Game Review: Is Pokémon Scarlet A Bad Game?

Developer: Nintendo. Game Freak. The Pokémon Company.

Release Date: November 18, 2022

Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch 

Price: $59.99 USD

Introduction 

For about as long as I could remember, I’ve played Pokémon games as they’ve come out. Throughout the Game Boy and Nintendo DS versions, I’ve stayed faithful to the franchise.  They were the only games I played on the Nintendo 3DS and the main reason I bought a Switch. 

I understand why Pokémon: Sword and Shield had such a bad reputation. The graphics could have been better; even for Pokémon standards, and the story line was rushed. It felt flat and had little to no substance. 

The Pokémon Legends: Arceus came along, and I fell in love. An attempt at an open world game was a slightly foreign concept to me. Until that point, I hadn’t played a lot that gave you the freedom I got here. 

It was a shock to see them announce another massive release. I remember watching the trailer debut. I was in line with some friends for Velocicoaster at Universal Orlando, and we crowded around the phone to see them announce the new game: Pokemon Scarlet and Violet

Everything about the game sounded terrific, but still, in the back of my mind, I was confident they’d rushed this far too much. After playing through it, I discovered that I was right. But this article addresses whether the game is as bad as everyone says. 

The game released to a lot of negative feedback. It was so bad, I went in thinking the game was worse than it actually was. I’ll admit, it has its flaws. But I think it deserves more love than it does. In this review, I will specifically speak about Pokemon Scarlet.

SYNOPSIS

As a student at the Naranja Academy, you are sent out to find your treasure. This adventure will take you along three different story lines. In one, you search all over Paldea for Titans and their Herba Mystica. In another called Starfall Street, you have been tasked with helping take down a team of problem students. And in the third, you are encouraged by your neighbor to take on the Gym Challenge and become a champion in Victory Road. 

All three of these stories fold into one as you finally get to delve into the mystery that is the Great Crater of Paldea. 

Story 

Pokémon Scarlet has provided the most enjoyable story for me in a long time. I loved chasing the three unique paths. Even working your way to becoming Champion was surprisingly refreshing. 

Starfall Street was different from what I expected. This complex story line had me conflicted occasionally. For the first time, a Pokémon game had me wondering if I was doing the right thing by taking down Team Star. Sadly, thier tale is all too familiar to us all, and I’m sure a lot of us felt we could relate. 

I fell in love the Starfall Street path, partially for its unique take on a Pokémon trope, what it revealed and how I related to that, and because you could feel the love the developers gave in turning the traditional “evil team” trope into something refreshing, heartbreaking, and wonderful. 

It was impressive that the three paths seemed to be distinct from each other–more so than simply increasing their difficulty levels the further you get. As you wrap up the last of the three story lines, they come crashing together. All three have given you what you need to face the final story line and to uncover the mystery within The Great Crater of Paldea.

I was given the heads up that this was the endgame area. Otherwise, I would have given into my impulse to run right to it. After all, you don’t grey out a large chunk of the map and expect me to not be curious. 

A unique thing they did for Victory Road was providing the Gym Leaders day jobs. It’s a little touch, but I honestly appreciate it. It gives depth to their personalities and gives them a story within the story of your journey to becoming Champion. While collecting all the badges, you also get to collect all their stories. 

Overall, this was the most enjoyable exploration of a story in years. The team that put this together was passionate about the franchise. Despite the time restraints and the utter lack of people on staff, the developers put their heart and soul into a compelling set of stories that led to a conclusion that left me thinking. It was that it was bad, but it was through provoking and more emotional than I’ve come to expect from the franchise. 

ANALYSIS

Gameplay

Pokémon Legends: Arceus walked so that these games could try to run. The open world is expansive, and they offer creative  ways to travel on different terrain. There’s no shortage of ways to explore this world, from snow to a desert to mountains. 

When they say that you are free to chose what you do, they mean it. You are shoved out into the world with a couple locations bookmarked on your map and a wide open region to explore. 

Confession. I got turned around at one point and mixed up as what was the best route to take. As a result, I wandered into a level where I was severely under where I should have been. When I found the correct route, I was then over leveled for a bit. It did manage to even out by the end. 

