The Pokemon franchise has been around for over 14 years and yet every new version still manages to be a runaway success for Nintendo. The upcoming Pokemon Black 2 and Pokemon White 2 have already sold gangbusters in Japan (moving over 1.6 million units the first two days it was on store shelves), and its popularity doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. Still, even after all these years, many fans believe the series may be growing stale, and that it’s time for some change.
Gamasutra recently interviewed Game Freak director Junichi Masuda, and they asked the famed Pokemon director how his team goes about trying to keep the series fresh even after all these years. Masuda instead defended the overly familiar nature of each iteration of the Pocket Monster franchise, comparing the series to sports such as basketball and soccer as an example of games that have changed very little over time.
“Finding that balance every time is very difficult. But when you think about games, just like playing, for example, soccer and basketball, they’re games that have been around for a very long time. The core gameplay of those – the core of how you play basketball and soccer – hasn’t really changed. Over the years, there’s regulation changes or rule changes to those games, but the core gameplay doesn’t really change for those, and that’s how we kind of feel about Pokemon as well.”
Junichi’s comparison of Pokemon to real world sports is an odd one, but readers will understand where the game director is coming from. More accurately, Pokemon is comparable to annual video game franchises like FIFA and Call of Duty, where few changes occur in order to provide the core audience with a very familiar, yet somewhat different, gaming experience — while still meeting time restraints put on by publishers.
There’s certainly no debate that the series hasn’t, ironically enough, evolved much over the years, but there have been some noteworthy changes made to the core gameplay mechanics since the original Pokemon Red and Blue games launched in 1998. Game Freak has added online trading and battling, new creatures, and enhanced battle mechanics to their franchise, and it’s all been for the best too — that much is evident after reading our review of last year’s Pokemon Black and White games.
At this point, consumers know exactly what they’re getting when they purchase a new Pokemon game, and quite a few like it that way. But as long as fans keep forking over the cash for the latest installment, Game Freak and Nintendo will stick with the tried and true formula that made the property such a success to begin with. In an industry where many say originality is rare, it’s safe to say that long-time fans with a “gotta catch ‘em all” mentality don’t really feel the need to fix something that isn’t broken, and the gameplay formula that millions have continued to support for over a decade is far from teetering on the brink of obscurity.
That being said, there are always a few things that can be refined, and the jump to the Nintendo 3DS should act as a nice catalyst for plenty of new enhancements and additions to the Pokemon series. Now, let’s hope we’ll be able to see how much has changed between the original Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire and their (hopefully) forthcoming 3DS remakes in the near future.
Pokemon Black 2 and Pokemon White 2, the newest additions to the core Pokemon series, will be available on October 7th, exclusively for the Nintendo DS.
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