Look, we’re all excited for Pokémon on Switch. After Zelda and Super Mario Odyssey, a mainline HD Pokémon game is probably the biggest play Nintendo has left. It’s easy to let our imaginations run wild – maybe it’ll include every region! Maybe we can free roam like in Breath of the Wild! Whilst it’s undeniably an exciting time for the millions of Pokéfans around the world, it may do us good to take a more realistic look at what to expect from the Switch generation(s) of Pokémon, based on the history of the series and a multitude of evidence from the last year or so. Follow, then, as we take a quick tour of what we know and what to expect!
It’s always important to establish what we do know for certain.. In the case of Pokémon on Switch, we can be sure that, well, it exists. At Nintendo’s E3 2017 presentation, The Pokémon Company CEO Tsunekazu Ishihara himself confirmed that a mainline Pokémon title – not a spin-off like Pokkén Tournament – was in development for Nintendo Switch.
We also know that developers Game Freak will be adapting Pokémon to the nature of the Switch hardware. Clearly, the HD power is a massive step from the visual capabilities of the 3DS (more on that in a bit), but the presentation also extends to how it will be played in a home environment; Ishihara, in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, said the following:
- “With the Switch, we see it as a chance to create Pokémon that goes deeper and with a higher level of expression. As a result, that makes it an extremely important platform.”
- “Right now we’re using 7 to 8 inch screens, but on a high-definition TV you can express a whole different world with graphics and sound.”
- “Until now, games were made as one for one person, but now you can go home and play with everyone — so how do we tackle these themes, and how do we make sure it’s not complicated?”
So, we know it’s coming, and we know it’s being tailor-made for Switch. This signifies a brand new creation rather than a port of, for example, Sun & Moon.
What About Pokémon Stars?
This idea is only supported by the ill-fated Pokémon Stars story that Eurogamer ran in early 2017, where they claimed an updated version of Sun & Moon would be released in the inaugural year of Nintendo’s new hybrid. The game would be called Pokémon Stars, and Eurogamer presented this as a reliable story and almost a foregone conclusion – in the end, though, it turned out to be incorrect.
It may well be that their sources were simply wrong, but there isn’t smoke without fire, and it is worth analysing their follow-up article in December that attempted to clear things up. Several reasons are brought up for why Stars didn’t happen – Switch was successful enough without it, the 3DS needed a big 2017 game, and the like. Most intriguing is this excerpt from the article:
“Lastly, while Stars had been planned and worked towards while Sun and Moon were in production, it never represented a true leap towards what a Pokémon designed for significantly more powerful hardware might be.
This had always been an issue, and one which would certainly have dampened excitement – both for its launch on Switch and for Switch itself, getting a fairly straightforward port of a year-old game instead of a fresher experience.”
This supports the idea that the plan for Pokémon on Switch (whenever it does come out) is for a new generation, a new region, and a new refreshed feeling. Yet, even the mainline Pokémon games come in different forms…
Gotta Play ’em All
New “generations” of Pokémon tend to be introduced with new regions, such as in aforementioned 2016 games Sun & Moon. Then, the generation is built out with sequels (Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon) or third versions (such as Crystal, after Gold & Silver), and remakes like Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire. If we look at the first releases for each platform, it seems to point towards a theme – always the start of a new generation:
- Red/Blue/Green: First Game Boy Entries
- Gold & Silver: First Game Boy Colour Entries
- Ruby & Sapphire: First Game Boy Advance Entries
- Diamond & Pearl: First DS Entries
- X & Y: First 3DS Entries
Furthermore, a remake has only once came before a sequel or third version – Generation 3, when FireRed/LeafGreen launched around a year before Emerald. Generally, we tend to see the first game, then the follow-up, then the remake (in this case, that would be Diamond & Pearl). Case cracked, right? Well, hold on, because the Switch is undeniably an anomaly.
What’s This? Graphics Are Evolving!
Nintendo, The Pokémon Company, and Game Freak have been in a cycle of developing for the dual-screen DS and 3DS systems since Diamond & Pearl in 2006. The 3DS was certainly a graphical leap from the DS, but the jump from 3DS to Switch? Pokémon as we know it needs to be translated from a 5:3, 800×240 resolution to a high-level HD quality, something that Nintendo openly struggled to get to grips with on the Wii U (which goes some way to explaining the software droughts on that system).
Subsequently, it may be unreasonable to expect such consistent releases for the Pokémon games of the future. We’re used to annual releases, but HD development may lead to a period of adjustment for the series. Call of Duty, in order to keep up the consistent yearly releases, switched to having three studios – Infinity Ward, Treyarch, and Sledgehammer Games – each on 3-year cycles. It may be the complete opposite genre-wise, but Pokémon may have to do something similar or settle for longer gaps between games.