I am so glad that the feature of seeing what Pokémon are out and about near you seems to be here to stay. This game seemed better at showing off how big or small Pokémon are compared to Pokémon: Sword and Shield. It also seems a hair less touchy regarding your approach compared to Pokémon Legends: Arceus. 

Credit: Nintendo

In Paldea, there are there types of glowing objects. One represents items, which glow red and make it easier to spot. As someone who doesn’t have the greatest eyesight, I really appreciated that touch. 

Secondly, Tera raid battles are lit up with a beaming light that reaches into the sky. You go up to the Tera crystal and enter the battle. I didn’t try to fight with online mode, but that is an option.

Even going in solo, Pokemon Scarlet provides NPCs to help you along the way. Going this route means you’re doing the heavy lifting–unless you luck out with an NPC’c Pokemon that had the advantaged type. 

Credit: Nintendo

Up to four people face off against a boosted Terastal Pokémon. There is a timer as you and your allies battle against it. I ran close but never out of time, but I’m assuming that if you do you just lose out on some of the rewards. 

When the raid is done, you have the chance to catch the Pokémon. You can chuck whatever ball you want. I tended to use regular Pokéballs for this and never failed to catch one, saving my better balls for harder to catch Pokémon in the wild. 

The third are Pokémon who automatically terastallize upon starting the battle. You have to knock their health down until they lose their Tera status before trying to catch them. It should also be noted that you may run into Pokémon who are a higher level than the ones around them. That was another lesson I learned the hard way…

Which leads into a discussion about terastallizing your Pokémon. I’m still torn on where I stand with this mechanic. If you are battling with a Pokémon whose best moves match their tera type, then this can be an excellent bonus push at the end of a rough battle. 

If they don’t, while there are slight stat boosts, it’s not enough to compensate. Compared to some of the special effects other regions have had, this one wasn’t that bad. 

Each gym leader also uses a Tera Orb to terastallize one Pokemon into their specialty type. That was a fun twist that kept me on my toes the first few times. 


Path of Legends is used as a tool to upgrade Koraidon. This allows him to have new and different skills which will serve you well in later areas of the region. This is something that came over from Pokémon Legends: Arceus, and I love that they used this system. 

One thing I wish had carried over from Pokémon Legends: Arceus was the ability to sneak around and catch Pokémon outside of battle. Alas, while they are out and about and you can see who’s coming, you must engage in battle. 

Of course, how well Pokémon respond to you was tied to the Victory Road storyline. In the face of so many new options, this felt like something familiar and refreshing. Gym Leaders were the most challenging I’ve seen them in close to a decade. 

An addition to this game is the fact that you take classes. There are six subjects: biology, history, math, home ec, languages, and battle techniques. Each one has a series of classes, a midterm, and a final. 

But most importantly, this is one of the best places to get hints at what awaits you at the end of the game. It unlocks dialogue with teachers. All six of the main teachers have a small storyline tied to them that sends you seeking them out throughout the castle. 


Now, let’s talk about battling. 

Credit: Nintendo

They finally created battle animations, though this is a place where I genuinely wish they’d spend more time. Some of them are generic, turning your Pokémon into a formless blob as it completes the move. Others are customized to Pokémon.

Back when I played early games in the franchise, it was easy for me to keep up with who was weak and strong to what. With the addition of so many types and changing weaknesses from what they once were, I have to rely on a guide to remind me. 

This came back to bite me more than once in the game. 

I’m grateful for the fact that they have put in how a move will affect the Pokémon you’re facing. It’s a handy tool for the franchise’s younger fans or for people like me who can’t seem to keep it straight these days. 

This game tested me more than others in this franchise. I lost a gym battle. My rival beat me a few times, and the final battle destroyed me until I figured out how to beat it. 

I loved every second of it. 

For years, I’ve been going through with minimal effort, but this game made me earn my wins at times. It was also the first time I felt the need to swap my team around to be more competitive. Usually, I power through with whatever catches my fancy and have little to no problems. 

