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‘Pokémon Scarlet’ and ‘Violet’ are great games hampered by bad tech

Assistant Entertainment Editor Reece Hollowell loves Pokémon. The newest games' performance? Not so much.
Assistant Entertainment Editor Reece Hollowell loves Pokémon. The newest games' performance? Not so much.

In a way, Pokémon is a victim of its own success.

Despite being the biggest media franchise in the world, or perhaps because of that, every new Pokémon game invites significant criticism. Whether it’s the decrease in available creatures in “Pokémon Sword” and “Shield” or the low graphical fidelity of “Pokémon Legends: Arceus,” there’s always something to complain about.

Many of these issues are ones that likely could have been remedied with more development time, but given the multimedia nature of the brand, the games are on a strict deadline, relegating polish to an afterthought.

As a brand, Pokémon is a juggernaut; as a game series, it needs a shakeup.

“Pokémon Scarlet” and “Violet,” the introduction to the ninth generation of the series, represent the first steps toward that shakeup, building off the experiments of the previous few entries. The games are, for the first time, fully open-world experiences, modernizing much of the gameplay and structure while keeping what makes Pokémon special.

Unfortunately, they’re also an absolute technical nightmare.

Even before the games’ official release, videos spread online of various bugs, glitches and performance problems. Their frequency hasn’t been blown out of proportion, either: nearly every minute playing the game is spent looking at some visual disturbance.

For many this is understandably a major turn-off. Despite being the standard asking price, $60 is still a lot to pay, and consumers aren’t at fault for balking at games that perform as poorly as “Scarlet” and “Violet.”

It’s a shame they had to ship like this, especially because, under the hood, these are some of the best Pokémon games in years.

To be clear, they are still definitely Pokémon games. As much as the experience has been tweaked, they still hold true to many of the series’ long-held conventions — choosing one of three starting Pokémon, competing with a hometown rival, battling through eight gyms en route to a champion, fending off an antagonistic collective.

Where “Scarlet” and “Violet” shine are in how these established beats are implemented, no longer tied to a linear progression but all available immediately, with no set order in how to approach them.

The open world is the big selling point, and within an hour of playing it feels so natural that it’s hard to believe the games haven’t been this way the whole time.

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There are clear influences taken from other similar games, most notably “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” and the “Yakuza” series, but “Scarlet” and “Violet” don’t just indiscriminately steal from them. Rather, they pick and choose the most optimal pieces and work them into the Pokémon mold.

With the assistance of transportation provided by new legendary Pokémon Koraidon or Miraidon (dependent on which version is being played), it’s a blast to jet around the Paldea region, taking on its various challenges and hunting to build a completed Pokédex.

Paldea is host to 107 brand new Pokémon, many of which are welcome additions that add a ton of personality. There’s the three starters, Sprigatito, Fuecoco and Quaxly which all have worthwhile evolutions; the adorable Tandemaus and Maushold; the comically rotund Bellibolt; the hilariously massive hammer wielded by Tinkaton; and the samurai-inspired Kingambit, among others.

Previously mentioned legendary Pokémon Koraidon or Miraidon are also great, with their motorcycle-inspired designs that lean either prehistoric or futuristic.

The game also includes new renditions of old favorites, changing their designs and typing around to reflect the unique qualities of Paldea. This helps add to a sense of discovery when traveling the region while providing new opportunities for team-building and battle strategies.

Pokémon has always been a simpler role-playing game experience in its fighting, and this is one area “Scarlet” and “Violet” leave essentially untouched. This isn’t necessarily a problem as the battles are still fun, especially against the tougher opponents, but it would have been nice to see at least a few new mechanics introduced.

One new feature is Terastallization, which can be used once per battle by a single Pokémon, significantly boosting damage done by attacks of its “Tera Type,” adding some new strategy for when and how to best utilize it.

Terastallizing is especially useful in completing the three main objectives of “Scarlet” and “Violet,” each of which have their own unique battle formats and plot significance.

Story has always been present in Pokémon games, but usually adds little to their memorability. That’s not the case here, where the plot is surprisingly interesting, occasionally nuanced and full of endearing characters. It won’t go toe-to-toe with the best video game stories out there, but it works.

There are a lot of great things to say about “Scarlet” and “Violet,” but ultimately it all has to be couched in a reminder of the game’s technical problems.

While most of these issues will likely be fixed in future patches, it’s disappointing the games launched with them. That said, the games are good enough that it mostly overcomes them, as the core experience provided is still a quality one.

Here’s hoping the next games are given the time they need to shine, both inside and out.

Rating: 7/10