E3 2017 was a big event for Pokemon fans, as it was the place where it was confirmed by Nintendo that we will see a mainline Pokemon game come to the Nintendo Switch. Eventually.
With that announcement, the time seemed ripe to speculate on what form this game would take (as if we weren't doing it regardless of an official confirmation). It could be some kind of extended cut port of Pokémon Sun and Moon, it could be an entirely new sequel, at the very least we know it's going to be a core addition and not just another side title like Pokken Tournament.
Other than that, without any kind of synopsis, trailer or screenshots, solid information on Pokemon's Switch debut is hard to come by and all we have at the moment is the rumor mill.
Here we've laid out exactly what the latest rumors are, and we've also thrown in a few things we'd like to see from the first Pokémon Nintendo Switch title. The first of these things is, naturally an appearance at Nintendo's E3 2018 presentation.
[Update: The latest Pokemon Switch rumors comes in the form of a leaked screenshot which can be seen below (via GamesRadar). The somewhat blurred image shows a trainer riding on the back of a Lapras though what some fans are saying looks like route 21 in FireRed and LeafGreen's Kanto.
Now, not to be absolute killjoys but we have to say we think this unlikely. Some fans expressed disappointment that the leaked screenshot's graphics didn't look like much of an advancement at all.
We're inclined to agree which is why we think this is probably a deliberately blurred image from Pokemon X and Y. It does look somewhat similar to X and Y (particularly in reference to this image) and it'd be hard to say from such a limited amount of visual reference other than the water that this image was captured in that specific route to the Sevii Islands. As it is, take this apart leak with enough salt to melt an avalanche.]
Cut to the chase
- What is it? The now confirmed debut of the Pokémon franchise on Nintendo Switch.
- When can I play it? It'll be late 2018 at the earliest
- What can I play it on? Nintendo Switch of course!
We don't have any kind of solid release date for Pokemon on Nintendo Switch but Nintendo's Q1 2018 financial reports have given us a window at the very least. A very wide window.
In the company's list of upcoming games it has Pokemon RPG for Nintendo Switch listed as due for release in '2018 or later'. Nintendo did say during E3 2017 that the earliest we could expect to see the game was 2018 so the fact that 2018 is still being entertained as a release year suggests development for the game is progressing at a steady rate.
There have been a couple of good signs that the game will come this year in recent months. The first is a survey that was sent around to Nintendo fans in January asking which Switch titles they'd be inclined to buy over the next year. The list contained titles already on the market such as Skyrim and Mario Kart 8, but at the very bottom of the list there was an option to select 'Pokemon RPG'.
The second took place in February, when The Pokemon Company posted several job listings for Localisation Editors. The job listings stated they're looking for people to translate "all editorial facets of video games and related materials" into a variety of languages, including French, Spanish and German.
Pokemon fans with a Nintendo Switch console have immediately started to speculate that this is for the upcoming Pokemon Switch title, which would be particularly exciting as localisation is generally something that takes place in the latter stages of game development.
However, it's worth noting that this could quite easily be for the upcoming Pokemon mobile title called Pokeland – a game which we've heard very little about since its announcement in early 2017.
These things are, of course, absolutely no guarantee that the game will be released in the next 12 months but we'd like to take it as a good sign that development is in a good enough place for it to be considered a possibility. There's no denying it'd make a great release for the Christmas period in 2018, though.
The story so far
CEO of the Pokemon Company publicly puts faith in the Switch
In an interview with Bloomberg, The Pokemon Company's CEO, Tsunekazu Ishihara has said that while he originally thought the Nintendo Switch wouldn't be a success, he now realizes his error.
Ishihara said that he told Nintendo that in the age of the smartphone, no one would want to carry around a games console before adding "it's obvious I was wrong."
"I came to realize the key to a successful game is quite simple – software with absolute quality leads sales of hardware," he said, "Playing style can be flexible if the software is attractive enough.”
What about his own company's software offering for the console? Ishihara offered what could be seen as a few small hints.
“With the Switch,“ he said, ”we see it as a chance to create Pokémon that goes deeper and with a higher level of expression. As a result, that makes it an extremely important platform […] Right now we’re using 7 to 8 inch screens, but on a high-definition TV you can express a whole different world with graphics and sound.”
