Pokémon Scarlet & Violet - Switch Review
"The best and most fun mainline Pokémon games in over 10 years, and that infuriates me."
Pokémon dispenses introduction. The world’s top-selling video game franchise is the very definition of a global phenomenon, and most people know what Pokémon is all about. The previous titles Sword and Shield were the first home console mainline Pokémon games, and it is fair to say that their release was a tumultuous one.
Three years later, the newest mainline titles in Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet are here, with some of the biggest changes in the franchise. These games introduce the first fully open world experience in the mainline series’ history, three different storylines that do not revolve around the Pokémon League challenge and an overarching plot that continues beyond the Champion. Bold and long-desired changes among fans, but there is much more to a game than its concepts - and Pokémon Scarlet and Violet have a lot to make up for.
The first and most important aspect that must be mentioned regarding Pokémon Scarlet and Violet is this: These games aren’t simply “steps in the right direction” - they are the actual future of the mainline series, the first real evolution that Pokémon games have had in over 20 years. Pokémon has been criticized for being stagnant in its design and finally, the series seems to have embraced bold, interesting changes to the formula after so long.
Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet’s departures from the classic formula comes in the form of full commitment to the open world format, giving players the ability to actually go wherever they want in whatever order they choose. While that is already a significant change, there is also the fact that the main plotline is left entirely to the discretion of the player, who is free to give each story path as much or as little attention as they want. The only roadblocks are mechanics such as Pokémon level and hard-to-traverse terrain, both of which can be easily played around.
The open world is implemented excellently with a region that is both fun to explore and filled with interesting things. Not only is the player truly able to go almost anywhere without being railroaded toward gyms, the Pokémon distribution is excellent and it is a real joy to see not just individuals, but small herds and groups of Pokémon populating areas that match their nature and physiology. The Pokémon even act like they should, such as the ground-type Sandile being half submerged in the sand, swimming on it as if it were water, or Donphans rolling down hills rather than awkwardly walking. Exploration and movement are excellent and simply fun in a way that they have not been in a Pokémon game in a long time.
The quality of life improvements are very considerable. PC Boxes and Pokémon swapping are available anywhere, at any moment, and Pokémon moves can be forgotten, learned and relearned at the player’s leisure without the need to go to a Move Deleter or Move Relearner, giving the player freedom to customise their team at any point. Following Pokémon have been brought back and mixed with a quicker way to grind on wild Pokémon at the same time through the Let’s Go! feature, cutting down on slog and padding. And of course, the movement feels better on top of the box legendaries (Koraidon/Miraidon) than it does simply running, especially as the player progresses through a certain path. The game simply feels good to play and move around in.
The way the game handles its multiple storylines is also very competent for the standards of Pokémon games. Every character given focus is, at minimum, memorable, and the plotlines are surprisingly heartfelt, relating to the main themes of the game. No path plays second fiddle to the Pokémon League plot either, and each is given their own relevant locations, characters and due time to be digested. While these games are no storytelling masterpieces, it is fair to say that this is the best that Pokémon has treated its story since Black and White, and arguably delivers an even better final product in that department. The build-up to the climax of the game and the reveals that happen once the player gets there are both very satisfying.
Finally, on the gameplay aspect, the new battle-related gimmick introduced by the franchise is fascinating. Terastallisation changes a Pokémon’s typing on the spot, and can be utilised by every single Pokémon without restrictions, and the tera-type can be changed in-game as well. While this seems extremely simple, that is where it is strongest: by allowing certain Pokémon to circumvent their type weaknesses, previously unused or frail Pokémon can be brought to the forefront in order to show qualities that were previously suffocated under the elemental matchup chart, not to mention the new strength that is given to moves of the respective tera-type.
- Actual evolution and significant change to the tired formula
- An open world that is implemented extremely well
- Fun exploration of a populated region
- Great distribution and characterisation of wild pokemon
- Competent, heartfelt storylines that are given time to breath
- Versatile, interesting new gimmick during battles.
Pokémon Scarlet and Violet have become infamous in a short amount of time for the absolutely atrocious technical issues present in the games, and none of that infamy is exaggerated. The issues present in the performance of the game are baffling for the newest release from one of the world’s top 5 most profitable video-game franchises, in games that do not actually push the limits of the Nintendo Switch hardware at all.
Frame rate drops, model clipping and glitching, memory leaks, erratic visuals and all sorts of jank are present throughout the game. Most of the issues aren’t even particularly complex in nature, which makes them feel even more unforgivable. Pokémon Scarlet and Violet run as if they aren’t finished on a programming level and were released with almost no proper optimisation for the hardware that they were created for. For an ambitious and possibly revolutionary game on one of the world’s biggest franchises to be dragged down by its own code is a shame, and the presence of glitches, bugs and graphical issues can ruin the immersion and the overall experience for many players on what could have been an otherwise incredible look into the future of the franchise. The issues extend beyond just visuals as well, with online raids often being subject to lag and odd issues that can cause players to lose progress or even the entire raid.
