Rundown (1/30-2/05) Pokémon Legends: Arceus is Quite Good

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Wherein I discuss the latest Pokémon game, another accursed acquisition, the successor to a 2014 indie darling, Nintendo’s excellent unit sales, and a subtle spark from the dank quagmire where Stadia was buried.

This past week, I invested over 40 hours into Pokémon Legends: Arceus, meaning I am about… 60% of the way through the campaign. While that should have been enough time for me to become accustomed to what this game does, I still have these sporadic bursts of joy where I recognize how much change, innovation, and advancement are present in this game. It feels like the antithesis to November’s Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl. It is clearly designed to address issues and fulfill desires that people have been carrying around for nearly 25 years. It throws away excess fluff, streamlines the game in the right ways (for the most part) The end result is both an extension and refinement of what the developers were edging toward in Let’s Go and Sword and Shield

Going into the game, I had pretty tepid expectations, due simply to the development history of the game. PLA is a game that was developed within a little over 2 years, almost entirely during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But despite this, PLA does more new things than any other mainline Pokémon game. It changes the overall feel and game flow, introduces a lot of new action/exploration elements, revises the combat system, and graphically… This is mighty impressive for a studio that, 8.3 years ago, released their first fully 3D game.

I love its general game flow, this loop of scavenging, exploring, catching, battling, resource management, trinket finding. It all makes the game feel so much more involved, engaging, and like one is going on an adventure through a well defined and interactive world. It changes the entire genre of Pokémon to that of a (contained) open world RPG instead of a standard JRPG. It is a considerable change, and I think the series might work better with this framework, as the player has an excellent incentive to explore. They want to find more and better Pokémon, and amass the resources to make their existing Pokémon better via EXP and permanent upgrade items.

Now, PLA has its fair share of problems. Such as how, due to the more engaging and involved nature of its gameplay, it requires the player to do more actions to move the game forward. Instead of picking up all items or running into wild Pokémon, the player now needs to throw a Pokéball. Which might not sound like a big deal, but it might be after throwing 10,000 Pokéballs. Sure, the prior games had the benefit of requiring basically three buttons to play, but it also makes them a far more casual and passive endeavor, which is important to making the games replayable. That, and PLA wants the player to catch, battle, and do more with Pokémon than prior games. This makes it harder to do specialized runs, i.e. nuzlocke, and the culling of staple elements like abilities, IVs, and a good chunk of the movepool are bound to upset some self-proclaimed pundits.

There is definitely an argument to be made as to why one prefers prior games… but I think that PLA might actually be my favorite Pokémon game ever made. I won’t say it’s ‘the best’, because I would rather explain why I like something instead of why it is ‘objectively’ better than something. However, I think PLA is a natural evolution of what GameFreak, and many vocal members of the audience, want Pokémon to be. And a game that has me excited to see where GameFreak will take things next.

It has successfully restored my faith and hope in this series… except now I am worried that some of these innovations will be undone. Really, all I want from the ninth generation is the same basic gameplay as PLA, but with gym leaders, roaming trainers, some quality of life improvements, and a cast of fewer named characters. I’m sorry, but I simply do not care about any of the generic villagers, or most of the ancestors of Sinnoh characters… Also, voice acting and a bigger text box would also be a big plus.

Oh, and to be fully transparent, I am saying I want IVs and breeding to be removed from the series. I think they only make the games less enjoyable and introduce a mind numbing yet mindless repetition. Catching Pokémon is a lot more rewarding than waiting for eggs to hatch, and with the new systems, you can make any Pokémon the best version of said Pokémon. That is so much better than encouraging players to practice selective breeding.

So far, the biggest gaming news stories of 2022 have been massive acquisitions, which have made me increasingly cynical about the future of the industry, as fewer and fewer megacorps are in control. I get it might not seem bad now, but basically every industry is better when there are, say, 25 big names, instead of 6.  

Anyway, just when I thought I could ignore acquisition news after the double-fisted hit of Take Two acquiring Zynga and Microsoft acquiring Activision Blizzard, Sony acquired Bungie for $3.6 billion

Yes, the developers of the original Halo quadrilogy and the Destiny duology have been purchased by the house of PlayStation, in a move that is… just profoundly weird when you think back on its history. Bungie was Microsoft’s premiere first-party from 2001 to 2007, and was locked in an 8 year publishing agreement with Activision Blizzard from 2011 to 2019. Sure, they pivoted toward PlayStation thanks to a marketing deal with Sony for Destiny 1, but I doubt anybody was truly expecting a move this drastic.

The next question is what this means, and the answer appears to be ‘not much… for now.’ 

Bungie will continue to support Destiny 2 on all current platforms, and will move the game to new platforms going forward. However, Bungie curiously only said that this would be the case for “Destiny 2. Thus leading me to theorize that the inevitable next entry in the Destiny series will be a PlayStation (and PC) exclusive.

Furthermore, while Bungie will continue to operate autonomously, with little oversight from their owners, Sony intends to expand the Destiny IP into new directions. A move that could lead to spin-off games or see the series adapted to either film or television. IP is the lifeblood of the entertainment industry nowadays, and I’m sure that people would love to see the lore and ideas of Destiny be expanded into something a bit more approachable. Meaning something that isn’t a live service that teeters between being awful and amazing depending on when you play it. Seriously, I have heard more mixed things about Destiny 2 than any other game, and I have zero idea if the game is worth getting invested in nowadays.

