By Andrew Denike
Like a Pokemon rancher milking a Miltank, Nintendo has harvested the basic Pokemon game template for generations. Since the original 1998 US release of Red and Blue version there have been a multitude of “Pokemon: *Fill in the blank* Version” titles released (currently there’s 19+ Version titles and more to see) on the various Nintendo handheld consoles. While trainers have been introduced to a stream of additional new Pokemon throughout the series, Pokemon gameplay has remained virtually the same since the original version. Professor Oak or one his many imposters welcomes you to the world of Pokemon giving you the choice between 3 different starting Pokemon. From here you must travel across the land leveling up your Pokemon, defeating gym trainers for their badges and finally going up against the “Elite 4” to prove yourself as the greatest Pokemon trainer there ever was (of course a true Pokemon master must also catch em’ all). While this general Pokemon gameplay formula (with differing substitutions for characters, settings, story, and minor additions to battle mechanics for each version) has hooked players everywhere for the past 17 years, Veteran trainers have to wonder: when will the Pokemon series truly evolve and what will it evolve into?
As much as I consider myself a longtime Pokefan, the repetitive nature of the handheld series has distanced me from continuing my Pokejourney. The addition of new Pokemon (there’s an Icecreamon now, right?), slight tweaks to the overall gameplay, and shallow storyline differences are not enough to hold my attention for the course of an entire game. For years now, other trainers and I have analyzed the next steps in the Pokemon series’ progression and all discussions eventually lead to the unbelievably awesome potential of a three-dimensional open world Pokemon game. Imagine yourself exploring through the tall grass (with an adjustable rotating 360 degree camera) when all of a sudden a wild Rattata appears jumping angrily from out of the brush towards you. Rather than the usual flashing of the screen and transition into the traditional turn-based battle system, you as the trainer can select the option, in real time, of which Pokemon to send out for battle; alternatively the player could also choose not to fight, turning and running from the potential battle. At this point the player assumes full control over the chosen Pokemon, moving it around the area with the joystick and selecting one of its four attacks with the D-pad. After having damaged the Rattata enough, the player can then do what Pokemon trainers do and select a pokeball to catch it with (or just kill it for the exp). Consider all of this would be going on without any stoppages in gameplay–a completely fluid Pokemon battle experience.
Such an expansive Pokemon experience could also eventually evolve into a fully realized PokeMMO style of game. Journeying across the land, searching far and wide would only be that much more epic with friends by your side sharing in your experiences. Perhaps top-ranked players could be inducted into the “Elite 4” having real trainers go up against them in an attempt to become a part of the Elite Pokemon League. At its core it would still be everything you love about the series with the additions of a much more communal, social dynamic. Though an MMO would be amazing, Nintendo needs to first take the leap of faith into three dimensional, open world gameplay. Only time and the Nintendo gods will ultimately determine what Pokemon evolves into, but with Nintendo Wii U’s sales floundering as of recent, it seems that the time for Nintendo to finally evolve the series into its golden gazillion dollar earning 3D open world final form has come.
*As a side note, a group of independent developers have already created a fully functioning PokeMMO called “PokeMMO” (pokemmo.eu). The game is literally Pokemon Fire Red Version with MMO social mechanics added to its gameplay including actually seeing other real life trainers questing around you and the ability to challenge these other players to battles or initiate Pokemon trades.