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After Palworld, Pokémon Needs To Come Out Swinging

The annual Pokémon Day Presents showcase takes place this Tuesday, February 27 in celebration of the series’ anniversary. This is where The Pokémon Company typically announces its next big game, and offers updates on its various live service projects. It’s usually an exciting day, and it probably still will be, but it’s impossible to deny that a cloud has been hanging over it for the past few years, after some rough releases and questionable business decisions. Now, with the heavily Pokémon-inspired Palworld amassing 25 million players in just a few short weeks, there’s a new expectation for the king of the monster-tamer franchises.

What’s Coming Out Beyond Pokémon: The Indigo Disk | The Week In Games

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To be clear, Palworld, despite its success, is not a threat to the cultural cache Pokémon has accumulated over 28 years. Even with Pocketpair’s survival game copying several Pokémon designs for its own monsters, the two are very different video games. Palworld isn’t a competitive RPG with an established community. It isn’t the merchandising phenomenon that can prompt scalpers to basically raid a museum to get a rare trading card. But Palworld is still a monster-taming game that doesn’t run at sub-30 frames per second and bugging out on the regular like Scarlet and Violet. So some fans who are fed up with developer Game Freak underdelivering as Pokémon makes the transition to an open-world RPG view it as an arbiter for Pokémon’s eventual downfall.

What do we expect at the Pokémon Presents?

Rumors of a chibi-style Pokémon Black and White remake are circulating, but there are also hopes for a new open-world Legends game or a Johto-based Let’s Go entry, as well. Each of those possibilities has its pros and cons for Pokémon’s legacy in the wake of Palworld’s success. A Black and White remake could appeal to nostalgia, but if it looks like Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, it would be evocative of what’s widely considered one of the worst games in the series. A Legends game would double down on some of the series’ best ideas, but could fall into the same open-world pitfalls the series has struggled with on the Switch. New Let’s Go games might scale back and allow a more polished experience, but those games are divisive, as they catered more toward the more casual Pokémon Go community and shunned those looking for a more “hardcore” experience. Any one of these games could be great, but there’s a growing tension between fans and The Pokémon Company, as it continues to underdeliver—and that tension has only been exacerbated by Palworld.

I have my own grievances with the Pokémon games, mainly because everything released lately feels like a proof of concept. Even Scarlet and Violet’s DLC was like Game Freak testing the waters for a better game. The Switch has been Pokémon’s “unmet potential” era, with each game introducing new ideas that are often shortchanged by technical issues and a lack of polish.No matter what The Pokémon Company shows next week, I can already see the tweets of side-by-side comparisons to Palworld, showcasing a game that looks better.

The Pokémon community is consistently divided on what they want next, so it’s unlikely that whatever the company shows on February 27 will satisfy everyone. The open-world averse player in me would love to see them scale back and prioritize polish and quality over scale, but that would likely be considered a reversion to most players—so I’d be happy just a Pokémon game that can run properly and look good in motion. Sure, that’s a low bar to set, but Pokémon showing that it’s learning from Scarlet and Violet’s mistakes would give long-time fans signs that they are being heard. It can’t feel like Pokémon is still spinning its wheels after an entire console generation of technical messes.

Whether you like Palworld or not, the game has become new ammunition for detractors. It represents the idyllic notion that a Pokémon-esque game can be made while avoiding technical hurdles and without the backing of the most profitable franchise in the world. While the company may want to celebrate how far it’s come on the anniversary of Pokémon Red and Green, to some, Pokémon Day is a day to reflect on how far it’s fallen.

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