March has been a quiet, introspective month for me. With seemingly no new AAA games to get excited about until at least May (sorry not sorry Nintendo Labo), my obsession with the Nintendo Switch has waned. Surprisingly, the void created by this shift in attention has been filled, at least temporarily, by something I didn’t expect: Pokémon.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 22 years since the first Pokémon was released. I grew up with this series. But as I’ve aged, Pokémon has largely stayed the same, if not reversed its aging to stay focused on a younger audience the likes of which I no longer relate. But now that the Nintendo Switch is upon us, and Pokémon is officially evolving from a strict handheld to a handheld-console hybrid, my interest has been reignited.
Luckily Nintendo is fully aware of the market for nostalgia, so picking up a copy of Pokémon Crystal through the Virtual Console program on the 3DS took only a few minutes. I regard Pokémon Gold, Silver, and Crystal as the generation fo games that solidified the series as a personal favorite. Looking back, I can see that this is likely due to the clear attention to detail that the series’ gained after its first generation’s breakout success. But it’s the generation that followed Gold, Silver, and Crystal that I regard as my all-time favorite, and the nostalgic itch I felt after returning to generation II could only be scratched by purchasing a GameBoy Micro and an authentic, original copy of Pokémon Emerald.
Coming back to these games after so many years has reminded me a lot about why I loved the Pokémon games. They were not only serious in tone, but they were also accessible, which is something I really think the newest generations of Pokémon lack. Pokémon X, Y, Omega Ruby, Alpha Sapphire, Sun, Moon, UltraMoon, and UltraSun all seem to cater to a very specific younger audience. Perhaps it’s the cartoony, over-the-top animations and exaggerated dialogue, or even my own personal preference for the classic 8- and 16-bit art styles, but I can’t help but feel isolated by the newer games.
The older games, specifically generation II and III, feel as though they are for every kind of gamer, not just kids. I say this as an adult returning to those games, through I realize that my childhood memories may be clouding my judgment.
Nostalgia is a powerful thing, but I think that just like The Legend of Zelda, the Pokémon series could really benefit from a shift away from hand-holding a younger audience. I had similar complaints about The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword when it released on the Wii some seven years ago. It, too, felt too focused on the past, on a younger generation that they seemed hell-bent on handing all of the answers to any challenge they could possibly confront, but all that changed with Breath of the Wild.
The Legend of Zelda series did a complete 360-degree turn away from hints, hand-holding, and endless urging from Fi (your magical guide that lives inside your sword) to stop playing and take a break, and now seems to once again recognize the value of a challenge, of not knowing all of the answers. I hope that Pokémon does the same with its upcoming installment on the Nintendo Switch.