Many longtime members of the Pokémon community called it the worst controversy ever. It’s the “angriest I’ve ever seen the Pokémon community,” said YouTuber TheJWittz. The outrage started this past summer when it was announced for the first time in the series, most of the past Pokémon wouldn’t return in the first home console release of the series. The furor started at E3 in June, and lasted all the way through the release of Pokémon Sword and Shield last week.
But here’s some breaking news: Most Pokémon players are content to simply catch more new cute monsters.
Nintendo announced that Sword and Shield sold 6 million copies worldwide on its first weekend, 2 million on the first day alone, making it the highest-grossing launch for the 23-year-old series. This blows away sales by Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, which moved 3 million copies in 11 days.
The highest-grossing launch statistic is likely due to the fact these are Switch games, $20 more expensive than Pokémon games on the Nintendo 3DS.
The anger wasn’t just around the exclusion of Pokémon. Some fans believe that Game Freak, the game’s developer, lied about excluding Pokémon to focus on making graphical and gameplay improvements. (Ultimately, the game is a pretty, if not particularly innovative addition to the series).
But the developers have also emphasized that culling the list of Pokémon was mostly necessary for maintaining game balance. In an interview with USGamer, producer Junichi Masuda says the team worked on new animations (which Sword and Shield has plenty of), but “even more than that, it comes down to the battle system. We’re making sure we can keep everything balanced and give all the Pokémon that appear in the games a chance to shine.” Critics of the backlash have pointed out that some fan concerns were based on cherry-picked quotes from Game Freak, while ignoring others that clarified the rationale for the cuts.
The “Dexit” (a portmanteau of Pokedex and Exit) as dubbed by fans, meant that monsters caught in the previous seven generations of Pokémon games couldn’t be transferred into the new Switch ecosystem. It’s a problem Nintendo and Game Freak created for themselves, and one they eventually had to address as the games got bigger, more complicated and the number of Pokémon approached 1,000 unique monsters. Not to mention, Pokemon’s marketing and narrative always asks players to nurture their favorite Pokémon, and create relationships with them.
Ultimately, Game Freak just decided that Sword and Shield needed to be the game to make the inevitable cuts.
To this point, every Pokémon game had basically followed the same formula. Sword and Shield changes things up by adding the “Wild Area,” an open field experience unique to the Switch game, but the gameplay is indistinguishable from games of the last two decades.
It’s not unlike the Call of Duty or Madden series, two games that reliably sell millions of copies while making incremental changes to an established formula.
Some longtime franchise fans worry the same fate awaits their favorite series, especially considering Nintendo’s reputation for innovation throughout its other flagship series. They want a Pokémon game that looks like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a critically-acclaimed launch game for the Switch that created a seismic shift for the 30-year-old series.
Others just want the series to be an ever-accumulating pile of features and monsters. All hardcore fans are keeping an eye on developments on the cloud-based Pokémon Home, which is meant to store monsters across various platforms, including the still-popular Pokémon Go app.
Since the 6 million sales figure was released, some on the Pokémon subreddit have rationalized the game’s sales figures by blaming a supposedly-uninformed general audience.
“It’s a negative trend of increased costs, simplified mechanics and reduced content. It’s got every reason to sell poorly,” said Reddit user TimelyStill. “But of course you’d be deluded to think that Pokémon would ever sell poorly, as people don’t really care about graphics or gameplay or content or anything like that. The core experience . . . is still there, and as long as people can do that for 5 to 15 hours, they’re apparently willing to shell out anywhere between 60 and 120 bucks.”
“Dude you gotta think outside of the Reddit, YouTube, and Twitter audiences,” cautioned Reddit user LoomyTheBrew. “There’s so many fans that don’t use those platforms and probably don’t even know about the controversy.”
Others on the subreddit simply like the game.
“Controversy aside, I really like the game,” said user FunkyJokers. “The towns are beautiful and I enjoy most of the Pokémons! Also raids and the wild is the best thing ever.”
© The Washington Post 2019