But this made me work for what victories I got. It made me truly consider types, and moves, and weather conditions, and levels. Even when I went into end games under leveled, I could still get my way through relatively unscathed.

At endgame, I was pushed and challenged every step of the way. I also did appreciate that the big end game crisis doesn’t happen until you complete the other three story lines. 

Graphics

Even by Pokémon standards, the graphics are rough. If it were the traditional problems, I’d be able to overlook it, and the rating at the end of this review would’ve been higher. 

But this game did two things that drove me up the wall. 

First, they didn’t design interiors for any of the shops. I would have even been okay if they were all identical to each other. As a result, I rarely took advantage of the items in the shops as encountering them ruined part of the experience for me. 

The second was that some buildings didn’t design all four walls. When you’re outside, you can turn the camera wherever you want for the best shot for you. But in buildings, it’s fixed. I’m aware that it was that way in a lot of games. But, in those, you didn’t have the freedom of camera movement you have here. 

Most everything outside these two main points was par for the course for Pokémon. Would I like them to go outside the box? Of course. But with so few people and so little time, I know that’s not happening any time soon. But more on that in a bit. 

I didn’t experience the number of glitches I saw online. That means I got a vastly different experience compared to people who were plagued with issues along the way. I saw the comments and prepared for the worst, only to find things mostly on par with what I expected from a Pokémon game. I can’t tell you why or how I was able to avoid them.

Maybe someday they’ll animate trees and grass better. But with the aforementioned time crunch, I think they did the best they could. 

Multiplayer Experience

I found it lacking. 

When they showed off this feature in trailers, it seemed like you would be able to do raids and run around the world together–which is partially true. 

To participate in raids with friends, you have to launch from the same menu you launch a solo experience. You tell it to start with a team, and it provides a code you can give to friends. While I saw this feature, I also expected the option to join when I ported over to my little brother’s game. Instead, him, my sister-in-law, and I discovered that he could go into raids and leave us wandering around. 

Outside of going on a picnic and making sandwiches together, there isn’t a whole lot you can do together. Honestly, we wandered off and did our own thing within the same game. We were in the same room so more happened out of the game than in. 

Development

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. It was released far too quickly. 

This game only spent three years in development, and most of that was concurrent with Pokémon Legends: Arceus.  That means that a small team was working double time, triple if you include Pokémon Shining Diamond and Brilliant Pearl. 

Compare that to Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin which spent closer to five years in development. While their team was also small, they weren’t pulled in as many directions as Game Freak pulled this team.

What boosted the sales of the latest iteration of Pokémon was brand recognition more than anything. 

And because The Pokémon Company puts such a rush on these games, Pokémon hasn’t been innovative, and I have stopped expecting them to be.

The problem with this is that they are not the only name in the game of turned base monster fighting RPGs anymore. And if they don’t step up soon, they may find that their place at the top is soon threatened. 

Pushing game developers to meet unrealistic deadlines, as was the case here, is completely unacceptable and even abusive. I honestly wonder when this team slept in the last three years. The Pokémon Company needs to wake up to the reality that good games take time. And they need to do it before someone comes along and snatches the top spot out of their hands. 


Final Score

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I debated this rating for a long time. It changed a few times even as I typed this out. But I chose to give this 3.5/5. 

Despite what I’ve said above, I did love this game. It was the most fun I’ve had playing a Pokémon game in a long time. 

It does have flaws, and that’s solely because it was rushed. I wish the developers had been given more time to fully flesh this game out–to let the passion I see in the stories also be seen in how the world around it looks. 

In their rush for the cash flow that would come from a new Pokémon title, The Pokémon Company released  an unfinished game with a fair amount of problems. 

So, is this game as bad as a lot of fans and critics say it is? Honestly, the answer is yes and no. I was fortunate enough not to experience the glitches others did. In that sense, I was able to ignore some of the problems. 

It’s a shame that some of the best writing we’ve seen from Pokémon in years was paired with a game that was rushed through development and not given the time to develop that it deserved. 

Have you played Pokemon Scarlet or Violet? What did you think of it? Please share your thoughts with us on our Boss Rush Facebook Group or our Boss Rush Discord.


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