Today's release of Pokémon Scarlet and Violet marks the series' second mainline entry on the Nintendo Switch. It’s also the franchise's first full foray into an open-world RPG structure, following January's spin-off Pokémon Legends: Arceus.
Taking place in the new Spain-inspired region of Paldea, the title has a number of new ideas. In addition to the open world, where players encounter Pokémon roaming about in the wild, it allows players to tackle gyms in any order they choose for the first time, gives them a legendary monster as transport, and introduces new crystalised forms that change a Pokémon's type.
However, it appears Game Freak hasn't quite stuck the landing; while Arceus has a Metacritic score of 83 and 2019’s Sword and Shield are sitting on a score of 80, Scarlet and Violet currently has an average rating of 77 on Metacritic after 49 critic reviews.
"Scarlet & Violet are now the joint-best Pokémon since the Game Boy era"Alex Donaldson, VG247
In VG247's 4/5 review, Alex Donaldson said that the creature-capturing RPG is an invigorating experience.
"I like it just as much as I did Pokémon Legends: Arceus – which I described in that review as the best Pokémon game in 20 years. So let me say it plainly: Scarlet & Violet are now the joint-best Pokémon since the Game Boy era. High praise indeed," he explains.
"To be honest, I wasn't entirely convinced that Pokémon Scarlet & Violet would impress me all that much…Going into the review period, I was convinced of one thing: no matter how much I liked this game, I’d end up missing some of [Pokémon Legends] changes. But then something magical happened: I didn't."
Donaldson says the game strikes a balance between the series' traditions and its newer ideas.
He explains, "To give one example, you can now actually ask a Pokémon if it wants to learn a new move and forget an old one."
Alana Hagues of NintendoLife shared the same sentiment about how the RPG provides players with that familiar sense of adventure.
"It's been a while since we've felt like a kid stepping out of our Pokémon house and just looking at the world and savouring the taste of adventure. Despite some pretty significant technical stumbles, this introduction to Generation 9 nails that, even if it's not the new Pokémon revolution that [Legends] felt like," Hagues said in her 7/10 review of Scarlet and Violet.
Hagues highlighted that the ability to go anywhere and approach the game's narrative however you want conveys a bigger sense of freedom.
"You might decide to do all of the gyms first or vary it up and jump between the objectives, but it never feels checklist-y in the way some open-world games do," she said. "Instead, you're left to find things by happenstance even with every location and objective marked on the map."
"It's a huge canvas where you can do whatever you want and go wherever you want"Alana Hagues, NintendoLife
Hagues did bemoan the fact that, while exploring is fun, there are no noticeable landmarks or spectacles in Paldea. However she explains the region is still one of the biggest draws of the game and it serves as a big playground.
"It's a huge canvas where you can do whatever you want and go wherever you want. It's not segmented into separate zones like in Pokémon Legends: Arceus and only one area is gated by story, so you really can just go anywhere...once you have the ability to get there."
However, like many reviewers, Inverse's Jess Reyes noted that the RPG has some visual and performance issues.
"Character models [move] like they came out of a paper animation booklet flipped in slow motion rather than a AAA game in 2022," she said in her 7/10 review. "The camera occasionally flips at an awkward angle during battle, so you can't see your Pokémon or the opponent.
"The sky might look great, but the bland, patchy grass doesn't. And sometimes, when you emerge out of a shop, the camera will rotate a full 180 degrees, so you wind up marching right back in on accident."
These issues became a poignant subject throughout reviews of Scarlet and Violet. In Shacknews' 7/10 review, Donovan Erskine said that visual and performance shortcomings made parts of the unenjoyable.
"I found myself frequently fast-traveling to avoid performance hitches while exploring"Donovan Erskine, Shacknews
"I found myself frequently fast-traveling to avoid performance hitches while exploring and felt a lack of motivation to wander around catching Pokémon, as watching them materialize and then vanish while I was just yards away shattered any immersion I had," he explains.
He adds, "The only time that these games ran consistently smoothly was when I was indoors. Given that just about everything is outside, including gym battles and the Pokémon Centers, that wasn’t very often. Even the menu and animation loading felt like it took a second too long."
His review notes that he experienced these hiccups while playing his Nintendo Switch in both handheld and TV mode.
When considering the new game's strengths and shortcomings, Tom Regan's 3/5 Guardian review of the game offers a good summation.
"There's no shortage of good ideas, but they are muddied by poor execution, meaning that one of the highest-grossing entertainment franchises around feels jarringly cheap."
He added that Scarlet and Violet feels like a rush job for the game studio.
"For decades, Game Freak lived in something of a bubble, obliviously perfecting Nintendo DS pixel art in 256p resolution as the rest of the industry mastered high-definition worlds. Since the 2017 launch of Nintendo's Switch console, the developer has been desperately playing catch-up."
"It's hard to shake the feeling that you're beta testing an open-world Pokémon"Tom Regan, The Guardian
He explains, "Here, Game Freak draws up an exciting new open-world blueprint for the Pokémon franchise, but appears to have lacked the time and know-how to deliver it to spec. Compare this with June’s gorgeous Xenoblade Chronicles 3, which runs on the same console, and it's hard to shake the feeling that you're beta testing an open-world Pokémon."
Eurogamer's Lottie Lynn is more blunt in her unscored review, which (unlike Arceus) did not get a Recommended rating.
"The fact is Pokémon is a franchise which has the wealth - both in time and money - to fix these [performance] issues and, when they're ignored, it sullies the overall quality of the games," she explains.
Lynn adds that playing the game felt conflicting, "I like the open-world gameplay, especially the level scaling, and new Pokémon, but they're entangled with a region which, despite its size, always feels slightly empty, and they're presented in graphics we know are beneath the Nintendo Switch's top performance."
"If more time and polish had been applied to Scarlet and Violet, then they could have lived up to their ambition and been the expansive world many fans, myself included, have dreamed of," she said.
"Yet the Pokémon series has a schedule to follow and it waits for no Slowpoke."