He also suggested larger scale multiplayer gameplay is being considered: “Until now, games were made as one for one person, but now you can go home and play with everyone – so how do we tackle these themes, and how do we make sure it’s not complicated?” Whether or not that'll be split Joy-Con local multiplayer or something more online based, we can't tell.
As far as extra Pokemon-themed peripherals for the console, Ishihara wasn't able to offer any confirmation but did say he'd "like to think of that possibility."
Game's developers admit they're feeling the pressure
Considering the yet-to-be named Pokemon Switch title will be the first mainline game in the franchise to come to a home console it's understandable that fans are excited but this means expectations are high.
As a result, the game's developers have admitted they're feeling the pressure. In an interview with Game Informer series director/producer/composer Junichi Masuda and director Shigeru Ohmori said that though it's "really fun" to see "all the excitement for the announcement" it does mean there's "a lot of pressure" on the team.
Ohmori said that Game Freak is going to to do its utmost to meet a game that's capable of living up to these expectations but asks that fans don't raise them "too high."
Pokemon confirmed for Nintendo Switch at E3 2017
After a long build up of speculation, Nintendo confirmed during its 2017 E3 live stream that a core Pokemon game would be coming to Nintendo Switch.
Other than the fact that the game is coming, we know nothing else. Nintendo didn't offer a name nor did it offer a release date other than it being more than a year away.
The fact that the release date is so far in the future means it could very well be different from Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon which have been confirmed to be coming to the 3DS later this year.
This announcement means that the Nintendo Switch is breaking the Nintendo home console curse, whereby only side titles, such as the already confirmed Pokken Tournament, were released while mainline titles stayed on handhelds.
The Pokemon Company and Game Freak had previously said that they were waiting to see how the Nintendo Switch performed and whether or not it would work with the Pokemon series before committing a core game to the console.
Rumors have been circulating for a number of months about the game, suggesting it might be released under the name Pokemon Stars, but Nintendo offered no comment on this.
Main series producer, Junichi Masuda, doesn’t discount it and Pokémon Company CEO confirms.
In September 2016, back when the Switch was still known as the NX, Pokémon Company CEO Tsunekazu Ishihara confirmed in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that the company would develop games for the console.
Later in the year, Pokémon series producer, Junichi Masuda, was less enthusiastic with his commitment to Switch support. However, he did not discount that mainline Pokémon titles were a possibility for the Switch, stating that he was waiting for the console to be released to market to determine whether or not it would benefit from Pokémon .
Then came the Eurogamer report
Adding fuel to the rumor fire, Eurogamer published a report in late 2016 that said multiple sources had confirmed a new version of Pokémon Sun and Moon was being developed for the Switch under the code named Pokémon Stars.
According to the report, this third title was developed alongside Sun and Moon for 3DS and already had feature working versions of Sun and Moon content.
Development was said to be slowed down in the run up to the launch of the 3DS titles but after their release would resume and work would begin on new features.
The report finished up by stating that though the game had initially been slotted for a Summer 2017 release, it was then pushed to later in the year. Now that we're well into 2018 we know this report wasn't entirely accurate in terms of release windows but Pokemon Stars still hasn't been ruled out.
Then came the hiring call
Just after the Switch’s release in March of 2017, Game Freak re-started the rumor mill by posting job ads on Indeed Japan stating that they were looking to temporarily hire people capable of creating character models on machines like the Wii U and PlayStation Vita for a new entry in an RPG series which is “popular on a global scale.”
Now, there was no direct mention of Pokémon in this listing but it does seem like the most likely scenario considering Game Freak doesn’t have many RPG franchises under its belt that would fall into this globally popular category.
The line of merchandise
Nintendo announcing a line of merchandise titled 'Look Upon the Stars' was yet another sign that the Sun and Moon follow up could be coming.
The official image for the line which you can see at the top of this article is heavily geared towards everything stars and everything in the line is patterned with constellations. It's fairly heavy-handed in terms of hinting and the fact that the line goes on sale in Japanese Pokemon centers at the end of May 2017, just ahead of E3, has fan hopes high for an official announcement.
What kind of Pokemon game can we expect on Switch?
