Pokémon Scarlet and Violet review: Good times in a bad world

The Pokémon series has had quite a time on the Nintendo Switch so far. Sword and Shield is infamous for several reasons, the Let’s Go pair are still seen as cash ins to profit from Go, Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl were minimal effort and Legends: Arceus was finally seen as a step in the right direction, even with its own problems.

Despite all the outcries and boycotts over all of these games so far, the Pokémon franchise as a whole continues to truck along with record profits and mainline success it has not seen since the original boom of the late 90s and early 2000s, leaving many to wonder if series steward Game Freak even has any incentive to truly innovate on their games.

With all that in mind we now approach six years of the Nintendo Switch being on the market, and the second mainline games in the form of Scarlet and Violet. Pre-release marketing for the games together with many leaks have once again left the community divided, but what’s it like to actually play?

Booting up our copy of Violet for the first time and what we can first report on is some of those pre-release pieces of marketing which you see embedded on this page – the trailers. The trailers released for these games over the last few months showed a lot of worrying signs like low overall graphical quality, low framerates and what looked to be a general lack of polish.

What we can say is kudos to Game Freak for truth in advertising. Those who were hoping that the game would vastly improve before release will be disappointed here as the release version looks much like what we see in these trailers, on top of other problems. Just about every graphical issue you could think of is here: pop in, tearing, clipping, stuttering, lock ups… the list goes on.

The only kind thing we can say is at least we didn’t experience a hard crash. We had one or two worrying freezes that lasted several seconds but not one actual crash.

That backhanded compliment is the best we have to say about the graphical presentation and quality of Pokémon Scarlet and Violet.

As for actual gameplay the movement of your character and the rideable box legendries Koraidon (Scarlet) and Miraidon (Violet) is thankfully rather smooth and enjoyable which only gets better as you progress and unlock more mobility, though expect some jankiness, especially when the terrain becomes mountainous.

If you’ve played any of the Nintendo Switch Pokémon games you know what to expect with a proper 3D world you can explore. What makes Scarlet and Violet different is the true open world nature this time around. Gone are the closed off boxes from previous games or the one trick pony of the Sword and Shield Wild Area, as these new incarnations are properly realised.

Right from the start you can take off in any direction you please and tackle the various challenges that NPCs give you, in any order. Those who want to explore as much as possible will soon learn that some areas will be harder to navigate due to higher level wild Pokémon and trainers, together with difficult terrain, but you can sometimes brute force your way through. Alternatively, return at a later time with more tools to get through with more ease.

This is the truest feeling of freedom in a Pokémon game and it’s very welcome, with our favourite moments in the review process being simply looking around for new adventures.

This is combined by the fact that there’s no randomness or forced encounters at all. The wild Pokémon are not hidden in tall grass but are 100 percent represented by 3D models walking around in the world. Trainers aren’t mandatory encounters if you lock eyes with them, instead represented by coloured text boxes indicating they are available for a battle when you please.

It’s refreshing that Game Freak has finally leaned into the most enticing part of the entire Pokémon idea: going out for an expedition with your pocket monsters to see what’s out there in the wilds.

Unfortunately little actual thought has gone into the main way you interact with Pokémon – the combat and catching. It’s the very same turn-based affair we’ve had for the longest time. There’s really nothing new or exciting to report for what is such an essential part of the game.

The new Terastal phenomenon is the weakest nothingburger “mechanic” we have ever seen in a Pokémon game and we’re quite shocked by just how throwaway it is. If not for the icon in the battle menu UI we would have forgotten this even existed for most of the playthrough. For those who disliked Dynamaxing in Sword and Shield get ready to hate Terastallized content even more for its lack of effort.

Sitting down to reflect on our time with this latest adventure has come with the realisation that exploration and combat is all you can get excited about and, well, we’ve already covered it.

There is some very light crafting with the ability to harvest components to make stat-boosting sandwiches or new moves via TMs, but the game is so easy and resources are dolled out so often that we never gave these a second thought.

The story lines are also mostly forgettable aside from one in particular that we won’t spoil. The rest just has some good ideas but it just fades into the background, not helped by the fact that we’re in late 2022 and the most profitable media franchise in the history of human kind, Pokémon, can’t afford voice acting or proper cutscenes.

Once again the core tenets of this series are enough to satiate and the truly free world is very welcome, but there’s no innovation on display. No real formula shakeups or realisation of what a Pokémon game could be. We put so many hours into this game and will likely commit more as post-release content comes out and we chase some obscured content, but there’s nothing to surprise or delight.

The final bright spot is the art design, which is still really impressive. Even if a lot of the new creatures aren’t to our tastes, we can tell that a lot of players will find new favourites in this latest generation. We made an effort to almost exclusively use only brand new Pokémon, which is one of the best parts of any new entry in this franchise.

Does Pokémon Scarlet and Violet feel like a title that is at least ten years behind the rest of the gaming industry? Yes. Is there still a lot of fun to be had here? Also yes. Should everyone be paying the full AAA gaming price premium for a product that is clearly undercooked, grossly patchworked and held together with tape and chewing gum? Well that’s up to you.


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