Published on January 10th, 2017 | by Cactus
2016 and the Death of Pokémon.
Well, here we are, a new year and a whole new list of Gaming Events, Game Releases and, of course, GameBug articles. 2016 has unfortunately garnered a reputation for being quite a downer year, due to the extremely high quantity of famous deaths and tragic events occurring worldwide. Thankfully, most gamers were spared heartache with a year of quite successful and well-received games. The Doom remake, which could have been a complete cover-based mess, turned out to be a spectacular retro throwback, Titanfall 2 managed to be a surprise gem, and after 9 years in development The Last Guardian actually came out! It’s a real shame that the same could not be said of one of my favourite franchises: Pokémon.
To any long term GameBug readers, my interest in the world of Pocket Monsters should be fairly obvious; last year almost every article on this site about the series was written by myself. This time last year, the possibilities that awaited seemed almost too good to be true. Not only was a new generation of Pokémon being released on the 3DS, but an augmented reality game in which the Pokémon World would be integrated into real locations was coming as well. Initial impressions of Pokémon GO (the first of the two games to be released) was quite strong. The game was rudimentary, but numerous press releases and the rise in Nintendo’s stock on release indicated that the problems that were being encountered where simple bugs which would be fixed in the subsequent weeks. Looking back it’s hard to imagine how naïve we really were.
Ok honestly, did anyone ever figure out how this was supposed to work?
As Nintendo had expected, over the course of a few weeks Pokémon GO grew into one of the most popular mobile games of all time. What they hadn’t expected was the rapid growth of fan backlash and user drop out less than a month after its release. In comparison to other mobile games, such as Candy Crush or Clash of Clans, the average time a player of Pokémon GO remained in the game diminished rapidly. Due to Niantic (Pokémon GO’s developer) not taking the time to fix the major problems with the game, and instead completely changing mechanics for the worse, or in some cases removing them completely, the flash in the pan that was Pokémon GO vanished from public memory almost as quickly as it’s rise to popularity.
Of course, as we get to the inevitable downfall of the Pokemon franchise which occurred last year, all blame cannot lie on Pokemon GO. GO may not have been the best example of the stellar gameplay decisions which Nintendo have made their fame for, but GO merely represents a symptom of a larger problem; Oversimplification and mass nostalgic pandering, both of which were fully realised in Pokémon: Sun and Moon.
THEY MAY TAKE OUR HMs, BUT THEY WILL NEVER TAKE OUR FISHING!
Quite frankly, Pokémon: Sun and Moon was a disaster. The game was a bogged down mess of cutscenes, tutorials and Fisher Price levels of oversimplification. In my playthrough, I never felt I had more than 5 minutes at a time to actually spend adventuring or exploring the new region. For a series of games which originated as child wish fulfilment, where the world was open and at your fingertips and no parents could tell you what to do, to become bloated down in orders, objective markers and even designated fishing locations seems counterintuitive. I’m all for making games more accessible. If a game can make its many systems easier to learn in order to help new players, while also allowing old players to continue in the same fashion that they are accustomed to, I don’t think anyone has a reason to be upset. However, the levels of simplification to the gameplay of Pokémon: Sun and Moon was absolutely ridiculous. The numerous objective markers, even in perfectly linear sections of the world, combined with over simplification of the battle system, and wrapped in a bow made of the discarded HM’s, left me feeling as though I was playing Baby’s First Pokémon rather than the latest instalment in a 20-year series. One would hope after 20 years the Pokémon franchise would be so well refined that they would be adding new mechanics rather than ripping out well-established ones.
Sun and Moon are the quintessential definitions of accessibility gone wrong. For a game to have a tutorial is one thing, for the tutorial to go for the entire length of the game is something different. This, of course, is to say nothing of the fan pandering surrounding both GO and Sun and Moon. For many die-hard Pokémon fans, the original games and the first 151 Pokémon hold a particular nostalgic value in our hearts. Due to the limited graphical power of the first Gameboy, where the original games were released, the first set of Pokémon had a particular simplistic charm to them. In Nintendo’s efforts to gain sales, they have leant particularly hard on this crutch over the past year. For one, only the first 151 Pokémon appeared in Pokémon GO for the longest time. Only recently have new Pokémon been added. Furthermore, Pokémon: Sun and Moon based a lot of its marketing around the additions of new variations of original Pokemon and the reappearance of the three main characters from the first game. The initial thought on all of this was that Nintendo may have just been trying an attempt to congeal all of the separate parts of Pokémon that have formed over the years, but in retrospect a more sinister approach seems to have been at work.
Surf may be a thing of the past, but at least now I can finally ride a Lapras.
I’m not going to say it’s wrong for a company to try and make money. Nintendo has employees that need to eat and pay rent, and it has stockholders who they need to keep happy. It’s wholly unreasonable to think that Nintendo, or any company which produces something, should be doing it just out of the goodness of their hearts. That said, I think it’s clearly apparent that Nintendo wanted to make a load of money last year, and the ‘Year of Pokémon’ was a marketing ploy in order do it. For years now Pokémon has slowly been drifting out of public eye. Unlike Mario or Zelda, which routinely have initiative new games and ideas to expand their respective series, Pokemon has gone to show that for the most part there isn’t a lot of wiggle room in regards to fresh ideas. All previous Pokémon games are for the most part the same thing. Sun and Moon attempted to change things for what can only be assumed to be the better and failed miserably. That combined with the incredibly nostalgic angle that Nintendo have been pushing all year leads me to believe that not only was Nintendo aware that the newest games would fail to interest long-time fans, but that they intentionally up sold the nostalgic side of the series in order to gain one last sale on a franchise which had already seemed to be on its way to retirement.
All this leads to the clear observation that the Pokémon franchise has run out of steam. At some point, all good things must come to an end, as I stated last year the Pokémon series has been heading that way for a long time now. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, for one all the old game will still exist to be played over and over again. But as a series tries to fight the inevitable fate of retirement, the more it tries to stay with the times, it becomes something it isn’t. It becomes a bastardised version of itself, something which is almost completely unrecognisable from what it was, to begin with. Nintendo, come on mate, it’s time to let Pokémon rest.