On a related note, head of PlayStation, Jim Ryan, spoke to about his rationale for the acquisition. Such as how Destiny 2 complements the single-player offerings of the modern PlayStation line-up. How Sony hopes to transfer the Destiny 2 community to PlayStation. How Sony intends to address the work culture issues at Bungie. And, of course, how Sony intends to make even more acquisitions. …Ugh.

In brighter news, Yacht Club games, developer of the contemporary classic, Shovel Knight, recently unveiled their next project in the form of Mina the Hollower. An overhead action game that is akin to a cross between a classic Castlevania title and a 2D Zelda game. One starring a whip-wielding mouse lady and featuring a core mechanic of burrowing underground to both uncover secrets and maneuver around enemies.

As it stands, the game looks to be doing what Shovel Knight did for side scrolling NES action games, but for the comparatively smaller library of GameBoy and GameBoy Color overhead action games. And it contains pretty much every boon seen in the developer’s prior work. The action looks quick and engaging. The visuals are striking and vibrant despite its limited color palette. And the soundtrack has a retro aesthetic, but embraces its limitations with the aid of foresight.

It looks like it will be another beloved romp, albeit one that will have nothing close to the same impact or legacy as Shovel Knight, and for a pretty obvious reason. Firstly, is the decision to make the game more niche with its choice of genre, as overhead action is favored less than side-scrolling action, and more gothic aesthetics do not have as broad of an appeal. And secondly, Shovel Knight came out in 2014, 8 years ago. In that intervening time, the independent game scene has gone through a deluge of changes. 

Production scaled up, allowing more games to have more robust presentations. Development resources became more abundant, as engines like Unreal and Unity really helped open the door to new developers. The market has grown a lot bigger, with more people playing games than ever before. And the competition has grown fierce, with more people developing games than ever before and more games vying for players’ attention. 

It has gotten to the point where I wonder how independent developers have any confidence in their product selling. As far as I see it, the only way to make a profitable indie game is to get backing from a publisher, capture the attention of influencers, do something that makes the game an awards darling, or appeal to a super specific niche. If you do not do any of these things, I do not know how people would or could latch onto this game and generate the sales needed for it to succeed. 

I am sure Mina the Hollower will do well, as it has pedigree behind it, and will be heralded as the successor to Shovel Knight. But without that pedigree, I would be genuinely worried about developing a game like this. It would be entirely possible for it to fall under the radar and be forgotten, never amassing the attention needed for it to grow beyond a mildly successful sprout. Though, that could just be my cynicism getting the better of me yet again. 

I should also note that the indie game market is only getting bigger and bigger, same with the games industry as a whole, and one way to illustrate that is to showcase Nintendo’s latest quarterly sales report. During Q4 2021, Nintendo Switch worldwide sales reached 103.54 million units, surpassing both the Nintendo Wii and PS1 as one of the best-selling video game systems of all time. That alone would be an impressive lifetime run for the system, but with a few more years of life ahead, that number will probably surpass the GameBoy and GameBoy Color’s 118.69 million lifetime sales.

However, this news also came with some juicy unit sales, revealing that Metroid Dread sold 2.74 million units, nicely sandwiching the lifetime sales of the title between the original Metroid and Metroid Prime. Though, it will probably surpass 3 million within a few months, making it the best-selling game in the series. While I had plenty of issues with Dread, I appreciate it, I’m glad that people enjoyed it, and I hope this inspired Nintendo to continue this series with regular entries going forward.

However, I am not happy to see that Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl sold 13.97 million units. While that is not ‘quite’ as much as other remakes, such as Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire’s 14.34 million or Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee’s 14.33 million, it is pretty close to both of them and… that just makes me sad. Because while prior remakes clearly tried to improve, expand, and innovate, BDSP really didn’t, and simply rehashed the worst fully original game in the mainline Pokémon series. It goes to show that Pokémon is so big and so popular that maybe, just maybe, quality doesn’t really matter.

Sure, Pokémon Legends: Arceus sold 6.5 million in its first week, which is… good, I think, but I cannot say if that is because of the quality of the game, or the quality of the branding.

Google Stadia was an imposing threat that wound up being little more than a wet fart of a platform. Stadia was rushed to market, did not have a specific audience, and lacked any exclusive offerings to draw people to its platform, while being inherently limited due to the nature of streaming-only video games. 

As I have said before, there is definitely a place in the games industry for streaming, but it works better as a cheaper subscription service, like Amazon Luna or PlayStation Now. Buying streaming only games is not a sustainable business practice, and I’m glad that the market realized this. Stadia was aiming for a market that really did not exist, and it offered little to draw people to the platform in general.

However, Google developed a lot of technology for this game streaming to work,, so clearly they would want to use it somehow. Well, according to a Business Insider article, Google has been trying to pitch their technology to game developers, is trying to secure white label deals, and are referring to the service as Google Stream. Currently, their prospective partners are the likes of Capcom, Bungie, and exercise equipment producer Peloton, but it does not seem that any projects using this service have launched just yet.

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