Pokemon Scarlet and Violet Review: A Frustrating Evolution
Pokemon Scarlet and Violet constantly get in its own way, matching every phenomenal story moment and battle with an equally frustrating design decision or technical issue. It's an absolute shame because Scarlet and Violet feel like they finally push forward the core designs of the franchise in a meaningful way. But the absolutely sorry state in which the game has been released cannot be ignored.
Just like every other Pokemon game, Scarlet and Violet kick off with your young adventurer setting off on a journey around the world, but there's a bit of a catch this time. Your character enrolls at a prestigious Pokemon academy, meeting a few friends and rivals in the process.
Where Scarlet and Violet really branch from past entries is in how the story plays out. There are three simultaneous narratives: Victory Road, the typical Pokemon gym challenge; Starfall Street, which has you taking down bases of the delinquent student group Team Star; and Path of Legends, which has you tackling massive Titan Pokemon. These tie into Scarlet and Violet's new open-world approach, and you can tackle them in any order you want.
All of these activities have specific levels, but the freedom presented in Scarlet and Violet truly breathes new life into the Pokemon experience. This is the first Pokemon game in years that actually feels like an adventure, and it gives you a lot of agency on how your story plays out.
On top of that, Scarlet and Violet get a little more ambitious with their storytelling, especially with the Team Star storyline diving into the past and personalities of the delinquent leaders. It's noticeable early on how much care was put into the writing and design of the characters, all to the story's advantage.
The new Paldea region is lush with wilderness and different biomes, but the scale of the world is where the cracks start to show. Whether you're playing in handheld or docked mode, the game chugs constantly, and the framerate can fluctuate wildly, even when you're simply running around. I also ran into literally dozens of bugs during my playtime for review, from falling through the ground and having to reboot the game to some truly egregious pop-in that would see people and Pokemon suddenly appear just feet in front of me.
Pokemon Scarlet and Violet are clearly games that were released too early and simply needed more polish. Even just from a graphical standpoint, so much of Scarlet and Violet looks rough and unfinished, with muddy textures and awkward animations.
Apart from the new open-world focus, if you've played a Pokemon game before, you'll be immediately familiar with the core loop of Scarlet and Violet.
Battles play out much as they do in Pokemon Legends: Arceus, taking place directly on the map instead of switching to a separate battle area. The turn-based combat of the franchise is virtually the same as it's always been, but there are plenty of new Pokemon and moves thrown into the mix. By and large, Scarlet and Violet's new cast of creatures feel like meaningful additions, and there are some real standouts, from the hilarious tiny fairy Tinkaton that wields a massive hammer to the lingering ghost spirit of Primeap known as Annihilape.
In Scarlet and Violet, Pokemon roam the field, and you now have the option to send out a Pokemon to auto-battle and resolve things quickly if you're just looking to wrack up some experience. At the same time, Scarlet and Violet have experience-share at all times, meaning your entire party levels, whether you're battling other trainers or catching new Pokemon.
Of course, the other major new feature is Terastalizing, which lets you turn a Pokemon into a souped-up crystal version that can change its type in the middle of battle. Terrastalizing can be used only once before it needs to be recharged at the Pokemon Center, meaning you need to think carefully about when and where you want to use it. Overall, it's a system that feels a bit gimmicky but adds a little extra layer of strategy.
There's a handful of other new mechanics and changes that help give Scarlet and Violet a unique identity. The most obvious is the addition of new legendaries, Koraidon and Miraidon, that essentially function as your motorcycle for most of the game.
These Legendaries make it much easier to get around, and beating Titan Pokemon let you unlock additional abilities, like Swim or Fly, opening up even more of the world. At the same time, there's a robust fast-travel system that instantly lets you get to any Pokemon Center you've previously visited.
There's also a brand new picnic system that lets you craft your very own sandwiches, which then provide your entire party with helpful stat boosts. You can also buy food in towns to get various other effects. The sandwich-making is a cute feature, but I found it mostly felt superfluous to the overall experience and not something I really needed to engage with.
On the other hand is Scarlet and Violet's co-op, which finally lets you explore the vibrant world of Pokemon with friends. It's an absolute blast to be able to run around the world with your pals, and not just a small specific area.
Scattered around Paldea are Terra Raid Battles, pitting you and three friends against a powerful Terrastalized Pokemon. By winning these battles, you can catch the Pokemon and get a bunch of valuable supplies like Experience Candy or items that can change a Pokemon's Terrastalization-type.
Of course, technical problems also constantly hamper the co-op experience, often leading to game crashes or visual bugs that make character and Pokemon models look like wild Frankenstein creatures.
Pokemon Scarlet and Violet Review —The Bottom Line
- New open-world format adds a ton of freedom.
- Some of the best characters and storytelling of the franchise.
- Really imaginative new Pokemon.
- Abundance of performance issues and bugs.
- Lackluster graphical performance, even when the game runs well.
- Some systems, like sandwich-making, feel superfluous.
Pokemon Scarlet and Violet are filled to the brim with good ideas, many of which are executed quite well, but it feels like the games could have really been something special if given a bit more time to bake.
Scarlet and Violet capture the spirit of adventure like no Pokemon game has been able to in years, but the abysmal performance and bugs really start to hamper the enjoyment after dozens of hours.
There are some mechanics that ultimately feel gimmicky, but Scarlet and Violet's storytelling and exploration feel like the breath of fresh air the franchise desperately needed. More than anything, I have hope for how eventual DLC might be able to improve the overall experience or how Game Freak can learn from its mistakes to create an even more memorable experience in the future.
[Note: Nintendo provided the copy of Pokemon Scarlet and Violet used for this review.]