor frame rate also appeared during my Gym Challenge, a game of hide-and-go-seek with 10 Sunflora. Each time I found one and had them follow me, I felt the game get a little bit slower.
Multiplayer raids return to generation nine, this time with a focus on searching for Pokémon with a rare Tera Type.
The three other writers at the event and I got to take on a Wingull with a Grass Tera Type, meaning that my decision to bring an Electric type Pawmi put me at a great disadvantage during the battle.
However, I was still able to do my part as these battles now offer a cheer function that subs in for a move but either heals or buffs a Pokémon on your side of the field. I like this addition very much because it adds another layer of tactics to a form of battle that was already pretty advanced in terms of difficulty in Pokémon games.
The only thing I didn’t enjoy is that there appears to be a timer on battles now and a timer on making moves, which isn’t always the greatest when considering accessibility. I definitely missed out on a few turns because my finger slipped and just wasn’t fast enough. But I do understand that this help keeps player-to-player communications moving effectively.
I would also like to add that much like Gigantamaxing in last generation’s games; gym leaders are able to use Tera Types on their lead Pokémon. For Grass Type Gym Leader Brassius, I was also overpowered thanks to having a level 25 party given to me for the event. I ripped through his Smolive with Armarouge. And then, when I saw he was playing Sudowoodo, I switched to Ice Type Cetitan. This is when my guide chuckled and announced I’d fallen into a trap!
Sudowoodo Terastallized into a Grass Type and sent me packing with some boosted Grass Type attacks. It also claimed my Armarouge, even though I had the advantage, and left me barely able to win the fight.
I did get to try two of the minigames added this generation and found them to be charming, if not a slight bit of filler.
Speaking of filler, the first one is a real stickler for the filler!
Sandwich making is the new form of Pokémon food buffing.
There are shops in towns and cities that sell a wide variety of meats, accoutrements, sauces, and sandwich picks for you to try out in various cookbook recipes or freestyle.
The sandwiches will offer buffs to both your trainer for things like improving catch rates for a certain type of Pokémon and your part for things like speed bonuses.
My guide tricked me once again by letting me know after I had selected a ton of ham and tomatoes that I have to use all the ingredients that I select, and that any that fall off the bread are gone for good. This made for a very expensive sandwich that ended up as a two-star mess!
Going back to Bobby’s review of generation eight, we get ever closer to the ideal Pokémon game with each passing generation.
I feel there’s been such a strong drive within Nintendo over the past few years to get to where we are delivering that ideal game.
So far, to me, it’s clear that in generation nine, Pokémon fans are in for an experience that may just be the ideal. It’s very clear to me that it’s one improved by the likes of Pokémon Legends: Arceusand The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild — two games that very much challenged what the Nintendo Switch can do.
And what exactly the Nintendo Switch can do is what has me worried this is going to be an experience that is held back by technical abilities. But I’ve only had an hour-and-a-half of hands-on time with the game, so I can say so far that despite some weak frame rates, Pokémon generation nine appears to be an improvement.