Pokémon Scarlet/Violet

Pokémon Scarlet/Violet is a welcome step up for the beloved series

We've been hands-on with the next generation of Game Freak's iconic RPG series, and we're impressed with what we saw.

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For me, Pokémon games are in a peculiar spot. On one hand, I still adore the worlds that Game Freak cooks up, and love spending time in them, but on the other hand, it is challenging to not notice the minimal innovation with each iteration. There are frequent new additions of course, but generally speaking I don't feel like mainline Pokémon games have taken a serious step forward in a long while. But that doesn't mean there hasn't been innovation, as the spinoff titles have been doing interesting things, including most recently, the more open nature of Pokémon Legends Arceus. And it's these innovations that get me excited about the mainline games again, as it really does feel like Game Freak is using them as tasters before making a serious generational leap. Jump to the present, and we have Pokémon Scarlet/Violet, two games that are shaping up to be very, very exciting, and I would know this as I've had a chance to go hands-on with the former for around 90 minutes.


First and foremost, let me just push this elephant out of the room. The preview build and experience wasn't the opening 90 minutes of the game. No, rather it was a little while into the game, meaning I had a team of diverse Pokémon at around Level 25, I had access to a large portion of the map, various abilities and moves for the rideable Legendaries, and could tackle a stage of each of the Paths available (a Victory Road Gym, one of Path of Legends' behemoth Pokémon, and a Starfall Street faction base). While it did allow me to get a good lay of the land, it did mean that some of the story elements still elude me, including how the Trainer actually comes across Koraidon or Miraidon (which does depend on the version of game you play). Also, I didn't get to choose my starter Pokémon, which meant I can't add anything more to how these three perform in battle and out in Paldea.

But this later starting point did allow me to get a good grip on each of the new unique features, and with that being the case, let's start by talking about Victory Road. This is very similar to what we've seen in prior Pokémon games. You travel to new towns across the world, visit the Gyms, take on the challenges, and then finally slug it out with the Gym Leader. For my preview time, I got to face off with the Grass-Type Gym Leader, Brassius, who asked me to first wander around the local town finding Sunflora, in a sort of very basic and straightforward game of hide n' seek. The actual battle was then typical, and saw me having to knock out his two Pokémon, with the final one even using the new Terastallizing move to become more of a threat. I should mention here that Terastallizing, while pretty, is very familiar and similar to Mega Evolutions and Gigantamaxing, and doesn't really come across as that exciting of a feature, even if it can change a Pokémon's typing. But anyway, once the battle was done and in the books, I was awarded with a Gym Badge, a TM, and the ability to catch Pokémon up to a certain level - again all the usual bits and bobs.

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Pokémon Scarlet/VioletPokémon Scarlet/Violet

Path of Legends on the other hand was a little more different. This saw me heading out to a certain part of the Paldea region in the search of a behemoth Pokémon. After a little bit of wandering, climbing, and gliding on Koraidon's back (which by the way is a super cool feature that makes getting around the open world feel both exciting and less time consuming), I found the enormous Klawf from one of the recent trailers perched on the side of a cliff face.

After coming into contact with the Pokémon, I entered into a boss fight, which is essentially the same as a regular Pokémon battle, except the opposing Pokémon's health bar is in the top-centre of the HUD and is much larger than usual. After whittling down Klawf's health, it ran away, leading me to pursuit it for one final battle, where the Pokémon used one of the rare Herba Mystica ingredients you are hunting to power itself up. It didn't really feel like much of an upgrade and soon after Klawf was defeated, allowing myself and a character known as Arven to head into its den to collect some of the rare ingredient for ourselves. While less of a challenge than that of the Victory Road path, it did feel like it had more of a narrative theme and baseline, and from it I could start piecing together the story and what was going on around Paldea. Completing this rewarded me with another badge.

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What about Starfall Street, you ask? This was the most conflicting of the three paths for me, as this tasked me with heading to a base of the Star faction, to first defeat a collection of Team Star Grunt Pokémon by running around and letting my roaming party Pokémon do all the heavy lifting. Here, you literally don't have to do anything except guide your party to their next target. There's no strategic battling or anything similar, you literally walk around in the open world while your party Pokémon run around like bloodthirsty hounds, sniffing out their next victim, and quite frankly it felt a little flat. Thankfully, the encounter was saved by a battle with the base's boss, Mela, whose party included a Torkoal and what can only be described as a highly tuned-up car. It was a very unusual situation. This proved to be by far the most demanding encounter of the entire session, and really made me think about strategy and how to approach defeating her team. Once this was in the books however, I was rewarded with a badge (surprise, surprise) and a TM, almost like the encounter was another Gym.

Pokémon Scarlet/VioletPokémon Scarlet/VioletPokémon Scarlet/Violet

I liked the Paths and the way they were offered up, as you could travel around and tackle them as you saw fit. And this is partly to the credit of the open world (true open world by the way), which is such an enormous and welcome step for the series. You can explore Paldea however you want, get into tussles with roaming Pokémon, pick up items and crafting material found around the world, and do so in a seamless fashion, meaning there's no transition into battles, you just fight in the open world and can see roaming Pokémon in the background as you do your business. It's what fans of Pokémon have been asking for, for years, and it's done well here. Granted, you can tell that Game Freak has to be a little conservative with how they served this up - due to the Switch's limited hardware capability likely - as the world isn't exactly brimming with detail and life, even if it is a step up on what was available in Legends Arceus.

The only time I ever noticed any form of loading was when entering buildings or the region's main city, which was completely walled and absolutely massive inside, otherwise there was no significant loading screens to have to worry about - even for Pokémon Centers and Pokémarts, which are now booths located outside and around the world. I will say that wild Pokémon tend to pop into frame rather suddenly, and you can't see them roaming around far in the distance, which is a bit of a shame. But Paldea is still as full of charm and character as regions before it, with a broad array of biomes to explore thanks to the inspiration it shares with the Iberian Peninsula spanning Spain and Portugal.


I did also get a brief taster of what multiplayer is like as well, with this allowing you to team up with friends and to explore the world without many limitations. You can ride around, battle Pokémon and trainers, take selfies with one another, jump into Raid battles, trade, and all that jazz, and it seems to have been served up in a super fluid and straightforward fashion.

This game really does feel like a significant improvement to the Pokémon formula. Not only in the new direction that it's taking with its narrative or its open nature that makes you actually feel like you're on an adventure and not a predetermined path, but also in some of the finer details. Healing Pokémon at Pokémon Centers now has a new animation, the effects in battles are a little more detailed and visually impressive, and the Pokédex has been tweaked to be less boring and data-centric and more like a travel guide that gives you information on each Pokémon you encounter. Plus, you have a little more agency over how you customise your adventure, as now there are no gender limits on character customisation, there are plenty of options to tweak your appearance (both in a facial design and in clothing choice), and Technical Machines have been tackled so you can now use ingredients and items found around the world to literally craft them at stations. It all just feels fresh and unique, and not like a lazy sequel that succeeds thanks to the nostalgia and charm this iconic series effortlessly serves up.

As you can probably see, I'm very excited for this game after going hands-on. It feels like Game Freak has used years of feature testing with prior games and then implemented it all in Pokémon Scarlet/Violet, to make for an instalment that is a genuine step-up on anything before it. How this will all shape up for the full game remains to be seen, but right now, I think this is on track to be a winner, and something that will put Pokémon back on top. Not that it ever really left.

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