Game Freak & Pokémon Company need to go big or go home this year with mainline Pokémon

next mainline Pokémon game games The Pokémon Company Game Freak must improve over Pokémon Sword and Shield

When Nintendo Switch was fresh to the market, many expected Game Freak’s first mainline console Pokémon games to be something ambitious, exciting, and large in scope. Then Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee! were revealed, and they weren’t exactly what anyone had in mind. Basically HD-ified 3DS titles. However, the Let’s Go games were kinda-sorta spin-offs, so surely the next real mainline installments would be something spectacular on Switch, right? Sadly, no.

Don’t get me wrong — Pokémon Sword and Shield were enjoyable games. The tried and true Pokémon formula will rarely completely disappoint. But let’s face it — Pokémon Sword and Shield were a big letdown. The most ambitious new element in SWSH was the “Wild Area,” and it wasn’t exactly awe-inspiring. Visually, the Wild Area looks terrible, with textures comparable to Nintendo 64 titles and god-awful draw distances. And despite not being a particularly pretty game, it still doesn’t run well. It doesn’t end there though. In several instances, Pokémon Sword and Shield’s graphics and animations can’t even compete with the 2006 title Pokémon Battle Revolution for Wii. Eesh.

Pokémon Sword and Shield were a bare-minimum (and probably rushed) first mainline effort for Nintendo Switch, which is a shame. But now it’s time to shift our focus to the future, where Game Freak could turn things around.

2020 was the first year since 2015 that The Pokemon Company didn’t release a mainline Pokémon title. Instead, the company launched, in my opinion, pretty insubstantial Sword and Shield DLC expansions last year (though our reviewers actually enjoyed both expansions). So with an extra year of development on the next mainline games, I’m hoping we see a significant jump forward for the franchise with an unannounced but likely 2021 mainline Pokémon release.
next mainline Pokémon game games The Pokémon Company Game Freak must improve over Pokémon Sword and Shield

Better graphics and animations

This is a must. Pokémon Sword and Shield just didn’t cut it. A franchise worth $92 billion can surely afford better-looking trees than The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time from 1998. As for the animations, there’s no good reason why Pokémon Colosseum from 2003 has better battle animations than SWSH. I get that Game Freak isn’t an enormous development team, but again — NINETY-TWO BILLION-DOLLAR FRANCHISE. Hire more animators. C’mon.

A more robust open world

First off, I really hope the next mainline game doesn’t have a fixed camera. It feels so dated, especially after SWSH introduced the Wild Area. Ideally, the whole game will have a fully controllable third-person camera as the Wild Area in SWSH had. Secondly, the world should feel way more alive than SWSH did. SWSH had a certain charm to it with its being the first time we’d played a Pokémon game like that, but it was severely lacking in personality. The next mainline Pokémon game needs to add more things to do in the world, more Pokémon doing interesting things, and, of course, improved draw distance and performance.
next mainline Pokémon game games The Pokémon Company Game Freak must improve over Pokémon Sword and Shield

More engaging plot and characters

Seriously, there are so many great Pokémon stories outside of the games that they could pull ideas from, and the Pokémon world is so rich and full of potential for great stories. Sword and Shield’s story and writing are, to put it simply, bad. The Pokémon anime and manga prove that by comparison. Additionally, it’s time for voice acting in Pokémon. It’d be a wonderful addition to the series. Hell, why not throw in a few animated cutscenes similar to what the Persona series does? These things could go a long way in improving the storytelling.

I know this article was a lot of me trashing Pokémon Sword and Shield, but it comes from a place of love. This series is special to me, and I want Game Freak and The Pokémon Company to blow our minds with the next mainline title. I truly hope it’s not another incremental upgrade. And if it is, well, it’s gonna continue to sell millions for eternity.

Brett Medlock
Brett Medlock is Nintendo Enthusiast's Editor-in-chief. He’s obsessed with action-adventure games, platinum trophies, and K-pop. To hear more about how lame he is, follow him on Twitter @brettnll