Pokemon Scarlet and Violet feels like the combination of the great ideas in Sword and Shield combined with the open-world approach from Legends: Arceus. Of course, this is a fully-fledged new Pokemon game that acts as the so-called “new generation” in the series. For the most part, the idea of a new Pokemon generation running out the gate with so many new grand features is exciting. An open world where you can go anywhere you want and take on any of the various objectives in any order. There’s also the excitement of all these Pokemon no longer being constrained to hiding in tall grass. For once, they feel like part of your adventure.
Watch the Pokemon Scarlet and Violet review below
Game Freak didn’t just slap an Ash Ketchum clone into the game and follow the player as they went from one starter Pokemon to the League. Instead, you play as a student who sets off on a so-called “Treasure Hunt” in the region of Paldea.
This Treasure Hunt doesn’t really have any sort of aim. I was just told by some people to go to different places and do different things. One task was to take on all the Pokemon Gyms scattered around this giant island. The other was to hunt down the Titan Pokemon who represent overgrown versions of existing species. I was also asked to take down a strange group of deranged students called Team Star who have had literally nothing better to do than create a make-believe group of bad guys that sort of represent the Team Rocket group.
With all that set in motion, the game throws you into this region with the freedom to go wherever you want to. However, while the game’s grand open-world marketing might sound like there are no limits to your exploration, there are actually quite a number of barriers in place. For starters, the Legendary Pokemon you get very early in the game which acts as your mode of transport is pretty slow and useless at first. This limits you to how high you can jump, you can’t even swim and you can’t fly. So you can’t reach most areas in the first place.
We then have the barriers in place due to the game’s steep difficulty curve. Some areas of Paldea have Pokemon that are much higher level than you. So you’ll go from fighting level 20 Pokemon to getting your backside handed to you just over the hill by a level 45 Pokemon. Not to mention the Pokemon Gyms, Team Star battles and Titan Pokemon fights also follow the same level guidance. This means it’s almost impossible to actually get anything done in that area restricting you to the lower-levelled areas first.
Of course, there is a definite sense of freedom in Pokemon Scarlet and Violet. You can technically go anywhere but the gameplay mechanics in place often made these trips feel incredibly restricted. I was able to venture quite far into the island and use an entire team to weaken a level 54 Pokemon and catch it. However, I wasn’t able to use that Pokemon until I had four gym badges anyway.
The game forces you to stick to certain regions depending on your level and it would have been nice to have the game scale the Pokemon and challenges around the region to your level so you could literally go anywhere and do anything at any time.
But this lack of real freedom isn’t a major problem because it gives you a great sense of direction. Sure, I could not go to some places but the areas I was able to explore were fun, filled with Pokemon and enough opportunity to level up. This is likely the biggest Pokemon roster we have seen to date and the combination of the large open world and this Pokemon roster meant I spent a lot of time fighting and catching everything in sight.
There’s a certain magic about a Pokemon game when you see a new species for the first time and can’t wait to throw that ball at it. Pokemon Scarlet and Violet make this experience even more joyful thanks to its real-scale Pokemon and the various species scattered around the world. I would often be sprinting across the field only to bump into a minuscule Pokemon that I barely saw creeping through the grass. I would often have to rotate my camera right down to the ground to catch a glimpse of these adorable creatures. The same thing can be said about the ginormous ones that walk about in the distance.
The excitement the game delivers thanks to its sense of discovery is unrivalled in the series and right up until the end I was still screaming “oh wow! What is that?” to my screen before eagerly jumping into battle. Pokemon swim, climb trees and huddle together in large packs. Some sprint across the field in a herd while the birds fly through the sky in flocks. They feel like they finally belong in this world.
But sadly, the world isn’t as exciting as the Pokemon. Paldea region is just a bit underwhelming. Sure, it is divided up into various biomes but it’s mainly just a bunch of hills and mountains slapped together without any real sense of discovery. There are hardly any landmarks that forced me to explore all the nooks and crannies and the few caves got boring after a while too.
Pokemon Scarlet and Violet is definitely pushing to have the Pokemon the main attraction in the world around you and it works until dozens of hours later and everything still looks very much the same. Other than picking up the odd item and TM ball here and there, it’s just bland and dull.
There’s also the obvious lack of visual appeal in the world that is hard to miss. I know we have been singing the same song now about the Switch hardware for a few game releases now but this game definitely struggles. There were constant frame rate drops, jitters and visual bugs thrown at me. I even had a few game crashes. It is also hard to get excited about the “not-limited-but-actually-limited-to-explore” world when it looks so horrific at certain times.
Granted, the charm on offer here is definitely not lacking and you’ll get over the visual hiccups but this isn’t a game you’ll show off to your friends as a visual benchmark.
Of course, the usual battles return in Pokemon Scarlet and Violet too. You’ll fight every Pokemon you walk into in a turn-based battle. However, you can also now toss your Pokemon out in the world and have it fight other Pokemon to earn lower XP. This makes for a great way to grind for XP by simply walking around and watching it demolish little weaker Pokemon around it.
Sadly, this system is also a bit wonky. You can’t manually target the Pokemon you want it to fight so often it would run into a stronger Pokemon in the group and lose all of its health. I wish this was a bit more polished because of how dependent I became on using this system to level up. I spent more time healing my team because my guy attacked the wrong target than I did actually earning XP from defeating ones.
Gym battles are a bit more watered-down. They are made up of horribly cringe challenges that have to be completed before you have your showdown against the leader. Some Gyms hardly have any side opponents to fight too. So you can’t get a feel for the Pokemon types you’ll likely face in the final showdown. One challenge saw me pressing buttons to exercise before fighting the leader. Another had me playing Where’s Waldo. They were just strange.
Game Freak has also removed the ability to grind XP from Gym fights and other larger battles. You no longer earn XP after each defeated Pokemon and instead, only get it at the end of the fight. This also means that if your Pokemon faint during the fight, they won’t earn any XP for the fights they had before they fainted. It is a small issue that only really annoyed me much later in the game when grinding became such a large focus of the experience.
But I do need to state that Pokemon Scarlet and Violet are still incredibly addictive beyond some of the issues I have mentioned. Hours went by after I said to myself I would just get to the next Pokemon Centre. I found myself doing all sorts of things in between. It is very easy to get lost in the world as you search for new breeds, items and places to discover.
The Terastal raids are also fun to play through. These fights are done with four players online or offline. I went up against cool Pokemon that Terastalizedinto new elements thanks to this very pretty new crystal gameplay mechanic. Of course, you can also do the same thing to your Pokemon during fights making the element you use much stronger. It will definitely make the end-game content more exciting as you search for crazy elemental combinations. I do kind of miss Mega Evolutions though.
Overall, Pokemon Scarlet and Violet might suffer from a few issues here and there but they are great games. They feel unlike anything I have experienced before in a Pokemon game and that alone makes it an exciting playthrough. Sure, some things just don’t work and there are some questionable mechanics at play here but there’s never been a grander, more exciting Pokemon game.
This Pokemon Scarlet and Violet review is based on a code sent to us by Nintendo of Europe. The game is available on 18 November from R1095.
Pokémon Scarlet and Violet Review
Story - 9/10
Gameplay - 9.5/10
Presentation - 8/10
Value - 9.5/10
Some ideas might not work and there are some obvious visual issues to overcome but there’s never been a grander, more exciting Pokemon adventure.
Exploring is enjoyable
Huge Pokemon roster
Refreshing gameplay flow
The visuals aren’t great
Limited exploration based on level