One of the highest profile launches for the Nintendo Switch this holiday season is the latest Pokémon game. As per the norm, it comes out in two different flavors: Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet. Each version has a small selection of Pokémon that are exclusive to it, so if you want to “catch them all” you have to either buy both versions or pair up with a friend who has the other one. We stuck with the Scarlet version for our review, and generally enjoyed our time with it.
Pokémon Scarlet goes back to the trend of Pokémon games offering a more open structure and game world. After its tutorial (which will feel long to seasoned veterans), you can pursue different story threads at your own pace with the freedom to choose where you want to go first. The exploration element that made Pokémon Go so popular can also be felt here, and it makes finding some of the rarer Pokémon feel all the more rewarding. You’ll also notice that the world branches out over time as you gain abilities, like the chance to climb up and find new Pokémon.
But despite the exploration, Pokémon Scarlet feels like a rather streamlined experience, letting players auto-heal and even offering an autobattle option. It also, and this is probably going to be a big one, features co-op for up to four players. You can quest together, trade Pokémons and even head into battle together in Tera Raids against a powerful Pokémon. There’s room for improvement in the multiplayer area (many other battles can’t be done together and menu-driven interactions can feel clunky), but it’s great to see these games embrace the social elements of Pokémon more and more.
Another highlight for longtime fans is, of course, a whole new generation of Pokémon characters to discover and catch – and the fun extends to the post-game as well, which feels like great fan service. The same can be said for the ability to unlock alternate versions of the Pokémon through the use of Tera Shards – there truly is a lot to collect and discover here, tapping into the essence of what makes this such a popular franchise.
Not everything feels like a step forward though. We loved the co-op, the exploration and all the content, but Pokémon Scarlet feels a tad unpolished on the technical side – or maybe it’s just that the Switch struggles to keep up. Framerates can stutter even in docked mode, visuals pop into a scene regularly and load times feel long – and we’ve seen more visually polished games on the Switch than this one (such as Xenoblade Chronicles 3 or Monster Hunter Rise). At the same time, the ‘open’ world can feel like an illusion at times, as you can’t freely head into all of the buildings you’d like to explore – quite possibly because of memory limitations.
At the end of the day Pokémon Scarlet is a good Pokémon game that introduces a couple of elements that really push the franchise forward, while also containing elements that hold it back. If the game receives some post-launch love from developer Game Freak in the shape of patches that fix its technical issues, then it’s going to be one of the best and more exciting releases in recent years. Let’s hope that happens.