For a franchise devoted to monsters that evolve into higher forms, Pokemon is pretty stagnant. While Nintendo is very conservative when it comes to updating its beloved games, it also recognizes when it’s time to do something cool and experimental, like send Mario into space or transform Zelda. into an open world masterpiece. But the core Pokemon games, the role-playing games that serve as the backbone of the entire company, are never so radical.

The Pokemon Company argues that because these games are primarily aimed at children (any Pokemon game will be the first Pokemon game in a generation), there is no need to over-complicate the proven 25-year formula. Whether you buy this reasoning or not, it’s hard not to feel like it’s an excuse for laziness. The #Dexit controversy was ridiculous and overblown (there are already too many Pokémon to begin with), but I think fans would have agreed to reduce the number of Pokémon in Sword and Shield if these games had a higher production value overall.

However, Pokemon endures as an institution arguably larger than the game itself due to its richly realized world teeming with fantastic life, a world that people of all ages want to be a part of. It’s a world full of potential for innovative and awesome gameplay ideas, but not in base games. Instead, for the Pokemon games that really change and get things done for the better, play the spin-offs.

New Pokémon Perspectives

This year saw the return of one of the most imaginative Pokemon spin-offs with New Pokemon Snap. Where major Pokemon games are criticized for being kid-friendly dog ​​fight simulators, New Pokemon Snap is fully committed to non-violence. It uses the bones of a rail shooter to create a first person photo safari adventure. Players take photos of Pokémon in their natural habitat without fighting for the entertainment of humans.

As a game about photography, New Pokemon Snap emphasizes visuals. And thanks to its relatively small environments, the game sports beautifully detailed graphics that put traditional games in the franchise to shame. Using the full HD power of the Nintendo Switch, the game renders legendary Pokémon like Lugia and Xerneas in all their majestic splendor. Watching baby Grookey and Pichu sleep in the grass is as adorable as it gets. New Pokemon Snap is a fantastic example of how free spin-offs are to offer fascinating new perspectives on the Pokemon world that RPGs just can’t.

Before creating New Pokemon Snap, Bandai Namco created the Pokemon Pokken Tournament fighting game. Using ideas from Namco’s own Tekken series, Pokken ditched traditional turn-based combat to let players play the action-packed real-time battles that we previously only saw in the anime. Who doesn’t want to perform electrified wrestling moves with Pikachu Libre or burn down opponents like the haunted chandelier Chandelure? Like New Pokemon Snap, Pokken presents pocket monsters in much more visual detail than we’re used to seeing. Of course, Lucario is covered in fur, he’s a psychic dog.

Pokken tournament

Other developers have also managed to put a Pokemon wrapper on a surprising genre. Pokemon Conquest mixes strategic monster battles with real Japanese story. The Pokemon Mystery Dungeon series makes the infamous punitive roguelike more tolerable. We have seen Pokemon puzzle games, pinball games, and racing games. Soon we will have a Pokemon MOBA mashup with Pokemon Unite. And while there are far too many Pokemon fan games to list here, one of my favorites from the time was an extremely clever Pokemon tower defense game. There is a lot more creativity in this franchise once you branch out beyond RPGs.

Yes in my backyard

We want Pokemon to be real. We want to have our own partner Bulbasaur, Charmander or Squirtle. We want to look down the street and see Trubbish, not an ordinary, non-living garbage bag. The best Pokemon spin-offs respond to our desire to see Pokemon as plausible living creatures, like real animals, and not just as a collection of stats for RPG battles. Hi you, Pikachu! maybe barely a video game, but letting you talk to Pikachu through a microphone is an incredible pitch.

Just look at the unprecedented success of Pokemon Go. It’s another game where the gameplay is very thin and arguably pretty bad (despite having some hidden depth if you know where to look), but it doesn’t have a point. importance. Turning on your phone, walking down the street, and seeing Pokemon appear in front of you and your friends is too powerful an experience for anyone to have a heart to resist. It alone justifies augmented reality as a new form of consumer technology. It’s Pokémon in the real world.

The film Pokémon: Detective Pikachu isn’t extremely a video game (despite sharing its title with another lovely left-field Pokémon spin-off), but it does offer that need to see Pokémon in the real world like nothing else. Laugh all you want about the unsettlingly realistic Mr. Mime, but witnessing an entire society where live humans and CGI Pokémon interact is what dreams are made of. It is Blade runnerBlade Runner for kids. Beyond the breathtaking aesthetics, Detective Pikachu the plot respects Pokémon lore in all of these little ways, from Cubone’s late mother to the implications of Ditto’s bodily transformation to all of Mewtwo’s elaborate backstory. Its characters take things just seriously enough that the world has real weight, however light, alongside wacky hijinks with overpowered pets.

Change takes time

Of course, the reason these spin-offs can take big risks that the main games can’t is because they don’t have to take the risk. They don’t have to support the brand. They can take their time as they don’t need to sync up with anime, collectible cards, and other merchandise that must be on a strictly profitable schedule. We get a new generation of Pokémon roughly every three years. Meanwhile, New Pokemon Snap was released 20 years after the original game.

Even though progress is too slow, innovation does eventually seep into core Pokemon RPGs. They now have 3D graphics, not 2D sprites. Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee incorporated some clever ideas from Pokemon Go into their remake of Pokemon Yellow. Pokemon Black and White had an honestly intriguing history that questioned the very morality of mining Pokemon for battle. And for all of its unresolved issues, Pokemon Sword and Shield presented the Wild Area open world that teased the most exciting leap forward for the franchise to date.

I can’t wait to see how this open world concept finally evolves into the upcoming full-fledged action-RPG spin-off Pokemon Legends: Arceus, which Pokemon game fans have been considering in their heads for years. Whether or not Game Freak can execute the idea, it’s at least promising that the team recognizes that taking ideas from Breath of the Wild is the drastic right direction for modern mainstream Pokemon games.

I have to spin them

Adults and hardcore gamers who play Pokemon should probably accept the fact that they will never be Pokemon’s target audience. RPGs will never ask you to seriously worry about esoteric mechanics like EVs and EVs or anything, and they shouldn’t.

But just because these games aren’t difficult and complicated doesn’t mean they can’t be fresh and original. If you want weird, entertaining, and unexpected Pokemon game experiences, don’t play games to catch them all. Play games to take pictures of them all, fight them all or run into them all in the street. To see the true evolution of Pokémon, play the spin-offs.