Pokémon is the highest grossing media franchise of all time, currently with 890 weird and wonderful Pocket Monsters to catch, 22 films to watch (with the twenty-third coming out on Netflix soon) and a whopping 122 video games to play through.
That cultural dominance is certainly good business, but it also means criticism from fans can get pretty loud, with the launch of Pokémon Sword and Shield being marred with backlash and controversy. The limited Pokédex drew particular ire, with some fans even calling for a boycott during pre-release.
For mainline games expected to usher in a new era for Pokémon RPGs on Nintendo Switch, especially in comparison with the somewhat-light Pokémon Let’s Go games, it probably wasn’t the reaction Game Freak was hoping for.
However, the latest Pokémon Direct announcement of new DLC – Crown Tundra and Isle of Armor – goes a long way to addressing fan concerns and moving the franchise in the right direction.
But first we need to look at what exactly when wrong.
Why the backlash?
The pre-release of Pokémon Sword and Shield received an unusual amount of backlash, even for a franchise with such an involved fandom.
Longtime fans of the series were particularly unhappy about Game Freak’s decision to not include all of the Pokémon from previous games, given the sheer number now created for the series. This decision would later become known, perhaps unaffectionately, as ‘Dexit’: a surprisingly fitting tongue-in-cheek play on words of Brexit, given Galar’s loosely British setting.
Online communities quickly worked themselves up over the smaller Pokédex, culminating in calls to boycott the game entirely. Social media sites such as Twitter and Reddit were filled with people exclaiming they would never buy a Pokémon game again.
The reaction was disconcerting enough that Game Freak’s Junichi Masuda issued an official statement in response to the criticism, clarifying that the sheer number of Pokémon now in existence (over 800) had forced the developer to choose quality over quantity – while hinting that, “even if a specific Pokémon is not available in Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield, that does not mean it will not appear in future games.”
Unfortunately for Sword and Shield, this criticism didn’t die down when the games were released. Players continued to have complaints, from the hand-holding nature of the story, its relatively short length, the quality of the graphics – including re-used, broken and lazy animations – and the fact that several aspects of the game seemed unfinished or rushed.
When love wins out over hate
Of course, this is still a beloved franchise,, and angry chatter on Twitter did little to impact sales.
The two Pokémon games had sold a combined 16.18m copies in their first six weeks, meaning that the franchise’s new installment had already outsold its recent predecessors in lifetime sales, beating the 16.17m units of Pokémon Sun and Moon, and the 11.76m units of fellow Switch titles Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee.
There were also several positives to be taken from the new games. The new free-roaming Wild Area and Raid system were gladly received, and a massive indication of what could be possible in a Pokémon game. Several quality of life gameplay changes were also made to improve playability and, for the most part, the new generation Pokémon designs were well received.
Not everyone is happy about the state of the games, of course – and Game Freak’s latest announcement shows that there’s plenty happening to amend this.
You, me, and DLC
Three months after the November 2019 release of Pokémon Sword and Shield, a Pokémon Direct stream in January 2020 provided a huge announcement: Pokémon’s first ever DLC, The Isle of Armor (releasing in June) and Crown Tundra (late 2020).
The DLC will add 200 Pokémon to the games’ Pokédex, including brand new Pokémon and even more Galarian regional variants, which should appease those upset over ‘Dexit’. Those who thought the main gameplay in Sword and Shield was too short and lacking in side quests, too, will get two more missions to complete – and there’s even a graphics fix that improves upon some of the worst graphical elements of Sword and Shield (the trees in the Wild Area being the main culprits.)
More importantly, the ability to add DLC gives Game Freak the option to do something they’ve never been able to do before in a Pokémon Game: they can respond meaningfully to player feedback, add in substantial changes, and give players more things to do.
There is an additional cost to purchase the DLC – $29.99 / £26.99 for access to both packs – but it’s not out of touch with the way Nintendo (and other publishers) and releasing content for flagship games. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild similarly had two expansion packs within a year of release.
For some, this was another cynical game studio trying to milk their customers for all they’re worth. But for others this was a genuinely positive step in the right direction and, as we’ve posited in the headline, the perfect response to the pre-release criticisms.
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This set of DLC has officially replaced the previously traditional ‘third’ game entry for Pokémon Sword and Shield, and arguably offers a lot more new content than you would normally get in a third, sibling instalment. You’ll also be getting it for roughly half the price of a new game, at just $29.99/£26.99, making it far better value for money.
Of course, some of that saving may be eaten up by Nintendo Switch Online, and a subscription to the new Pokémon Home app – which will also bring back the Global Trade System – but catching ‘em all and hanging on to your favourite creatures should help soften the blow.
Masuda said that Game Freak had a plan, and the incoming DLC looks set to address a lot of the bugbears that players had around Pokémon Sword and Shield pre-release. It might not be enough for some, but it looks like there’s a promising future ahead for many a Pokémon player.
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