Nobody likes Pokemon games less than Pokemon fans these days. I know, I’m one of them. I’ve been on the Pokemon train since Blue, stopping at every major station and most of the rest-stops along the way. The rest-stops are the spin-offs in this metaphor, just so we’re all on the same page. In any case, while I loved New Pokemon Snap and the affection it showed for all of Arceus’ creatures, my appreciation for the new games has been slipping for a while. Now I’ve seen the latest Pokemon cards, and that’s the last straw.
Sun & Moon were boring, an issue compounded by a never-ending tutorial and a cloyingly helpful rival who sanded off any possible edges the game might have. Sword & Shield didn’t make the most of its move to home consoles, but it did have potential thanks to the Wild Area. Unfortunately, this potential was built on in the wrong ways with Scarlet & Violet’s open world that lacked any direction or intrigue. It was still a linear Pokemon game thanks to the level gating, except now you could get lost.
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What defines recent mainline Pokemon games is a distinct lack of ambition. The bugs are a side effect, but the main reason the games feel so shallow these days is the lack of creativity. Again, we’re a ten year old in a new region, picking from three starter Pokemon, beating eight gyms and a team of bad guys, then becoming the ultimate champion. It’s fine to have a formula, but this has gone from a solid foundation to build upon to a locked cage with steel bars, where no ideas outside of what came before will be tolerated.
Mostly though, it’s the Pokemon themselves. Ever since Gen 3 at least, people have never liked the new Pokemon designs, and then over time as new new ones are released, we re-evaluate the ones that are no longer new. There are people out here defending Klefki, man. I don’t have an issue with how the Pokemon look individually, but in how passive they are. Pokemon just kinda float there in battle, occasionally nudging forward slightly when they make an attack. Shouldn’t things be a lot better than that by now?
The latest Shiny Illustration Rare Pokemon from the Japanese expansion Shiny Treasure ex (which we’ll see a large amount of next January in the English game as Paldean Fates) have just been revealed, and they highlight just what we’ve been missing. Pokemon cards have always had a lot more flavour than the games themselves, but something about this latest set has made me realise, more than ever, that Pokemon games are the worst way to experience Pokemon.
Pokemon’s latest cards pack way more punch than the games
Look at the Hero Form Palafin, for example. It looks mighty and imposing, like a comic book villain. The atmosphere of the card and the details of light sell this personality perfectly. In the games, it’s just a goofy design. Aesthetically appealing, sure, but it feels like Pokemon all think and feel the exact same way in the games. With over 1,000 of them, that’s a major letdown. I want the games to be full of character and charm and some unique flair beyond the names kinda being inspired by a real geographical region, but instead we get little cartoon animals jumping up and down, if the animation budget stretched that far.
It doesn’t feel like getting into Pokemon cards is viable either. The series has been running for too long and has too many complications to offer an easy entry to an outsider (what on earth is a Shining ex-Pokemon, anyway?) – that’s why getting in on the ground floor with Lorcana was so intriguing. I also haven’t kept up with the anime or movies for a while, but when I did, I wrote many times about how the battles and gyms of the anime completely overshadowed the game’s bland offerings.
I have a lot of time for the spin-offs too. With a smaller, more focused cast, each individual Pokemon gets to shine more. Detective Pikachu Returns was a middling entry with simplistic puzzles aimed at a younger audience, but in my review I praised its world-building and character writing most of all – a mainline Pokemon game could take a lot of lessons from it. At this stage, I think I’d be more into a PokePark sequel than a new mainline game because at least then I’d have tempered expectations and be able to see Pokemon be themselves.
Pokemon has the sales, branding, and characters to create all-time classic games. It did, once – HeartGold is still in my top five ever. But it has retreated into playing safe, expanding in all the wrong places with no idea why it’s even doing it, and producing the same game over and over again with no flair outside of a battle gimmick it’ll ditch in a year. There’s clearly a lot of love and creativity swirling around Pokemon, judging by all the Pokemon things that aren’t mainline Pokemon games, be it the TCG or things like Concierge. I just hope they can break through the forcefield of beigeness that surrounds the base series before Gen 10.
After Paldean Fates, The Pokemon TCG Needs A Charizard Detox
Charizard is the big chase card in almost half of every Pokemon TCG sets these days, maybe it’s time to give him a break.