Perspective | After ‘Pokémon Scarlet’ and ‘Violet,’ we can’t give Game Freak a pass


Two new mainline Pokémon games are out today, but Pokémon fans aren’t talking about these games’ vast new open worlds. They’re not discussing the colorful cast of characters, nor the adorable starter designs. Nobody seems to be talking about how, at their cores, both “Scarlet” and “Violet” are fun games to play.

Understandably, the thing fans and critics alike are buzzing about today is how awful the games look and perform, especially on older Nintendo Switches. Just watch the video below; the whole game looks like that.

In our review of the games, my colleague Alyse Stanley and I noted that while the gameplay loop in “Scarlet” and “Violet” is addictive and fun, it’s undeniable that the bevy of graphics and performance issues constantly took us out of the world. Assets clip into each other, models pop in and out seemingly at random, and huge frame rate issues are present even during the simplest of animations.

“This game can be very clunky in a way that’s almost painful, because I want to ignore it since the rest of the game is so good,” Alyse wrote.

“I can excuse bad graphics once, but how many times can you excuse it in a series before you have to stop giving the developer passes?” I responded.

Review: ‘Pokémon Scarlet,’ ‘Violet’ are good games with astonishing graphical issues

The reality is, this isn’t the first time Game Freak’s had performance and graphics issues. After more than a decade and five generations of Pokémon games, Game Freak finally switched its graphical style from a top-down 2D viewpoint to a more modern 3D look. That transition hasn’t been without its growing pains.

“Pokémon X” and “Y,” which debuted October 2013, mixed the top-down 2D viewpoint with a 3D perspective. Upon release, fans criticized the muddy colors and jagged textures, so much so that several fan mods were created, drastically upgrading the resolution and textures found within game. In the next gen, “Sun” and “Moon,” Game Freak transitioned into full 3D and improved the overall color palette of the world. But fans had issues with the outrageously simplistic animations of several Pokémon attacks and how the jagged, muddy resolution remained. Again, fan mods and emulators were the games’ saving grace.

Next came “Pokémon Sword” and “Shield,” the first games to arrive on a home console, the Nintendo Switch. Game Freak came clean, stating that it simply couldn’t include all Pokémon in the games — a first for the series — because of technical limitations. This controversy, known as Dexit by the fans, might have prompted less blowback if Game Freak could show that its decision led to better graphics and performance. But players immediately noticed what they saw as lazy texturing — particularly with objects in the background — and found frequent issues with draw distance and pop-in from models, Pokémon and interactable objects.

Finally, there’s “Pokémon Legends: Arceus,” a game released earlier this year and Game Freak’s first attempt at a true open world, albeit on a smaller scale than “Scarlet” and “Violet.” Again, players noticed performance and graphics issues, with fans harping on terrible background textures — making a particularly big deal of the game’s trees. Draw-distance issues, random pop-in and muddy color palettes returned.

What ‘Pokemon Legends: Arceus’ gets right (and wrong) about open world games

Since the 3D games came out, there’s been a noticeable divide in the Pokémon community. There are those who say: Performance and graphics don’t matter. What matters is that the games are fun to play! Then, there are those who argue: Game Freak is way behind the times! These technical issues are inexcusable and take us out of the games!

With each passing Pokémon title since the transition to 3D, the “performance doesn’t matter” group of Pokéfans has given Game Freak a pass — which, to a degree, could be understood. Game Freak was attempting to evolve its series after a decade of stagnation. Some leeway was warranted. And with each generation, the Pokémon games have inched closer to what those fans have wanted from the series all along: a true open world experience, akin to a “Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” adventure. Alyse and I consider ourselves part of this group of fans.

But after “Scarlet” and “Violet,” it’ll be almost impossible to defend the “performance doesn’t matter” argument.

With this latest batch of technical woes, the games’ historically bad graphics may have finally crossed a line. Fans’ patience with the developer seems to be growing thin — and that’s probably a good thing. Even if “Scarlet” and “Violet” are fun to play, both are in an inexcusable state: They’re barely playable, with graphical issues popping up virtually everywhere.

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