…of this, there is no doubt.
I’ve said it before, but I cannot get over how superb the Switch’s release strategy continues to be. Sure, big releases have been a little scarce for the first part of this year, but looking forward the little console is certain to continue pulling in massive sales numbers. The mysterious new Smash title would have accomplished this on its own, but with the recent announcement of the Pokémon Let’s Go games the Switch is in an almost impossibly favorable position to dominate the market. I say this not because I am excited for the games (and I’m really not, they look like a mediocre distraction at best), but because it is clear that the developers understand what needs to be done to bring in new consumers from long-neglected demographics.
Far and away the most significant design choice shown off in the trailer is the use of the Pokémon Go capture mechanic. Hardcore Pokémon fans might groan at the site of the notoriously flawed system, but those fans are not the target audience for these games. Instead, Game Freak has chosen to focus the appeal of these spin offs towards the casual or lapsed Pokémon enthusiast. Pokémon Go is the only Pokémon game many people have played in a decade, possibly two. For these people, the main-series Pokémon games are dauntingly complicated. The core gameplay may be functionally identical to the now-ancient Pokémon Red and Blue games, but there are far too many new concepts and Pokémon for newcomers to keep track of. So, introducing a Pokémon game on the Switch based on a system that hundreds of millions of people have recently interacted with is an absurdly effective way to sell the Switch to untapped markets. I’m willing to predict that at least two million Switches will be purchased with the explicit purpose of playing these games, solely due to the recognizable mechanics from Pokémon Go.
Nearly as significant as the recycled capture mechanics is the setting of the games. Pokémon Let’s Go will be set in Kanto, the region in which the original Pokémon games take place. A Nintendo game banking on nostalgia is nothing new, but this decision is clearly targeting a more specific crowd than usual. A group of people who have nothing but disdain for newer Pokémon games, insisting that the quality of the series plummeted after the release of Red and Blue. People of this ilk are commonly known as genwunners (excuse the excessive contempt that I put into those italics), a term that comes from the phrase “generation one” referring to the original Pokémon games. Pandering to these individuals may seem slightly obnoxious to current fans of the series, but it makes perfect business sense to do so. Genwunners are an unreachable demographic for most Pokémon games, but setting Pokémon Let’s Go in Kanto will make the new games a guaranteed purchase for many of them. Long-time Pokémon fans are still likely to buy the games, so the nostalgic setting is a win-win from a marketing perspective.
While they are clearly attempting to reach other markets, Game Freak isn’t neglecting the needs of more consistent Pokémon fans with these new games. Not content to rely on rehashed mobile mechanics and nostalgia bait, they added something really special: full-on local cooperative play. Couch co-op is a bit of an obsession of mine. Many modern games dismiss the feature as unnecessary or cumbersome, but some of the most magical gaming moments are made when you’re playing a game in the same room as your buddy. No Pokémon game to date has had this feature save for battle-focused games like Stadium or Battle Revolution, so this is an extremely significant step for the series. Even if everything else in these games has been seen before, local co-op alone will be enough to pique the interest of the average Pokémon fan.
There may be some serious potential flaws with what we’ve seen of the Pokémon Let’s Go games, but the raw capitalist genius that spurned them is something to admire. I don’t mean that sarcastically either, expanding interest for a two-decade-old game series is no small feat. And while I may be skeptical towards these games, I won’t deny that they could end up being something special. A little bit of care and passion goes a long way, even with the most cynical of premises. Regardless of their quality though, Nintendo is poised to make an excessive amount of money off of these things. You can bet on that.