The first part of Pokémon Scarlet and Violet's expansion is here, but does it leave a good impression?
Pokémon Scarlet and Violet: The Teal Mask launched last week. By now, you've probably already given it a look yourself, but if you're waiting to see if the land of Kitakami is worth your time and money, we've collected our thoughts on the first leg of The Hidden Treasure of Area Zero expansion.
Now that Pokémon has ditched its previous trend of releasing a "new" game a year or so after launching a new generation, complete with some post-game content and extra goodies, we're going to have to get used to these DLC expansions instead. With Sword and Shield's DLCs, things looked quite bleak. The content and new Pokémon on offer didn't inspire much confidence, but in The Teal Mask, things are looking more promising.
As soon as you install the DLC, you'll get a call from Mr. Jacques, inviting you on a special field trip. What are the chances that the kid who just saved the school and proved themselves to be an unstoppable Pokémon master would be selected for such an outing? Quite high, apparently.
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This field trip introduces us to a few new characters, but our fellow students barely matter at all. Instead, The Teal Mask tries its best to throw off that old Paldea coat for a fresh new festival mask and traditional Kitakami garb. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it is nice to break away from your familiar surroundings after so many hours beating the three strands of Pokémon Scarlet/Violet's main story. Despite these attempts, though, The Teal Mask remains at its core a very Pokémon experience. You'll know by now whether that's for you, but don't go in expecting anything revolutionary. As a long-time fan, this was perfectly fine with me. A way to change up my team, get my stand-out favourite Snorlax in the squad, and take part in a story that only exists to give you more creatures to battle and catch.
The characters in The Teal Mask are a lot of fun, especially the siblings from Blueberry Academy Carmine and Kieran. After so many rivals that are just friends who don't mind losing to you over and over again, it's nice to have someone who actually despises you right off the bat in the form of Carmine. You grow to like her over time, but it makes for a nice change of pace. The story of Ogrepon and the Kitakami festival is a predictable one, but if you're expecting prestige drama from a Pokémon game at this point, you'd best start looking elsewhere. It's quite a short adventure overall, but considering it's just the first leg of the journey that'll continue in the Winter, there's nothing wrong with that.
Besides the story, there's also the whole region of Kitakami to explore. It's not massive, but was bigger than I was expecting, packed with some new and a lot of familiar Pokémon to catch. With over 1000 creatures now having been made, I don't mind that we're not getting another 50-100 in this DLC. Less is more, especially when you've only got 6 slots to fill out on a team. As with the base game, exploration remains a lot of fun in The Teal Mask. When it works, at least. When the game is playing ball, it can feel like the Pokémon adventure you've always wanted, but when the bugs start and the frame rate drops, you're reminded that even nearly a year on from release, this game still doesn't feel polished.
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Another issue that keeps me from throwing flowers at the feet of this DLC is the difficulty. Pokémon is a game series that has always struggled with difficulty. With great quality-of-life changes such as EXP Share and from catering to a younger audience, the games have become easier and easier, which is fine, but at some points it's so simple that I can completely switch off. A lot of the battles with random trainers in The Teal Mask suffer from this especially, as even though their Pokémon are high level, as they're not evolved you can still obliterate them with ease.
Overall, this DLC is one that makes some good steps forwards, and has me excited for what's coming next. It's more Pokémon, which is all most fans of the series will want. But, it's still struggling from the same problems as the base game, which prevents it from reaching a higher score.
7 / 10
Fun little story, interesting area to explore, more Pokémon
Problematic performance persists, still super simple to get through