Pokémon Scarlet (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Rudy Lavaux 15.12.2022

Review for Pokémon Scarlet on Nintendo Switch

Almost six years on from the Nintendo Switch's release, we are in the twilight years of the hardware, in deep anticipation of what the heavily hinted at next iteration of the platform will be. Therefore, as a tradition, the Pokémon franchise is back with a pair of new games, Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet, which are likely to be the last generation to appear on the original Switch. Mainline Pokémon games developed by Game Freak even on 3DS were criticised for not really showcasing all that the handheld could do. This trend has continued on with pretty much all releases, new entries, remakes and spinoffs alike, bringing things to a boiling point of indignation with Pokémon Legends Arceus. Those issues were of course exacerbated by the fact that the Switch is also a system playable on a large screen where visual blemishes are only made more apparent. The hope to see a change in the busy halls of the Pokémon kings at Game Freak in terms of graphical engineering continues but, let's break all suspense here, things are not looking good this time around either.

The action takes place in the land of Paldea, a region loosely based on Spain. The player's custom avatar is once again tasked with visiting a vast landscape full of creatures new and old and obtaining eight gym badges before facing the Pokémon League at the end, although this is not the only objective.

Early in Pokémon Scarlet, the protagonist will come across a weakened Pokémon by the name of Koraidon. After saving it from a swarm of Houndour, Koraidon accompanies the hero and soon becomes their trusty mount. A character named Arven will task the duo with helping him find Herba Mystica, mystical plants supposed to help him heal his trusty old Pokémon companion Mabosstiff. However, this will also help Koraidon recover his lost abilities. Each Herba Mystica will be guarded by a Titan Pokémon boss that has to be defeated in order to prepare a fabled sandwich. Koraidon will progressively recover the ability to swim, jump higher, glide and so on, making the environment more open to exploration.

At a similar time, Penny, a student at the academy who is being bullied by a gang called Team Star, is introduced. An unknown character by the name of Cassiopeia will contact the player on their Rotom phone to get them to take part in operation Starfall, designed to take down Team Star once and for all. This will be the third and last main questline presented at the beginning. Reaching the end of the main story requires completing all three plots, before the final area on the map is accessible.

The open world approach leaves the player free to explore as they please and complete objectives in any order they like, although each boss or opposing trainer may be using Pokémon that are too strong to be tackled early on. The flow of the game is, in that sense, very addictive and fun. Grinding is thankfully never necessary at any point and the quality level of the script is the same as can be expected from the series. The few main characters that Pokémon Scarlet places in the spotlight are likeable enough and well designed, nothing to reproach on that front.

Screenshot for Pokémon Scarlet on Nintendo Switch

Similarly with previous generations, Pokémon Scarlet brings a range of new elements to the table to keep things at least a bit fresh and interesting for returning fans. Among those, TMs can now be crafted from materials dropped by wild Pokémon. Likewise, Pokémon breeding now requires setting a picnic table in the wild where the current party can be interacted with. Additionally, perhaps because Spanish food is renowned for being quite delicious, cooking also take a prominent role this time around. Recipes are learned so sandwiches can be prepared during the picnic, and various types of food can be bought at different shops and stalls throughout the game. These can affect which Pokémon types are encountered, the likelihood of Pokémon breeding and other such positive buffs.

Dotting the landscape are Pokémon lairs called crystal caves, like the Dynamax dens from Sword and Shield but in which crystalised Pokémon lurk, or "Terastalised" as the game calls them. This time around all Pokémon can all turn into those crystalised forms that increase their overall power significantly, but also changes their type altogether to whatever the Pokémon's Tera type is. Tera types are not necessarily tied to the creature itself and can even be changed at some point by spending fifty Tera shards of the target type. The new crystal forms are nice enough to look at, but the fact that they are just the Pokémon itself with a crystal coating and a growth on their head shaped to represent their Tera type reeks of laziness. Gigantamax Pokémon in Sword and Shield had the merit of looking original, but Terastalised Pokémon have no such counterpart in terms of originality, no matter how visually pleasing they may look otherwise.

One feature that is a great step in the right direction is the multiplayer aspect, where up to four players can join one another to explore Paldea as a team. This is a great idea on paper, but has a huge impact on performance, even over local wireless, and this is in a game where performance is not all that spectacular to begin with. Progression through story related events like gyms is possible in multiplayer but other players are not visible while those actions are underway. It is possible to catch Pokémon exclusive to the version of the host player though, so this certainly is a worthwhile endeavour, and taking selfies with friends is something that will be very popular.