Sun & Moon took 3 years to create, as the producer on those games, Junichi Masuda, explained to GameSpot: “… it does, kind of, fall into a cycle; an all-new generation game takes about three years of development to really get it to a point where we know it’s something people will enjoy it. Even with Sun and Moon, we had a team of around 120, but it still took us about three years.” That was on the 3DS, so what can we hope to expect on Nintendo Switch? One thing to cling onto for Pokémon fans is that Game Freak isn’t going in completely unprepared.
In a different interview, this time with Japanese site Toyokeizai Online (translated by StreetsAhead on NeoGAF), Ishihara said: “Pokémon has been about being portable, but now there is the Switch, which is a portable home console, so it has a bigger screen and higher specs than we’re used to,” He continues on to express that they have HD development experience through the spin-offs: “Apart from main games, we make stuff like Pokkén [Tournament] and [Pokémon Mystery] Dungeon, so I am thinking we should make games that suit the Switch, but at this time I cannot confirm any projects.”
Don’t forget, as well, that Game Freak isn’t just a Pokémon developer. They’ve made games for the HD consoles PS4 and Xbox One, with the amazingly-named Tembo the Badass Elephant being one example back in 2015. Game Freak programmer Masayuki Onoue spoke on the subject to Kotaku: “When you make one [Pokémon] title, you spend several years working on it,” He continues on to state: “So when that’s finished, I think people want to work on something new and come up with ideas for things they want to do.”
So – HD development may not be a big obstacle, but a new Switch Pokémon game will surely take at least 3 years of development. Good for us, then, that they’ve already been working for a while.
Could 2018 Really Happen?
Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon certainly bought Game Freak time on this ambitious project. We know that they are the final 3DS entries, but producer Shigeru Ohmori revealed to GameSpot that the most experienced developers were working on Pokémon Switch even then: “We have younger staff members and also veterans who have been working on the series for a long time, very technically gifted staff members. We want to use these staff in the best way possible. For example this time with Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon we can treat it mainly as a project for our younger staff to work on and grow and develop their skills, while perhaps the more veteran, established members of the company can work on the upcoming project.
This implies that development on the Switch game started, at latest, after the release of Sun & Moon in late 2016. Further backing this up is a couple of Game Freak vacancies early in 2017; that would mean an optimistic 2-year development cycle if we did see a release in 2018. Rumour is that Nintendo is pushing hard for Pokémon to be the holiday release, similar to the role Super Mario Odyssey filled in 2017, so resources and support won’t be an issue – either way, it’s a tough task to create a large, content-packed JRPG in that time. We’ve had quite a few hints that it is, nevertheless, the plan.
— Felipe Lima 🇾🇪 (@lipe_necrohunt) 15 January 2018
A new job listing, for example, has a 6-month timing that would match up well with an end-of-year release, and an e-mail survey listed Pokémon as a 2018 game. Additionally, in a recent edition of Japanese magazine Famitsu (via GoNintendo), game designer Kazumasa Iwao had this message for fans: “… In 2018 we will still continue to hype up Pokemon, so please look forward to it.” There is also one more particularly interesting rumour to add…
Now, this one is very much a rumour and could have less validity, but it is from the same source – PokéSirena – that was correct about Rainbow Rocket in Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon, so there is a little bit of back-up there. The rumour, over at PokéJungle, is that the game will launch either late 2018 or early 2019, matching up with the narrative we have followed so far. There are a couple of other specifics discussed about the game itself, but again, take these with a pinch of salt:
- Chinese Localisation of the Script is Finished
- No Mega Evolutions
- Z-Moves Stay, with Joy-Con Motion Control Support
- Plot Theme is Conflict of Tradition and Innovation
- Region Inspired by Spain or Italy
Some of these do admittedly make a lot of sense. Swapping Mega Evolutions in again after largely removing them for Sun & Moon would just get confusing, and the idea of tradition and innovation would be very relevant to Pokémon‘s first home console foray. Furthermore, doing the Z-Move dances with Joy-Cons sounds amazing. Please be true.
So, What’s the Verdict?
Everything we have gathered points to some pretty safe predictions. Firstly, Pokémon Switch isn’t going to be a simple update and remaster of Sun & Moon (as Stars may have been) – this is being made as a landmark Pokémon game, kick-starting a new generation that takes advantage of the power and unique functions of the Switch.
As well as this, we can gather a pretty convincing picture that the internal target is for a late 2018 launch, but considering that the game has realistically only been in development for 2-2.5 years, it’s easy to see it slipping into early 2019. Going by previous generations, we can expect a sequel or third generation afterwards – perhaps in 2020 – and then remakes in, say, 2021. Making things very interesting is that 2021 is the 25th anniversary of Pokémon; perhaps, instead of a Diamond & Pearl remake, we see another Red/Blue/Green remaster to celebrate that year.
That’s the speculation starting to creep in, so that’s where we stop, for now! Our next source of information will likely come at E3; the last two years, Nintendo has themed their presentation around big franchises – Breath of the Wild in 2016 and Super Mario Odyssey in 2017. How brilliant would it be if Pokémon took over that position in 2018? One thing we can be sure about is Game Freak and company are working hard to make it happen.