I played a lot of the new Pokémon game over the weekend. I picked up the Violet version of the game, agonized briefly over my starter (I wound up going with Fuecoco because his adorable empty head felt very aspirational to me as I struggled my way through the side-effects of my Covid booster), came to despise the rival-type character for her constant condescension, and got lost in exploration. I wound up collecting about 160 Pokémon in my play over the weekend and only a single badge. After all, I was too busy losing myself in classes, sandwich-based picnics, and the intricacies of locating new Pokémon to bother with pursuing badges, titans, or the downfall of Team Star (who mostly seem harmless so far). Plus, I found myself resisting my usual level of immersion and drive after spending most of the day the game came out reading about performance issues, visual glitches, and the sundry other complaints it feels like the most vocal people on the internet have raised against this game, Game Freak, and Nintendo in general. Even after several hours of play, I still feel trepidatious about investing myself in the game given all the negativity I’ve seen online. Maybe I’ve just gotten lucky, so far?
Far be it from me to defend a corporation that is clearly not giving the people producing its products the time and resources they need to create said products well, but I do think most of the negativity is overblown. I’ll add a quick caveat that I have an OLED Switch, so the system’s ability to perform is a bit higher than the previous versions of the console, but I still don’t think that’s enough of a change to show the difference between what I experienced playing the game and what people described online. The main complaint I heard was about framerate drops, lagging issues, and horrifying visual glitches. I read a whole series of tweets and comments on reviews (plus a couple full reviews) that described the game as basically unplayable due to how bad the framerate got in towns, how back cutscenes looked, and how easy it was for the camera to clip through the ground or walls. So many people focused in on all of these problems and described the game as irredeemable and awful.
In my experience, most of the cutscenes were fine. There were some weird moments in the classroom portions where some of the NPCs were moving at a much slower framerate than the others, but they were background, generic NPCs. It didn’t look great, but it was hardly unplayable and in literally just one small section of the game. Towns can look a little weird sometimes, sure, because NPCs and Pokémon a certain distance away from your character all move in this slower, kind of jerky way, but that’s not too bad considering how far away you can see them. Sure, I’d love it if everything moved smoothly when you were far away from it, but I’d much rather be able to see things from far away than to see only things nearby but have them all move perfectly. There’s so much stuff happening in any given location, dozen upon dozens of Pokémon all moving around, plus any trainers as well. I think some low-framerate, robotic movement is a fine trade-off. And even the visual glitches aren’t that bad. The camera in battle can be a little weird sometimes, since it seems unable to zoom in or out, but most of the times it clips through the ground or fails to show the grown represent a couple degrees of the full 360 degree circle you can spin the camera around for battles.
I feel like most people just want something to be mad about. Even my friends playing on older versions of the Switch don’t seem to have the same issues that people online are describing. Sure, it’s possible some people’s experience is so bad that the game is unplayable, but even the videos shown by a lot of the people calling the game unplayable don’t seem that bad. It’s totally playable. It just makes some questionable choices in places that most other games don’t. The weird, jerky movement of NPCs and Pokémon far away from the camera? That’s a choice the game’s creators made and I’d much rather play in a world with clearly visible Pokémon that move oddly when I’m far away from them than have to worry about moving around the world slowly enough that the game has enough time to populate my world with cleanly-moving Pokémon. Sure, the best world would be one with both, but I don’t think this is a major concession to make for a large, sprawling, 3D title that’s mostly open-world given the somewhat lackluster specs of the Switch consoles.
All that said, it still feels pretty clear that the game could have avoided the few performance issues to had with more time in development and testing. The start of battle can sometimes cause the framerate to drop during the opening sequences and it is possible to get stuck in a loop of battles starting immediately after another one ends because aggressive Pokémon are constantly charging at you. That, combined with how the game’s attempts to reposition your character model after the start of a battle so there’s room for the Pokémon involved to duke it out without hitting their trainers frequently putting you in non-viable locations (about to fall into water, about to slide off a cliff, higher up than you should be able to get, etc), means that you can sometimes get placed in incredibly odd places. For instance, I got pushed further and further out to sea despite lacking the ability to swim/surf because I kept winding up in a new battle before my character could sink into the water. The game wound up dropping me back on land from where I’d been pushed off it by a battle’s auto-placement, but it was a pretty annoying moment since it also involved being stuck in more than a dozen consecutive battles without a chance to escape or heal my Pokémon (I was also in an area with Pokémon far above my level).
Honestly, I think the game is doing better than the general online zeitgeist seems to suggest. I don’t think it’s earth-shatteringly good or particularly deserving of praise (specifically in regards to these specific visual and performance metrics), beyond being a fun new entry in the franchise, but I don’t think it deserves the hate its getting. Plus, I can play in-world with three of my friends, all of us running around while doing our own things, with only minimal performance loss. I had fewer Pokémon spawn around me while I was in another players’ world than when I was playing by myself, but that was after all four of us had split up to go do our own things. There were far fewer such issues when all four of us were still together. We got some fun pictures of the four of us, too, though we’re going to need to go take them all over again since the person taking the pictures forgot to take the guide off the screen. Whoops.
Anyway, I’m having a good time, I’m excited to continue playing, and I really think people should calm the hell down. I’m starting to feel like people shouldn’t criticize video game productions unless they have experience working in software, just like people shouldn’t be as upset about retail and restaurant workers until they’ve experienced what it’s like to be one of the people working in retail or a restaurant. It would save a lot of people from talking out their asses about what constitutes performance issues.