According to a report by IGN earlier this week, Game Freak, the company behind the beloved Pokémon series, is seeking new talent for a console game. Although they never mention the legendary pocket monsters by name, they open the ad with "An opportunity to be involved in the development of the worldwide popular RPG!"
The job description also includes the design of "characters, Monsters, and items." Considering these snippets and the fact that Game Freak is a company that's made fewer than 5 non-Pokémon titles in the last 10 years and already has a PC game called Giga Wrecker on the docket for this year, we're probably set to see a Nintendo Switch Pokémon game.
What could the Switch mean for Pokémon?
Before we consider the harsh economic realities of the Pokémon economy, let's just go crazy with the possibilities. The Nintendo Switch is the most relatively advanced piece of hardware Nintendo has ever released. It has the ability to render state-of-the-art graphics, run multiple HD rumble, motion-tracking controllers, and has a robust online community primed for competitive multiplayer. And it can do all that on the go.
The possibilities in terms of graphics are nearly endless. It's easy to forget because the whole story is so familiar that it can feel like it's on-rails, but Pokémon is an open-world game. That means you have all the time you'd like to inspect trees, creatures, buildings and anything else in the increasingly detailed environments. Over the last three generations of Pokémon, the top-down camera angle has been occasionally abandoned in favor of a more free-form approach that tilts into the more console-like over-the-shoulder third-person. With the power of the Nintendo Switch, we could see Pokémon turn into a full-fledged over-the-shoulder third-person game like The Witcher or Breath of the Wild. Maybe there will even be a first-person option. Imagine looking your Pikachu in the eyes. Imagine looking your Pikachu in the eyes in VR.
The possibilities for game mechanics are almost too many to consider, but for the sake of maintaining the core feeling of a a "Pokémon ______ Version," let's assume they would keep the turn-based combat system and just beef the up battle animations.
Beyond the capacity for the game to become a more console-worthy RPG experience, there's the possibility of actually decent multiplayer.
Now, given the Switch's separable Joy-Con controllers and Nintendo's penchant for party games, there's the grand possibility of local multiplayer. You and your roommate could each grab your favorite color of Joy-Con and face off against each other in a full-fledged Pokémon smackdown. This isn't as exciting as it could be though, because only one of you will really know and have built your team unless they abandon Pokémon you raised in favor of pre-sets. However, that's more a leveling-down correction than anything because then neither of you will feel truly connected to your Pokémon. Unless... Switch Pokémon games will allow multiple save-files. Then it could get really interesting.
However, the most exciting local multiplayer possibility, as per usual with Nintendo, is probably in the form of cute minigames.
Now, the much more exciting possibility is competitive online multiplayer. I'm not gonna go into too much detail about this, because that could make this into some sort crazed multiplayer manifesto, but I will touch on a few key points.
Matchmaking. Like I talked about above with local multiplayer, we're much more likely to see the use of pre-set equal-leveled Pokémon for competitive multiplayer than the use of player-trained Pokémon from your single-player experience. This means that the goal of any player will to be improve their MMR (match-making-rank) to hit increasingly skilled players and have better battles. This could come along with bonus moves and stats earned in a leveling system similar to Call of Duty's multiplayer or just remain equal over time with some sort of tier system to encourage players to keep going like in Starcraft or Fire Emblem Heroes.
Doesn't that all sound a little too good to be true? Maybe...
The fact of the matter is, Pokémon games are important. They're important to the dedicated, diverse fanbase that wouldn't dream of missing a generation unless something huge (like a $400 set-up) got in the way. They're also important to Nintendo and Game Freak who have a nigh-annual best-seller. That means if we do see an official "generation" of Pokémon games premiering on the Nintendo Switch, that same generation might also have to launch simultaneously with a 3DS version, a device with a much wider and established market, lest they miss out on a ton of possible sales.
So what does that mean? Most of the wildly ambitious possibilities we've laid out for a Switch Pokémon game in this article are probably not gonna happen. It'd be way too difficult to develop and launch a title with full 3D over-the-shoulder or first-person graphics along with a 3DS level game at the same time. We could see cross-platform multiplayer but that would probably mean a pretty limited system and way fewer options for cool stuff like upgrades and rankings.
However, all that love and value in Pokémon games that drove people to shell for a 3DS, Nintendo might want to harness to force people to cop their own Switch. Maybe Nintendo thinks if they put the new Mario Kart, Smash Bros, Animal Crossing AND a new generation of Pokemon all on one new console, you'll just have to buy it.
After all of the possibilities, I'm pulling for the latter.