Screenshot for Pokémon Scarlet on Nintendo Switch

Unfortunately, while at least trades with friends locally and over online play are allowed where they were not in Pokémon Legends Arceus, there is still no GTS system in place so completing a Pokédex with the help of anyone but close friends will be impossible, at least until support for Scarlet and Violet is patched into the Pokémon Home app, but this is said to not happen until Spring 2023. The days of being able to simply complete a Pokédex conveniently from within the game itself, as was the case up until the seventh-generation games are gone.

In terms of presentation, the music is a particular highlight. The last few releases have had increasingly better soundtracks and this latest outing is no exception. Cutscenes take on a more cinematic direction with each new entry, which is nice to see, although the lack of voice acting still prevents it from really reaching AAA status. It is understandable that this may be expensive to finance, but considering that Nintendo and Game Freak are involved at least some basic voice clips and effects should exist to give the character interactions a bit more oomph.

Things start looking a lot grimmer from the moment attention is paid to the overall visual appearance. The open world itself is particularly poorly designed. Distant landscapes suffer from non-stop pop in, and the transition from the low polygon mesh displayed at range to the comparatively higher one at close range happens in plain view, rather close to the camera which gives the impression that the ground or cliffsides morph into another shape right in front of the player. Worse, pools of water in the distance almost seem to be designed on a grid pattern and the water's edge redraws itself when approached, which is not pleasant at all to witness.

Screenshot for Pokémon Scarlet on Nintendo Switch

How Pokémon Scarlet looks and runs is quite simply a huge issue. There is a dynamic resolution just like in Pokémon Legends Arceus, but this time it is scaled up to the Switch's set output resolution using a basic filter that avoids the horrendous scaling issues seen in its aforementioned predecessor. This dynamic resolution system in place would under normal circumstances help the game meet its target performance level of a capped 30FPS, which it largely did in Pokémon Legends Arceus. In Pokémon Scarlet, however, this is not the case. Dips in performance are frequent, despite the visuals not really being that impressive, at least on a purely technical level. This one avoids, at least most of the time, the barren appearance of distant landscapes by keeping the environments populated with basic objects even at a longer distance but object pop in is not avoided at all. At time of writing, the game is on version 1.1.0 and has seen one patch update since launch which supposedly fixes some things but after many hours spent on this version, no difference was noticed.

These are many of the same issues that were brought up in our review of Pokémon Legends Arceus, and it is painful to have to bring up again the same complaints as last time but those simply can't be overlooked. The trend with early feedbacks on the game however shows how mainstream those concerns have now become, and they are no longer the sole province of more technically inclined reviewers. This is a good thing as, short of sales declining drastically enough to make them notice that this cannot continue, at least an increasingly big outcry from fans is likely to reach the ears of some people at either Game Freak, Nintendo or the Pokémon Company that would initiate a change internally and hopefully kickstart more investment in graphical engineering for whatever the next entry will be on the next generation of hardware.

Pokémon is a flagship franchise for Nintendo, a repeated success that keeps on giving financially for all parties involved and this repeated poor showing of technical prowess simply cannot go on and the more people complain about it, hopefully the more likely it is that some change will happen. Naturally only the best experience possible is desired, and given all that the fans have given to their creators and the continued sales success of the series, nobody in their right mind would think that it is too much to ask.

Screenshot for Pokémon Scarlet on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

6/10
Rated 6 out of 10

Good

Pokémon Scarlet is as fun as the franchise has always been, no one can deny that. The new Pokémon creatures are endearing and the series still manages to create new and fun ways to get the player invested in their Pokémon training and catching sessions. As with Pokémon Legends Arceus before it however, this is all marred by a level of technical mastery that is downright inexcusable. Not only is the game still not quite up to the level of something like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild released over five years ago on the same system, but it is, at least at time of writing, riddled with visual glitches and performance issues. It looks downright unfinished at times. This is simply intolerable. Therefore, it is impossible to give this a better score in good conscience as a point has to be made once and for all that things need to change going forward.

Review copy provided by Nintendo Europe

Developer

Game Freak

Publisher

Nintendo

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  6/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now    Also on Also on Nintendo eShop

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