This is my second rewrite for Pokemon Scarlet and Violet. I couldn’t quite find a way to structure the things I wanted to say, so I’m opting for brute force.

I’m not going to bury the lead here. Pokemon Salt and Vinegar is a juxtaposition of a game.

I found a lot to like – the organic world, the new TM system, and auto battling cutting down on the tedium of grinding, which keeps the focus on exploration – a neat trick learned from The Legend of Zelda.

But these positives are buried under an avalanche of design decisions. Which is disappointing, because, like most people born in the 90s, I love Pokemon. It hurt me to give Sword and Shield a blast, and it doesn’t make me feel good to be here, yet again, pumping out vitriol.

But I am here, Scarlet and Violet are a mediocre offering, and I will not shy away from my (self-imposed) duty to review games I play.

The game runs like shit. No, the patches didn’t fix this. The framerate chugs, background objects don’t animate correctly, the draw distance is horrendous, populated areas look like ghost towns, and of course, when NPCs need to pivot on the spot, they act like their feet have been nailed to the floor.

The game’s shadows, which look rough and unfinished, and are plagued with loading issues. You can land at the bottom of a cliff face which should have shadows, and it can be entire seconds before the game snaps awake and decides to render them.

The open world design destroys any structure the game might have had. There are three main “quests”, which are marginal revisions on the core objective of “go to the place and battle the dudes.” - Gyms, Team Star Bases, and Big Pokemon. That’s yer lot. No interesting sidequests or subplots ala Yakuza 0 (or earlier versions of Pokemon…) – just an open world. Stop hassling us.

The difficulty curve is all over the place, all the gyms are self-enclosed snippets of gameplay with the depth of a puddle (I did chuckle at the clumsy takedown of streamer culture), there’s no mechanisms to ensure the challenge of the game has a smooth curve, such as level scaling – which makes the experience feel disjointed – like, there was an optimal path, but you just weren’t on it.

I’ll tell you what doesn’t help with difficulty, though – the removal of set battle style.

Switch style is not fun. It takes depth and complexity out of battling – which, admittedly, is for children – but set style was an easy way to add a tiny sliver of additional difficulty and demanded more from the team. Apparently, Nintendo agreed with me, but disagreed with making the game ever so slightly more difficult.

And so out the window it went.

It’s very clear to me that the game’s design brief was “Make an open world and contort the rest of the game around that.” Control over the structure of the game and critical path was sacrificed, and no-one thought to bring that up in design meetings, or they didn’t care.

But I, the consumer, care.

I had this incredible realisation whilst playing and mapping out all these observations, that I am making the same demands the Sonic fanbase does. I want Pokemon, as a franchise, to adjust to my wants and needs, when the reality is that it’s no longer for me, and that I have outgrown it. Which is sad. And being on the same level as Sonic fans is quite sobering.

But let’s count the sins. Your rival is your friend, Team Star are a laughable parody of real antagonists, and the school was so integral to the plot that I comfortably ignored it for my entire twenty-hour playthrough. The third storyline involving special herbs does setup the deepest part of the game, but that isn’t saying much.

There’s no adversity. And that’s because this game isn’t made for me, it’s made for children. It is Nintendo’s way of telling me to fuck off and play Persona 5 Royal – again.

But I don’t wholly accept that excuse, and neither should long-standing Pokemon fans. Pokemon Red and Blue were made for children too, and in that game, Lt. Surge implies he used his Raichu for war crimes. I’m not saying we need to go that far, but it’d be ok for my Rival to pick the starter that has a typing advantage over mine, and periodically threaten to “smell me later.”

That’d be a good start.

I suppose I should also talk the new battling gimmick, Terastallization.

How it works is your Pokemon turns to crystal and becomes its “Tera type”. This will overwhelmingly be one of the original types of your Pokemon, unless you went out of your way to catch and raise a Pokemon in a Tera Raid – which is a Dynamax Raid, but with the name changed.

If you bought all the DLC (which I didn’t) and played online (which I haven’t), there are a lot of interesting applications for this – in online battles. The practical application for this ability is in magical christmasland, your opponent swaps in a counter for your Pokemon, you Terastallize, and hit it with a super-effective, Tera-boosted attack, different to the two original types of your Pokemon and feel like a tactical genius.

In the single player adventure, I used it… once, because the game forced me to.

Because it doesn’t change the defensive stats of the Pokemon, when your Rival, or Gym Leader, or Elite Four Champion use it, it has no impact on the super-effective attack you use in the same turn, knocking it out anyway.

Compare that to Dynamax, which gave your Pokemon additional bulk and move power, and sometimes you had special Gigantamax Pokemon with special G-Max moves. Like your opponent’s last Pokemon was a real boss monster.

What's your favorite G-MAX form? Mine's Gengar. He grows so big you only  ever get to see just his head! : r/PokemonSwordAndShield

It was so good Smogon banned it on the spot. Smogon only mostly wants Terastallization banned.

So, do I think the game is better than Sword and Shield? Yes. Subjectively. But Sword and Shield ran at 60 frames. And had a better battle gimmick. And better breeding. And a battle tower. And set battle style.

Do I think Game Freak can do better? You bet your ass, and it’s disturbing to me that after two mainline games, one Pokemon Go adaptation, and one (far better received) legend title, the best Pokemon video game on the Switch is still New Snap, which is developed by a third party.

I recall watching a video sent to me regarding Sword and Shield having low quality textures and animations, alongside the question “why doesn’t game freak just hire better people?”

The question to me, at the time, seemed ludicrous and smacked of a three-year-old’s understanding of the process of developing and publishing a game. But we’re five attempts deep, with only marginal improvements in quality.

I got tired of waiting after Sword and Shield, and had it not been for the generosity of my brother-in-law, who wouldn’t take no for an answer when I told him I had no interest in generation 9, I would not have ended up playing the game, or publishing this “review.”

And I’m sure the harsh tone on display in this article will convince Nintendo simps (who don’t read this blog anyway, a fact for which I am infinitely grateful) to stop reading and declare me as biased. And my deepest apologies to my brother-in-law, as I appear super ungrateful.

But I don’t give a damn. I tried to be even-handed in my first write and I ended up lying to myself. So now we’re here.

As the Dr. Phil meme would suggest, if I sugar-coated it, I would eat that too. It is entirely possible for me to lie to myself about the quality of Scarlet and Violet. And, at times, I genuinely found myself enjoying the act of playing the video game I got for free from someone who wouldn’t take no for an answer (thanks Josh, love you, brother.)

But was the enjoyment because I have a genuine love for Pokemon, or because ScarVo was so mind-numbingly brilliant I couldn’t help but love it?

I think the answer is clear.

To be completely fair, when the game is showing me the potential of its design, it feels so close to what a well-designed open world Pokemon game could look like. And yet it falls so painfully short.

Pokémon Scarlet and Violet

Two and a half stars, Margaret – and lucky not to lose more.

What I would like to know is when Pokemon Fans are going to demand better from a monolithic billion-dollar corporation that has made more money from them than any western entertainment franchise. When are they no longer going to accept this standard and walk past. What’s it going to take.

I gave Game Freak the benefit of the doubt when it came to Sword and Shield. And I changed my opinion under duress. I still have a soft spot for the game.

But what’s the excuse supposed to be for Salt and Pepper? Not enough development time? No budget? Hardware limitations?

None of those excuses fly for me anymore.

And no, I’m not interested in playing another poorly built Pokemon game. You can keep the next one to yourself.

Catch you next time,

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