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Dear Delibird — Our wishlist for a Pokémon game on the Switch

Unless you’ve been living under a Geodude for the past few months, you’ve likely heard rumors about the impending release of a core Pokémon game for the Nintendo Switch. While we’ve not yet seen anything concrete, early signs could be pointing toward an E3 announcement. Amid the swirling rumors, wild predictions, and alleged leaks, we sat back to ponder what kind of game we would create if we given the power of Arceus and free reign to craft the first ever main Pokémon game for a console. After much deliberation, debate, and a whole lot of dreaming, here’s our letter to Delibird, the gift-giving Pokémon, with our ultimate wishlist of features of the rumored release of a Pokémon game for the Switch.

1. Create More of an Open-World Experience

Pokémon games have traditionally been incredibly linear in both plot and design, with maps broken up into mini, level-like stages. What began as a programming requirement has morphed into tradition, a tradition which has now become a dated mechanic, often hindering player enjoyment of what should be a large, fascinating world, filled with strange monsters, excitement, and mysteries. Making the jump to the Nintendo Switch will place a core Pokémon title on a console for the first time, providing it with a whole lot more processing power, and removing the need for restrictive map designs. As tantalizing as the idea of the Alola region felt, being a string of islands rather than one massive continent, it turned out to be an incredibly linear experience; the next installment need not fall into this same rut.

Pokémon: Breath of the Lucario? Ok, this is clearly an edit, but you get what we’re suggesting.

A Fresh take on Pokémon Gameplay

We’ve already seen the revitalizing effect that an open world format can have on well established Nintendo titles, just look at the reviews and fan reception of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey. The setting of the next Pokémon game, be it an entirely new region or a return to somewhere familiar, doesn’t necessarily need to be completely open to breathe some fresh air into the series; even creating a system as simple as having beginner, intermediate, and advanced areas, allowing trainers the freedom to decide when and how they’d like to tackle the gyms and events within those areas, would offer far more freedom than we’ve experienced inside the world of Pokémon.

Scaling Difficulty to Create Natural Barriers

It’s not hard to create scaling difficulty for bosses, or in the case of Pokémon, gym leaders. In fact, probably have an easier time doing this than most titles because Pokémon comes pre-loaded with the incredibly convenient mechanic of gym badges. Within the open world of this theoretical Pokémon game, all gyms within an area could begin at the same difficulty, and earning a gym badge could simply trigger a bump in difficulty for all the remaining gym leaders. This mechanic doesn’t need to be restricted to gyms, either. Just like leveling up in Pokémon GO triggers stronger Pokémon to spawn, earning a new gym badge could cause more powerful (and rare!) Pokémon to appear within that area. This allows areas to remain relevant and challenging for much longer, and encourages players to linger and explore, rater than simply racing ahead to the next gym.

Pokémon GO had the right idea all along… who knew?

Overworld Minibosses

Of course, in an open-world setting, Gyms need not be the only test of strength, and powerful Pokémon, such as Snorlax, can do more than just block your path. Think of what it would be like to explore a region filled with minibosses, powerful Pokémon who guard their territories, block bridges, or remain hidden until lured out by a special item or quest. Imagine actually getting to fight a pack of Spearow, in much the same way Ash and Pikachu did during their first adventure together. While a horde of five level 15 Spearow isn’t much of a challenge during the mid or late-game, they’d have no problem crushing a new trainer and their level five starter. By dotting the overworld map with vsible swarms of Pokémon and minibosses, rather than hidden, randomly triggered events, Game Freak could provide meaningful goals for mid-level players, challenges for higher level trainers, and accomplish all of this without destroying the experience for newbies. These changes could launch the game into territory familiar to MMO players, and provide the overworld map with a feeling of life, danger, and excitement. While we’re on the topic of how the franchise really could benefit from being less restrictive an linear: Can we please be rid of fishing spots, and go back to the glory days of being able to cast your line in any body of water?

2. Bring back Walking Pokemon

This horse has been beaten since the days of Pokémon Yellow, but we all want have our favorite Pokémon walking behind us. We currently have two really good reasons to argue for the return of this feature: the shift to 3D graphics and the addition of Pokémon Amie and Refresh. Once upon a time, Pokémon were made up of pixel sprites, and each and every one of those pixels had to be carefully and lovingly placed by hand in order to create a design, a color, or a walk cycle. Fortunately, those days are gone, and through the magic of 3D models, rigging up a walk cycle is far less demanding than it once was.

We miss walking with our little Pika pal

Focus on Pokémon Bonds

Perhaps even more compelling than simply moving past technical restrictions is the emotional aspect: Pokémon is about bonding with your partners, both through battles and through quality time spent together. From Generation VI onward, we’ve been able to feed, pet, care for, and even play with our Pokémon through the Pokémon Aime and Refresh features, forging bonds which go so far as to impact your Pokémon’s performance in battle. Allowing your Pokémon to break free its Pokéball and wander the overworld at your side seems to fit quite nicely with the themes of creating friendships with Pokémon, and it feels like the perfect time for the series to circle back around and allow our pocket monsters a little more freedom.