After the E3 2017 confirmation, we now know we're going to be getting a mainline Pokemon game, but where this game will be set and which generation it'll explore is unclear. Will it go back to Kanto, will it continue the story of Sun and Moon or will we see the start of an entirely new generation to mark the debut on a new console?
Thanks to a report from Eurogamer, the scenario that’s proving most popular among theorists is that Pokémon Stars will be a spin-off of the 3DS Sun and Moon titles, essentially bringing these games over to the newer console with some new features added (think of it as being the Pokémon Yellow to Sun and Moon's Red and Blue. We’d posit that Eclipse makes more sense as a title than Stars if this is the case, but that’s besides the point.)
We’ve already laid out exactly why we think the mainline Nintendo 3DS titles would be well-suited to Nintendo’s newest console but beyond our staunch belief that it simply makes sense, there’s been an ever-growing number of rumors that point to the fact that it’s what we’re going to get.
There is, however, the release of Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon to consider. These titles were the swan song for Pokemon on the Nintendo 3DS and they extended the story of Sun and Moon in an almost-sequel manner. Would it be worth continuing the Alola story to Switch, or will Game Freak commemorate a new console with a brand new region and generation?
At the very least we know we'll have Pokemon Bank to bring our creatures from past consoles and generations to our newest adventure with little fuss.
What we'd like to see
That's everything we know. Now let's get into the things we'd love to see from the rumored game.
Better graphics and animations
Game Freak pushed the Nintendo 3DS to its absolute limits with Pokémon Sun and Moon (to the point where 3D support had to be removed). That means Game Freak is ready to move beyond the limitations of the 3DS and we’d fully expect to see graphical advancements in the Nintendo Switch version.
The graphics and animations in Sun and Moon were already excellent, definitely the best we’ve seen so far from a Pokémon game, but moving to Nintendo Switch could very well allow for sharper character and environment models and much more expressive character faces.
A well-translated UI
For a long time now, the Pokémon games have been developed for Nintendo’s DS handhelds which has given developers two screens over which to spread the game’s UI. This has resulted in arguably one of the most well-designed UIs in video games with Game Freak making the most of the space to put interactive menus on the bottom touchscreen of the DS consoles.
The Nintendo Switch, however, only uses one screen which would mean Game Freak would have to drastically rethink its UI approach and there’s a risk it wouldn’t work quite as seamlessly. Of course, the company had to develop single screen UIs for Pokémon before the release of the DS but we’re not sure we’d like to return to this more crammed in design.
The fact that the Switch has a touchscreen could possibly help to balance matters, though, as it would allow for more immediate interaction rather than a return to using the directional pad to scroll through options. There's also room for interesting innovations using the console's modular controllers.
Make good use of the Festival Plaza
The Festival Plaza was an odd addition to Sun and Moon. It felt strangely separate from the main game and wasn’t a particularly good use of online features. This could completely change with the Switch. The plaza could become the perfect place for players to meet up and the LAN party capabilities of the Switch could see Festival Plaza become the place where an eSports community takes off.
While most people say they’re not sure they can handle any more Pokémon and that they stopped paying attention after the original 150, we just want to see more. The new setting in Pokémon Sun and Moon brought in interesting and fun Alolan variations on Pokémon we already know and love so if we can’t get any more completely new creatures, we’d love to see a few more instances of this. Alolan Vulpix changed our lives and we'd like some more of that.
The Nintendo Switch benefits from its motion-control capable Joy-Cons. We've seen them used in some interesting ways thus far which gives us some hope that they'll be implemented in Pokemon Stars. The hat-throwing mechanic used in Super Mario Odyssey, for example, could be translated to a PokeBall throwing mechanic and that'd be an interesting new dimension to the series that only the Switch could offer.
Now that Pokemon-specific Z moves have been introduced, it could even be that players have to move their Joy-Cons in the right pattern to start up their Pokemon's special powers. While we're not particularly keen on doing some of those dad-dance moves in public, we're more than willing to do them in the privacy of our own home.
We want Pokemon Amiibo support. There, we said it. Though Pokken tournament and Detective Pikachu have Amiibo figurines, we want to see even more introduced for the brand new mainline Pokemon game. Whether they unlock new accessories for mini games, new items of clothing, or new moves we just know these will be highly collectible and probably adorable.
- Now, where will Stars land among the best Pokemon games?