Will 2016 be the year of Pokemon?

Game Freak has great plans for Pokemon in 2016. Will we see a strong comeback this year?

As some of you know, 2015 is over and we did not receive our obligatory main series Pokémon game -- no leaks, no dates, not even a mention of development. Well played, Game Freak. You have my attention.

Since 2009, Game Freak has released a Pokémon game annually without fail. We have gone through three Pokémon generations like this, so why stop now? Were sales slipping? Is Game Freak tired? Could they feel how stale the annual games had become? Eight gym leaders, an evil organization, and a few new creatures are not enough to draw new fans and ensnare veteran players.

Sales of the game are far from what they were in the glory days. So perhaps rather than pop off another mediocre year in 2015, Game Freak took the year off and focused on improving the brand. Fans got a reminder of what Pokemon represented and what made it original.

Bridge the gap

Pokémon wasn't completely absent last year. There were two spin-off games released in the absence of a main series entry. Pokken Tournament Arcade and Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon both made waves upon their releases. Of all Pokémon’s spin-off franchises, Mystery Dungeon is the most popular. Taking on the role of a Pokémon in a world free of humans attracts quite a crowd upon each release. Pokken Tournament Arcade was developed by the creators of Tekken. They created a game reminiscent of the Pokémon anime by adding fighting mechanics to the world. These did a great job of keeping the series relevant during the break. 

Pokken Tournament had a pretty good following before its release. Announced months in advance, fans followed this fresh conception of the franchise closely. Developed by reputable Bandai Namco, we were all assured that this was going to be something great. But we wanted more. Arcade gamers complained that there were not enough playable or boss characters. Gameplay also did not work well with the arcade gamepad.

We were answered with the release of two extra characters and the promise of a console version of the game. While they have not announced a main series game, we are waiting for Pokken Tournament Wii U. 

Promises keep fans involved and happy

We are also promised two other Pokémon releases in 2016. When Nintendo announced its expansion to mobile gaming, a Pokémon IP was inevitable. Enter Pokémon GO!, a mobile adventure. Exploring the world around you reveals Pokémon to capture and battle with. Without revealing any gameplay, the concept trailer built plenty of hype and got nice investments from Google and Apple.

Almost as exciting was the announcement of the original games releasing through the eShop (with updated trading mechanics) to celebrate the series' twentieth anniversary. Is there any better way to draw in new and old fans right before announcing the next main series game?

The plan looks like it's meant to expand Pokémon’s reach without being radical with the main series. There is plenty of opportunity to refresh the series using side franchises.

Making a main series Pokémon game that appeals to both new and old fans requires time. Pokémon hasn't always released back-to-back. Main series games have had gaps ranging from two to three years between them. Why give a game to fans that are not excited at the news of the next entry? Instead, take a break  and put extra work into a winning formula or even focus on more spin-off projects. Let nostalgia build while developing the exciting next step for the franchise.

Celebrating the franchise, past and future

I could be wrong. Maybe none of this was calculated and we won’t be getting a main series game for years to come. There is plenty of money to be made and fans to be found in the side projects of the franchise.

The main series is important, but no longer a corner stone for Game Freak. I have no problem waiting for the next entry in the franchise, as long as I am compensated during and after my wait. 2016 looks to be the year where we celebrate both new and old joys of the franchise!

Published Jan. 13th 2016
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