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Pokémon Scarlet and Purple: Ambitious, daring and full of failures

In the middle of a town square, a fierce Pokémon battle breaks out. In the restaurant-filled foodie haven of Medali City, a young trainer tries to earn the right to challenge the boss of the local gym. With a stoic expression, his Hariyama lands a flurry of punches at his hated opponent, turning the enemy’s hit points red. It’s a dramatic battle, but the young coach is determined to make it through.

Then, just at the decisive moment, an aimless local wanders into the midst of the battle. All the tension of the scene is deflated by his warm smile and relaxed demeanor. The ease of his walk and the soft sparkle of his eyes suggest that he is a man happy with life. Maybe this guy (let’s call him Phil) is out shopping or maybe he’s just returning from a stroll around town.

Hey, Phil, do you mind?  We are in the middle of something.
Hey, Phil, do you mind? We are in the middle of something. (Image credit: Future)

Contemplating his ample confidence, I watch Phil pace from one end of the screen to the other, completely ignoring the unfolding pocket monster battle as it continues its pace. Phil may not be at fault, but he has ruined Pokemon magic.

Building on the open worlds of Pokémon Sword and Shield and Pokémon Legends Arceus, the world of Pokémon Scarlet and Purple is the most ambitious yet. Packed with locations to explore and Pokémon to catch, you can take a non-linear approach to its main story, which developer Game Freak has broken down into three main quest chains.

Unfortunately, as promising as these changes themselves are, Game Freak has slipped quite a bit in terms of performance and optimization. Pokémon Scarlet and Purple is littered with frame rate drops, performance issues, and more than the occasional glitch. Texture jumping is common and animation speeds are slow in all but the least populated areas. The game is full of magic, wonder, and adventure. And it’s also full of out-of-place Phil.

To travel all over the world

The Pokémon
(Image credit: Nintendo / The Pokémon Company / GAME FREAK)

Pokémon has always been an adventure, first and foremost. In that sense, Scarlet and Purple captures a fantasy very close to the hearts of Pokémon fans new and old, giving them the freedom to roam the continent of Paldea as they please. At best, Pokemon Scarlet and Violet feel like a playground, seriously betting on open-world exploration, which pays off big time.

The new “let’s go” feature not only allows you to walk alongside your pocket friends in the game world but also allows you to command your friend to automatically battle nearby wild Pokémon, doing all the hard work for you while you watch. It’s a great way to earn XP, and it adds to the endless quality-of-life improvements that Scarlet and Violet offer. These improvements include an auto-heal button in the menu and a TM machine, which lets you adjust your team’s moves whenever you visit a Pokémon Center.

By opening up the world and removing the usual level doors, Game Freak invites you to indulge in a sense of mystery and danger.

By opening up the world, you can now enter areas that are too high level for you, which adds to the sense of mystery and danger. There were times when I dared to venture into high-level areas, just to see what was there. In one particularly suspicious cave, I wandered off the wandering land types in search of a path to a nearby city. I never imagined that Dugtrio could be so terrifying. The sense of risk added something profound to the Pokémon experience that I didn’t know was missing.

battlements

Your rival, Nemona, never gives up.  I love her so much.
Your rival, Nemona, never gives up. I love her so much. (Image credit: Future)

The big change in Pokémon Scarlet and Violet battles is Terastellation, a new feature that lets you encase your Pokémon in crystal to alter their types in the middle of battle. It has the potential to dramatically change battles, as allowing you to switch your Pokémon types on the fly is very important in a game that revolves around matchmaking.

Unfortunately, the usual one-of-a-kind gym battles are back in Scarlet and Purple, where one Pokémon (or even one move) can take over the entire battle. To add insult to injury, the Gym Leaders in Scarlet and Purple often use a rare ultimate Pokémon that they make common by therastylizing it into the intended type.

There were hints of how Terastellation could change the game, like when we fought the Elite Four, Paldea’s toughest trainers, and the opposing Donphan (a Ground-type Pokémon) launched a poisonous attack, ripping apart my unsuspecting type Grass. Suffice it to say, my unsuspecting Gogoat doesn’t stand a chance. While Scarlet and Purple have had far more moments of dramatic change than Sword and Shield, it’s clear that Game Freak continues to hold back when it comes to pushing Pokémon battle systems to their full potential.

An entomologist’s nightmare

An entomologist's nightmare
(Image credit: Future)

Sadly, Scarlet and Violet fall short of their potential. The foundations of a great game are there, but you hardly work on them. Performance issues are the number one problem in the room and with good reason. Frame rates are slow, animations are choppy, and open-world elements interact awkwardly at times. For every great battle, magnificent horizon, and wondrous adventure, you will likely find a glitch that will impact your experience.

In battle, the camera can pierce through the terrain, showing a jumble of polygons underneath.

These bugs and glitches aren’t enough to ruin the experience, but they’re hard to ignore. In battle, the camera can pierce through the terrain, showing a jumble of polygons underneath. Though rare, input lag can spell tragedy in battle if you accidentally select the wrong move.

Like the cute and sweet Phil, who carefully navigates a heated competition between two lethal super-monsters, these glitches and performance issues are sometimes as entertaining as they are frustrating. However, it seems absurd that Nintendo would approve a product so full of problems. While these glitches aren’t enough to rob the game of its characteristic playfulness and whimsy, they do cast a shadow on the experience.

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