Pokémon lost me as a fan, but streamlining the series could bring me back

Back in the mid/late-’90s, Pokémon was what I lived and breathed on a daily basis. I was super into the trading cards. I regularly watched the TV show, even dragging my mom to go see the movies with me in theaters. My first video game was Pokémon Yellow for the Game Boy Color. I even ended up buying a Pikachu plush during my vacation in Florida one year. Essentially, I was as big a junkie as you could get. So what happened?

Taking a trip down memory lane

I think in order to understand why I stopped caring about Pokémon, we need to first understand why I was drawn to it. See, I’ve never been all that great at video games. But I’ve especially never been good at RPGs. I find the game mechanics of the genre to be way too convoluted and complicated for their own good, and most of the classics fly by my head as a result. But Pokémon was always different. Even as a young kid, I never had too much trouble playing the original games. They were light, straightforward and, as a result, lots of fun.

I made the rookie mistake of using my Master Ball on Articuno instead of Mewtwo, but I never once felt like the games were cheating me. They were too simple for that, and my childhood mind understood this. It also helped that, being a series on a portable handheld device, I could battle and trade with friends whenever I wanted, furthering the social component of these games. Pokémon, at least initially, never made me feel dumb for not understanding certain puzzles or objectives right away.

lapsed Pokémon fan

Gen 2 expanded the mechanics…

Unfortunately, I couldn’t say the same for later entries in the franchise. My frustrations began with Gen 2, which people often tout as “the best.” Parts of it are, dare I say, fantastic, but whether it’s the games’ lack of easily accessible fire Pokémon, the broken level cap system, the obnoxious grinding mechanics, or even the aesthetic choices in the games’ reimagining of the Kanto region, something never quite felt right. Gone were the simple mechanics of Gen 1.

The games never fully engrossed me after that. Gen 3 was largely about showing off the Game Boy Advance’s technical superiority over its predecessor. While it was no doubt impressive, at the same time it was the first generation of Pokémon games that had me resort to a walkthrough on my initial go-around. It sounds embarrassing to even admit that, but the games had way too many non-linear choices and options for me to grasp without help. I simply couldn’t have fun without second-guessing myself anymore.

I fold!

It wasn’t until Gen 4, however, that I gave up. Like previous generations of Pokémon games, there was definitely fun to be had in spots: The villains had a more elaborate objective than simply “steal all the Pokémon,” and their theme song was easily the best to date. Some of the gyms were fun, including one revolving around elevators. And the in-game visuals were attractive for the time.

In Gen 4, I actually gave up right as I was enroute to the Elite Four. I got to a series of bike-only trails and realized that, crap, I had no idea how to use my bike to grind pipes. So I shelved my game away for years, never to touch it again. It also didn’t help that I was already in my later years of high school at this point, hence I lacked the time and energy to continue onward.

I'm another lapsed Pokémon fan, but I don't want to be

Don’t be fooled by the map: this game is massive!

Introspection time!

If it sounds like I’m being petty, it’s only because I genuinely care. The fact that I can no longer appreciate Pokémon for what it is actually bothers me. It bothers me because the games were never poorly made and I respect the artistry that goes into each of them. It especially bothers me because I want Pokémon Sword and Shield to be as fun for me as the original games were all those years ago.

For me to enjoy the games again, Game Freak needs to simplify the game mechanics and make them easily accessible again. It’s good (to me) that the new games are cutting down the roster to a more manageable size, but they’re also adding special versions of Pokémon that complicate them yet again. Why not simply wipe the slate clean and have an entirely new roster with no connection to previous games? I’d argue that that should’ve been Nintendo and Game Freak’s motto with each successive generation from the start, but I guess nostalgia is part of the franchise’s history.

If it ain’t broke, maybe fix it?

I also think that the world maps need to be streamlined. This was an issue I began to see with Gen 4, particularly once I started submerging beneath the water and looking for alternative routes. There was too much open space in the game, as well as too many hidden paths. Some might appreciate that stuff, but I would like a clearly marked critical path to follow in that open space.

Finally, it’d be great if the games would also update with the times on more superficial details, like how each game only allows for one save state, or how a Pokémon can only know four moves at once. Or even how you can only have six Pokémon in your party at a time. If the games are inevitably going to get more complex with their world-building over time, then why can’t franchise limitations like those update as well?

Hoping for more

Perhaps I’m being a little ignorant; after all, it’s been years since I last played these games! There’s a good chance I’m letting nostalgic trauma get in the way of objectivity. But I hold true to my frustration that the games have lost a lot of their initial charm. They simply don’t hold my attention anymore, even if they’re still well made. I only wish that weren’t the case.

lapsed Pokémon fan

Reminder that this is easily the coolest part of Gen 4.

What about you? Do you agree that Pokémon‘s lost its edge, or are you still a fan of newer entries? And are you excited for Pokémon Sword and Shield? Let us know in the comments.

Zachary Perlmutter
News and editorial writer for Nintendo Enthusiast. Is hoping to one day publish a graphic novel or two.

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