On Jan. 9, Nintendo released a 20-minute announcement regarding upcoming developments in the Pokémon franchise. This Nintendo Direct comes two months after the tumultuous yet extremely profitable launch of “Pokémon Sword” and “Pokémon Shield” in November last year, which ripped the player base in two over the issue of allegedly cut content and unscrupulous business practices. Did the Direct do enough to satisfy fans’ expectations?
The announcement started strong with the first and most unexpected moment in the reveal: the announcement of “Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX,” which comes after an almost five year silence from Nintendo on the subject of the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series.
The first Mystery Dungeon games — released in 2006 for the Gameboy Advanced and Nintendo DS systems as “Red Rescue Team” and “Blue Rescue Team” respectively — were a huge shake-up for the franchise. The expected gameplay in a Pokémon game is simple: fight, catch, train, battle, and collect every Pokémon. This gameplay loop has stayed the same throughout every mainstream Pokémon game, and its repetitive cycle of cautious strategy leading to exciting rewards has resonated with fans of all ages.
However, for “Pokémon Mystery Dungeon,” the player actually takes the role of a Pokémon and goes on adventures. For example, in the “Rescue Team” games, the player character is a human that has been mysteriously transported to the Pokémon world after taking a personality test that decides their species. By putting the player in the driver’s seat of the fight, there’s a sense of urgency and danger for the player that the main Pokémon titles don’t grapple with.
Additionally, the player can converse and interact with a diverse cast of characters, which is impossible in the main series, and there are unique legends and mythos to explore in each game. Players of “Pokémon Mystery Dungeon” are intimately familiar with the emotional impact of these stories, with Grovyle’s storyline in “Explorers of Darkness/Time/Sky” being infamous for its tear-jerking ending.
Fans of the series had high hopes and dismally low expectations that Nintendo would address their favorite game, so the announcement of “Rescue Team DX” for the Nintendo Switch caused an uproar of excitement. It’s a remake of the first two “Rescue Team” titles, so the cast and story will be familiar, but according to the brief trailer that was released, the graphics will be updated and gameplay will be slightly different. “Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX” will be available on March 6, 2020, but the free demo is available to download now.
The other segment of the Direct was focused on the upcoming expansion pass for the most recent main Pokémon titles, “Sword” and “Shield.” Fans have expected downloadable content to be available for a while, but the exact scope of the expansions and content within were a surprise.
The first expansion, “The Isle of Armor,” will focus on the eponymous unexplored region in the Pokémon world. Players will meet with multiple brand-new characters, including the mentor of the recent games’ most powerful character, Leon. This mentor, named Mustard, will take the player under his wing and train them throughout their journey. There will also be two specialist trainers that are only available in one of the versions; “Sword” players will be greeted by Klara, who uses poison-type Pokémon, while “Shield” players will meet Avery, who fights with psychic Pokémon. All of these characters will be allies and rivals that will accompany trainers on the Isle of Armor.
While the isle is being explored, fans will be met with new and returning Pokémon including series favorites Bulbasaur and Squirtle. There will also be a new Legendary species called Urshifu. Not much is known about Urshifu, but its imposing glare implies that it’ll be a strong asset in battle. Other pre-existing species will have new variations and forms that give them updated abilities and talents. For example, owners of “Sword” and “Shield” have already met a new version of Slowbro that leaves its water-type behind; this unique species lives in the expansion regions, but as a teaser, players can acquire one in their games right now while meeting Klara or Avery respectively.
“Sword” and “Shield” also introduced a new mechanic called “dynamaxing,” in which Pokémon can grow to immense sizes and gain access to ultra-powerful moves. Certain Pokémon have the unique ability to “gigantamax” and gain new physical attributes and powers. The ability to gigantamax will be given to new species, including the Pokémon that players start their games with. Since these starter characters tend to fall behind in strength once players get deep into the game, these new forms will hopefully bring them back into the spotlight. Older Pokémon, like Venusaur and Blastoise, will also have new and exciting abilities in battle.
This first expansion will be released in June 2020, although it can be purchased and pre-ordered now.
The second expansion, “The Crown Tundra,” will also take players to a brand-new region, this time a snow-covered expanse of mountains and plains. Less is known about this region, as it won’t be released until much later this year, but much of the characteristics of “The Isle of Armor” will apply here too. Players will explore the tundra and uncover secrets surrounding the dynamax phenomenon while capturing new and old Pokémon along the way. One of the biggest aspects of this region will be the presence of returning Legendary Pokémon from previous games. These powerful creatures, all of whom will be capturable in this expansion, will be considerably stronger than most other Pokémon that players might have with them right now.
This update, while not fully appeasing players who resented the exclusion of the creatures from the base games, is going to shake up competitive Pokémon in a huge way. Professional battlers that are currently bemoaning the reign of Pokémon like Dracovish and Galarian Darmanitan will be equal parts excited and terrified for the return of threats like Landorus, one of the strongest creatures in any of the games so far. If history repeats itself, this oppressive Ground/Flying Pokémon will make competitive battlers bend to its will and force them to bring counters specifically for its frightening power and frustrating resilience.
When “The Crown Tundra” comes out in Fall 2020, it will hopefully bring enough content to satisfy fans until the next main series Pokémon titles. Paid downloadable content might not be exactly what players wanted, but these additions will at least change things up and fill their time with new adventures.