Release a Companion App

While we’re dreaming, why stop at just having your Pokémon to walk with you inside the game, why not revive the concept of the Pokéwalker and allow your favorite Pokémon partner to accompany you out in the real world? Imagine a companion app on your smart phone which would allow you to literally keep your pocket monster in your pocket, giving you the freedom to interact with it throughout the day. By providing access to your phone’s built-in pedometer, your Pokémon could walk and run with you, collecting berries, items, and encountering wild Pokémon along the way, much like they did with the Pokéwalker. Given how similar the Switch’s touch screen is to that of a mobile phone, it would be pretty simple to port a version of Pokémon Refresh (or whatever this feature will be called in the next generation) into this app, allowing you to pet, feed, and generally spoil your favorite Pokémon throughout the day, increasing happiness, friendship, and just generally feeding your day-to-day Pokémon obsession.

3. More, easier-to-access social features

The PSS system in Generation VI may not have been perfect, but I think we can all agree that it was far more accessible and user-friendly than the Festival Plaza. It did quite a bit to encourage interacting with other players, be it trading, battling, Wonder Trading, or sharing O-Powers, in addition to serving as an at-a-glance reminder that other people from all over the globe were actively playing, too. The Switch may be lacking in a second screen which can be dedicated to social features, but adding an online or social strip across the bottom or side could do wonders to make Pokémon feel like the social experience that Game Freak has constantly insisted it is. Hopefully the development team will recognize that the Festival Plaza was clunky at best, and that requiring players to move away from the main game, enter a special play area, then go through a specific button in order to access social features creates a less than ideal experience.

We think it’s high time to bring back the minigames, who’s with us?

While we’re talking about social features, the connectivity options offered by the Switch makes this the perfect time for Game Freak to bring back and improve online and local multiplayer games. We’ve seen a number of multiplayer mini-games in the past, and bringing back the ability to goof off with your friends and their Pokémon would be a delightful addition to Generation VIII. We’d love to see Pokémon take a clue from Animal Crossing’s Animal Island, and allow multiple trainers to participate in mutually beneficial or competitive mini games, such as creating Pokémon food, doing group IV training, playing soccer, or even taking part in Easter egg-style berry hunts. Instead of dealing with text-based games, as we saw in the Festival Plaza, trainers could either use their customized playable character, or select a Pokémon to serve as their avatar, in order to play games, explore, and interact in real time and in the same physical space as others. We’re accustomed to being able to battle our trainer friends, both seriously and in curious ways, like Battle Royal feature in Sun, Moon, and their Ultra counterparts, but Pokémon is about more than just fighting, and it would be nice to have the ability to have a different kind of fun with other trainers.

4. More Meaningful Post-Game Content

Yes, we’ve all been asking to visit other regions post-game ever since Pokémon Gold and Silver let us return the Kanto region once the credits rolled. As much as we’d all like to play two games in one cartridge (or download), we understand, from a developer perspective, why this hasn’t happened. Creating games is an expensive endeavor, and even porting a game takes time and funds. While returning to another region post-game, be it Kanto, Alola, or somewhere in between, is still on our wishlist, there are plenty of other ways to make the post-game experience more exciting and meaningful.

Who doesn’t appreciate the excitement (and dread) of approaching a legendary Pokémon?

Legendary Encounters, not Codes or Downloads

One of the easiest ways to spruce up the post-game would be to sprinkle legendaries across the world map. While download codes have become standard for legendary distributions, having a delivery man simply hand you an incredibly rare monster is not nearly as satisfying as having to actually find, fight, then capture it ourselves. We’d much rather see distributions that offer items or passwords which would allow us access to new areas, triggering a search or quest for a powerful monster. As frustrating as it could be to chase the wandering dogs or birds across the map in previous generations, who didn’t whoop for joy when they finally bagged an elusive beast? We did get a hint of this inside the wormholes in Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, but this kind of experience would be better suited to exploring, following quests for clues as to the Pokémon’s locations, and would just generally give players more reason to return to previously explored areas.

Sidequests, Sidequests, Sidequests!

Another easy way to extend the life of the Generation VIII games would be to create more meaningful and rewarding sidequests. Did you know that Pokémon Sun, Moon, and their Ultra versions were littered with optional side quests? A surprising number of players would answer no, even if they have actually played through some of them. That’s because the side quests were so minor, and offered so little as a reward, that they often don’t even register. While we could all do without more fetch quests, Game Freak has already laid the groundwork for complex storylines, e.g. the Looker quests in Pokémon X and Y. Completing quests could provide more than just an extra cut scene or two, they could potentially unlock hidden areas, help you locate rare or legendary Pokémon, and even get your hands on coveted items, such as evolution stones, Mega Stones, and Z-Crystals.

Just remember, Game Freak, you started this one.

Optional Gyms

Could this be the game where Game Freak finally gives in to their self-created demand for additional or optional gym badges? This became a fan obsession because of the Pokémon Indigo League anime, where Gary shows off his badge case, revealing a collection of unfamiliar pins. This gave rise to the fan theory that Gary challenged a different set of gyms than Ash, and that theory turned into an obsession. While Game Freak has never deviated from the idea that there are only eight gyms in any given region, the thought that trainers can hunt down secret gyms, discover underground, Fight Club-style matches, and customize their Pokémon journey is both an appealing an a long-lived hope.

