Yesterday was a strange and exciting time for Pokémon fans. Nintendo held a large event in Japan that for reasons I cannot possibly fathom, was not livestreamed, but rather viewed by proxy through a series of pictures and GIFs on Twitter from journalists in attendance and the official @Pokemon account.
While the format of the announcement was odd, the news was massive. Nintendo announced not one but three Pokémon games.
- There’s Pokémon Quest, a game that is “free-to-start” and already available on Nintendo Switch as we speak with a mobile release to follow in late June. It’s a non-traditional Pokémon adventure game, and the blocky animation style kind of hurts my eyes, I’m not going to lie. It looks…okay.
- The major reveal was Pokémon Let’s Go, divided up into Pikachu and Eevee variants. The game is a partial adaptation of Pokémon Yellow, and a gorgeous looking RPG for the Switch. But it’s a blend of traditional Pokémon gameplay with new GO-era type mechanics. Not only can you transfer Pokémon from GO to Let’s Go, but the game also shares things like GO’s simplified capture mechanics.
- Finally, Nintendo announced that yes, there was still a new “core” Pokémon game coming to the Switch next year, presumably Gen 8, though it wasn’t named or detailed yet.
I have seen some fans annoyed that Nintendo is catering to a casual crowd with Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee, but honestly, this is a genius move on Nintendo’s part, and they really had no choice but to do something like this, to build a bridge from Pokémon GO to the core series.
Obviously Pokémon GO was a success initially because of the Pokémon brand. Without it, GO would have gone nowhere, and it managed to attract both current Pokémon players who had played all seven generations, and those who probably hadn’t picked up a game since Red and Blue.
But what no one was expecting, Niantic, The Pokémon Company and Nintendo included, was just how massive Pokémon GO would get. The game was not just as popular as the original handheld games, but dramatically more so.
Pokémon, across all of its games, has sold 300 million copies in the last 20 years or so. Pokémon GO, in the last two years, has amassed 800 million downloads by last count, and is probably inching closer to a billion now.
What does that mean? It means that Pokémon GO is the first and only Pokémon experience for hundreds of millions of players. That might be a 40 year old mom who never had any reason to own a Game Boy previously, or that could be a six year-old whose first experience with the series is running around their neighborhood catching Pokémon in real life, rather than jogging through Kanto on a 3DS.
Nintendo and The Pokémon Company want to convert those people, mostly playing GO for free on their phones, into customers who want to own a Switch and pay for actual, full Pokémon games, the general message being “if you liked Pokémon GO, wait until you see this game that is similar, but with way more to it.”
But I do understand that an intermediate step is probably necessary. Going straight from GO into a true core game, Gen 8 in this case, might be a bridge too far. In that sense, creating a game that not only lets you use your beloved GO collection, but also employs some of the same mechanics like GO’s catching system, is something that can help transition GO players into “true” Pokémon players, for lack of a better term.
I do hope that some elements don’t make the transition. For instance, I hope that Let’s Go does not port over GO’s terrible battle system. The catching I don’t mind, but I really don’t want to sit there mashing a single button in every fight in Let’s Go. Perhaps there’s a compromise between turn-based combat and GO’s bad system, and that would be a preferable alternative.
I am excited for Let’s Go (not so much Pokémon Quest), and I think this was a very smart move by Nintendo and the Pokémon Company. It’s going to sell a hell of a lot of Switches this fall (as if it needed the help), and 2019 should be even bigger with Gen 8 coming. Exciting times.