Pokémon has always been a special franchise for me. It’s what got me into playing video games when I was young. However, recent Pokémon games have failed to keep up with the other big Nintendo titles like Mario and the Legend of Zelda in terms of improvement. In fact, the franchise seems to be getting worse.
I know Pokémon stands out from the other two by being developed by GameFreak instead of directly from Nintendo. It doesn’t change the fact that Pokémon should be on par with them. It’s one of Nintendo’s biggest franchises, so GameFreak should have the ability and resources to match the other games. They choose not to for some reason.
Look at the improvements of the Mario and Legend of Zelda franchises compared to Pokémon.
For Mario, Super Mario Odyssey has streamlined the franchise with breathtaking, individual environments with unique atmospheres. There are different secrets and level mechanics that are accompanied by fitting, foot-tapping music. Even the latest Mario title, Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury, improves the franchise despite being a remaster of the Wii U game with a DLC attached to it. Bowser’s Fury brought Mario into a small, open-world environment that surprisingly works really well with the platformer.
The Legend of Zelda had Breath of the Wild to introduce a large world for Link to run in. It was his normal game of different factions and areas but expanded to a Skyrim-like scope. New mechanics like a tablet that let you freeze objects in time and create icy platforms that made the gameplay innovative and fun. The characters looked amazing and had depth to them. It really felt like the Legend of Zelda franchise grew up with its audience.
What does Pokémon have to revolutionize it? Nothing really. In fact, it fails at the improvements both of the games had.
Pokémon Sword and Shield brought terrible 3D graphics at the time the former franchises’ games already existed. In it, GameFreak decided to take away many Pokémon that existed and features like the ability to turn off experience share for people who didn’t want experience points to be divided between all party members and took out many Pokémon moves. The company claims that it’s because they lack storage space, forgetting that the 3DS handhelds, which have less space than the Nintendo Switch, could hold 807 Pokémon in the system’s final Pokémon title Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon. Pokémon Sword and Shield only holds 400 Pokémon. What’s worse is when GameFreak was rightfully called out for their excuses, they resorted to releasing them as a part of the Isle of Armor and Crown Tundra DLCs.
GameFreak is cutting corners with Pokémon’s potential in favor of low-effort money grabbing.
You could argue that Pokémon Snap is a step in the right direction, as it’s a beautiful and fun game. That game wasn’t created by GameFreak though. It was created by third-party developers, HAL Laboratory and Pax Softnica. When third-party developers do a better job than the main company, I worry a lot.
As a fan, the future of Pokémon doesn’t feel promising. There will always be people that buy every new Pokémon game, and their target audience, younger children, could have their first exposure to Pokémon through the low-quality games. It’s just disappointing to see the downward spiral Gamefreak is willingly succumbing to.
The revolutionary days of Pokémon Platinum in 2008 and Black and White in 2010 seem so far away as mediocre is becoming the norm. The new features aren’t impressive and are very limited. Meanwhile, the main features are being removed without a second thought. Recent Pokémon games are being made quickly with Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon (2017), Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee (2018), and Sword and Shield (2019) being released in the span of three years. For comparison, Mario has waited two years between Super Mario Odyssey (2017) and Super Mario Maker 2 (2019) and another two years for Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury (2021), while the Legend of Zelda has waited three years between Breath of the Wild (2017) and Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity (2020).
All I can hope for is that GameFreak starts getting their act together and taking their multi-million dollar franchise more seriously. Pokémon can reach the heights of Mario and The Legend of Zelda in its own way, they just take the time and effort to do it. Focus more on making an innovative game instead of a cash cow. That’s the only way to save Pokémon’s reputation.