The game also suffers from one of the most reviled aspects of Pokémon games: the cut of previous content. The National Pokédex is still not present, meaning that it is impossible to utilise every Pokémon in the game, including plenty of Pokémon from the very previous generation, not to mention an ongoing issue regarding the modern pokemon games: complete absence of previous content such as Mega Evolution, Z-Moves, Contests, the Game Corner, Safari Zone, Battle Frontier (or any battle facility analogue at all, like the Battle Maison in X and Y and Battle Tree in Sun and Moon), etc. Customisation options also suffered; for being introduced in X and Y, almost a decade ago, it feels like the series has gone backward in this aspect and each game has had fewer interesting customisation options. In Scarlet and Violet, the player character is unable to change out of their uniform, and the only options available for customisation are hairstyles, gloves, socks, hats and shoes.
The camera controls are particularly odd and obnoxious. The new targeting function used to take aim at Pokémon in the overworld outside of battles barely works unless the player is almost on top of the pokemon, and even then, it is unreliable at best. Battles are also initiated on the overworld environment, and being ambushed by a Pokémon on even a small slope can cause the camera to go haywire trying to reframe the battlefield and make the encounter impossible to be seen, all because the player happened to be on a non-flat surface.
As of the time of this review’s publication, a patch has been released that addressed some of the technical issues present with the game. Nintendo’s response to the backlash also included offering refunds to players due to the condition that the game was released in. The patch did solve some issues and made the experience overall smoother, but it did not solve every problem. Pokémon Scarlet and Violet still have technical issues, but the quick response from Nintendo and the developers in addressing complaints is greatly appreciated.
Even on aspects that aren’t related to glitches, the game feels somewhat unfinished and unpolished overall. The character models still move extremely stiffly and robotically during cutscenes and overworld sections alike, most animations aren’t anything to write home about and story beats often feel like they could have gone through another revision or two in order to feel more organic. Truly interesting and heartfelt characters and concepts ultimately fall flat on poorly written scenes.
And while the open world is generally very well implemented, there is almost no presence of inside space: towns and cities give essentially no option to go inside any buildings or houses in order to talk to NPCs or learn more about what the world design is like. Most of the cities are instead populated by restaurants, which would be charming except that these also have no inside models, simply being menus of different items. Every hair salon and gym interior looks the same, which is depressing seeing as these are some of the few places the player is allowed to enter. Whereas cities in Pokémon games have historically had their own identities and curiosities to explore, being meaningful locations that served as important and memorable checkpoints on a journey through a region; they feel like quick pit stops in Scarlet and Violet. Many are beautiful - but not much more
- A ludicrous amount of technical, graphical and code-related issues.
- Massive lack of content present from previous games
- Poorly implemented camera and camera-related functions
- Poor customisation options which are worse than the previous titles
- Unfinished, unpolished aspects in gameplay, world design and story scenes
- Important locations clearly not given enough development time
Final Score: 6/10
Pokémon Scarlet and Violet are the best and most fun mainline Pokémon games in over 10 years, and that infuriates me. It is impossible to play these games separate from their numerous issues, which should have never made it to the final release of such a huge, profitable franchise. At the same time, the evolution of the usual formula and the aspects that are implemented are pushed so well that they cannot be ignored either. The bold changes to Pokémon Scarlet and Violet do make for extremely fun and engaging games, but at the cost of polish, working software, and the sheer possibilities that they should have already explored a long time ago. I love these games for what they are and try to be, and I am also extremely disappointed that they exist in this sorry state where they clearly could have, and should have, been done better and given more development time.
Scarlet and Violet are amazing Pokémon games, but upsetting regular games. There has been a double standard when it comes to judging Pokémon as a franchise, where it seems like most people only expect the bare minimum of Pokémon and scoff at the idea of wanting more from a “franchise for kids”. But this franchise has more than just kids among its fans, and 90+ billion dollars of revenue to its name. Pokémon has historically been a franchise created with passion, and that passion has been coming into conflict with the nature of the massive profit that comes from it as a product. The lack of time given to the developers and the results of the ever-faster release schedule enforced on the mainline games is more apparent here than ever before, where it seems the bare minimum was able to be delivered - and it still was a phenomenal product beneath all its issues. It is about time that fans make the demand from the franchise that the games be given all the time they need in order to truly shine, to be the very best that they can be.
Thank you for checking out our Pokémon Scarlet & Violet Switch review, thank you to Nintendo AU/NZ for providing the review code and thank you to our Patreon Backers for their ongoing support:
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For more reading, check out our Dragon Quest Treasures review.