Gym Leader Turnover

Of course, if creating a whole set of extra gyms seems like too much work, the developers could simplify the system by creating gym turnover, allowing gym leaders to be ousted, retire, or otherwise move on from this position. Through this mechanic, trainers would be able to challenge these new, more difficult gym leaders for additional or upgraded badges. While this is something that might have been unimaginable just a year or two ago, Pokémon GO has acquainted many of us with the idea of gyms changing hands. The benefit of this approach is that, instead of having to create entirely new locations and challenges, players could return to a familiar location to find that a new, stronger trainer has set up shop, bringing with them a different and more challenging team of Pokémon.

5. Quality-of-Life Improvements

Pokémon is an impressively old franchise, and while a lot of it still holds up, there are some simple overhauls which could dramatically improve enjoyment and significantly streamline gameplay. Fortunately, Game Freak has already implemented some of these improvements, so we’ll discuss new features we’d like to see as well as some recent improvements that we hope will return to Generation VIII.

The Ride Pager: the object which single-handedly freed the HM slave Pokémon

The return of the Ride Pager

Arguably the best upgrade to the franchise in years is the humble Ridge Pager, a device which single-handedly brought about the end of the HM slave. Trainers must no longer sacrifice valuable move slots in favor of HMs which allow them to navigate the world. It’s one of the best updates to the Pokémon franchise, and we hope to see this become a staple for many generations to come.

An Upgrade for Pokémon Bank

Pokémon Bank is a valuable tool, especially as it is currently the only way to transfer Pokémon from older generations, but let’s be honest… it’s painful to use. The interface is far from ideal, and the lack of touch screen alone can be incredibly frustrating. Pokémon Bank has been in desperate need of an overhaul from the moment it was released, and the move to the Switch not only makes this an ideal time for a redesign, the Switch’s lack of a second screen makes it necessary. Pokémon Bank already comes with an incredibly useful suite of search tools, but making changes to speed and ease the process of naming and moving boxes, selecting Pokemon, and organizing your monsters would do wonders to improve usability. Also, there have been quite a few Pokémon who have come out since Pokémon Bank’s release, meaning we could use some more box space. Please?

We support free-range Pokémon

The Return of Poké Pelago

Okay, so the Pelago islands may not have been the most useful feature in the game, but it certainly adds a bit of humanity and compassion to the art of Pokémon collecting. Allowing Pokémon to wander free on tropical islands, farming berries, hunting treasure, or just relaxing in a hot spring fits in nicely with the idea of actually caring about your Pokémon. We’d love to see new islands filled with additional features, but honestly, our biggest argument for having this return really is that we just really like the idea that Pokémon no longer have to live out their lives in austere virtual boxes.

Voice Acting

Pokémon Sun, Moon, and their Ultra versions featured a whole lot of cut scenes, some of which erred on the side of being painfully long. While you could make these little less tedious by cutting down on dialogue and/or story, the more intelligent approach is probably just to add voice acting to the longer cut scenes. While this will add both time and costs to localization, even partail voice acting would do wonders for the series. A bit of dexterity might be required to get around the custom-named player character, but it’s not impossible, and we’ve seen other Nintendo titles, such as Fire Emblem, successfully navigate these waters. Focusing on recording dialogue for all the major cutscenes, and adding a generic sound bites (such as “Hi!” “Will you show me your Pokémon?” and “Can I help you?”) for random chit-chat would bring some life and a very welcome vocal distraction to the series.

Battle Simulator and IV Checker

Generation VIII did something revolutionary: for the first time ever, you were able to check the Individual Values, or the stats of your Pokémon, inside the Pokémon PC, instead of having to interrogate an NPC for this information. The transition to the Nintendo Switch, which comes with a huge boost of processing power, gives ample opportunity to take this small perk and massively improve on it by introducing Pokémon Stadium style suite of tools. Imagine being able to assemble and test out a theoretical team of Pokémon without having to actually breed these monsters. Trainers the world over are already using sites and apps to tweak stats, test breaking points, and swap abilities and movesets, so why not simply bring these features into the game itself? This would also add the additional benefit of being able to test your team i battles against AI opponents, or even locally with friends. Having these tools built right into the game could encourage trainers to experiment, try new combinations, and could, ultimately, result in some more original and creative approaches to competitive play. Who knows? Maybe we’ll find the next unexpected, Follow Me Parischu-style strategy that much sooner.

We all know how to catch a Pokémon, we promise we’re responsible enough to skip the tutorial

Skippable Cutscenes and Tutorials

Dear Game Freak: We know how to catch a Pokémon. We’ve known how to catch a Pokémon since Ash failed to catch that first Pidgey back in the Indigo League, and we’ve since played (and replayed) this tutorial for seven generations of Pokémon games. We really don’t need to sit through yet another one. While we’re on the topic of skipping things, we’d also appreciate being able to skip a cutscene or two, but please, for the love of Arceus, give us the option to skip the how-to-catch-a-Pokémon tutorial. We promise we won’t screw it up.

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