The Pokémon Company finally shows its hand, but for the first time we don't know what to expect

For a long time, Pokmon has been playing it safe. In two decades the main series really hasn’t changed that much, instead retreating into a kind of calculable routine. New, main series Pokmon RPGs come out every couple of years: each time there’s two of them, each time there’s probably an enhanced version – either a third, or another pair – and each time Game Freak will add roughly one thing new and take roughly one other thing away, which was probably the new thing they’d just added last time.

And a lot of the time that works – Pokmon is comfort food. A new Pokmon game that just gets a bit bigger, a bit tougher, and a bit prettier every year or two would be probably be plenty. But at the same time, Pokmon has been so startlingly predictable that, if you know your history, even rumours and leaks about new games can be dismissed out of hand. There’s a known rhythm to it, a pattern that must be followed: there’s no way it’s coming out this year, because they haven’t done their spring reveal; there’s no way they’ll reveal the next one yet, they always release all the mythical Pokmon from the last games first; there’s no way they’ll drop random, wild Pokmon battles – it’s what the whole thing’s all about.

What it’s really been about though, for some time, is formulas. Numbers, equations, spreadsheets of stats and movesets and ruthless optimisation. Knowing exactly what to expect, exactly what to put into the formula so you get exactly what you want back out, whether that’s training competitive teams to within an inch of their life or just calling bull on another leak. Rumour: false. Training method: optimal. Pokdex: complete. A large part of that is obviously the fun of it, like any min-maxable RPG. But it is also, maybe, getting just a little tired.

And how it must be anathema to Game Freak, too; their evident creativity bound to changing a feature or two and adding some more forms. Or at the very least Nintendo, serial surprisers-in-chief and the other one-third owner of the Pokmon Company, alongside Game Freak itself and Creatures Inc., home of the card game. An odd partnership on paper – a third owned by insular artists and card-makers; a third by the type of company that follows up a risky console, that flopped, with an even riskier one right after; and a third by a developer that, whilst consistently brilliant, also likes to build on their own biggest shake-ups, like, say, Mega Evolution, by promptly removing them again at the soonest opportunity – but perhaps it’s actually a perfect balance. Maybe it should come as no surprise that it’s the lovely nonsense of the Nintendo Switch (with all that wacky futuristic stuff like… co-op, and motion controls…) that finally brought them out of their shell.

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Masuda runs through some of the evolutions that Pokmon has taken for its Switch debut.

Either way, suddenly three different Pokmon games are coming to the Nintendo Switch in the space of about eighteen months, all from main series studio Game Freak, and the headliner – Pokmon: Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee – is looking like a true shake-up. At last, we have a gamble. A hedged gamble (no matter what managing director Junichi Masuda told us about the 2019 Pokmon, it’s still absolutely hedging the risk of Let’s Go) but a gamble nonetheless. We’ll take it.

For once, coming off the back of a Pokmon announcement, we’re left with more questions than answers. I’ve been peppering Game Freak and the Pokmon Company with those questions all week, to mixed success. Information – official and unofficial – has trickled out to various people, in various forms. The conference, looking back, was a sort of controlled chaos: for two hours fans were relying on late-night live-tweeting from the few people in the room, before the full recording was uploaded anyway – and by then minds are really already made. It’s a remake! It’s a spinoff! It’s a reboot! Wait, there’s another one! And to think, we were expecting another ten-minute, pre-recorded February Direct.

We still don’t know how huge, long-term pillars of the game will work. Will there still be IVs and EVs – sacrosanct to long-term players – dictating Pokmon’s stats? Just how many Pokmon are actually in the game? What’s the story about – is it really a reboot? Does that mean the original Yellow version isn’t canon now? Is there even Pokmon main series canon? Is it too late, after all this, for Game Freak to ride the wave of Pokmon Go, now more autumn surf than great tsunami?

Who knows. The Pokmon Company has broken all its own rules, and Game Freak are now open in their hunt for a new generation of players. For all the reveals and roundups, it still feels like all we really know, about both Let’s Go and Pokmon 2019, is that we know nothing. And after a lifetime of knowing Pokmon’s every move, that’s kind of great.

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