Here’s a controversial opinion—third-version Pokémon games were never good. Wait..! Hold on, hear me out here. I loved collecting all three versions as a kid, but can you really say that makes any sense in this day and age? Back in the old days, we had to pay full price for incremental upgrades—it was the only way. The expansion pass announced for Sword and Shield earlier this month brings Pokémon up to date with modern gaming standards.
Upgrades to games have been relatively common over the years. Pokémon may be the most obvious example, but other series have done it, too. Kingdom Hearts and Persona come to mind. When this was popular, it made a lot of sense; a director’s cut of the title, with a ton of new and exciting content. In 2020, we have access to online services and a wealth of storage space. There is no reason for this model to exist anymore.
Were the third-versions ever worthwhile?
Look, I hear you. This is bucking a tradition dating all the way back to Pokémon Yellow in 1998. I, myself, grew up with the idea that paying for a third Pokémon title is normal. The thing is, most of them aren’t worth their asking price. The first two examples, Yellow and Crystal, added an extremely small amount of content. Yellow allowed you to start with a Pikachu, and Crystal allowed you to play as a girl. Are you honestly telling me these are worthwhile, full-price upgrades?
Let’s move on to the GBA and DS titles. Pokémon Emerald and Pokémon Platinum are two incremental upgrades that I could tolerate. They offered new types of gameplay with the battle frontier, and spiced up the regions somewhat for a fresh experience. That said, that still wasn’t worth the price of a brand new game. They had some great additions, sure, but they would have worked better as DLC, if the technology allowed.
Finally, we have Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon. These titles had such small changes to the original Sun and Moon that I question their entire existence. The only reason I can see for the additions to not be DLC is the limited capabilities of the 3DS—most kids don’t have large SD cards, so it wouldn’t make sense. It seems to me that the only reason these re-releases weren’t DLC were due to technical limitations, rather than the idea that it’s a better model.
Finally, there’s one stand-out title that actually did things right. Pokémon Black 2 and White 2. These, like other third-versions, take place in the same region as the original titles, with many of the same experiences in-tact. The difference here, though, is that it feels like some effort has been put in. There’s a brand new story, new battle facilities, new hidden areas, and over 100 extra Pokémon to catch. This is what a ‘third version’ should be, instead of a minor refresh.
The right step for Pokémon
Some people are calling GameFreak greedy. I’ve even seen some compare them to EA – a company infamous for shoddy DLC practices. The Expansion Pass is one huge package of bonus content, offering huge new areas, new Pokémon forms, and even new story aspects. I mean, just look at The Sims 4, a game with almost £500 of DLC content to purchase. This just isn’t a comparable situation. Hell, even the extra Pokémon are going to be available without the new content packs, so calling this approach ‘greedy’ just baffles me.
Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield are doing the right thing. I’ve had my share of complaints about the base game. I miss the National Pokédex, and I’m not a fan of the graphics, but this may be the first thing GameFreak has done right. The Nintendo Switch has internal storage, most people have a sizeable memory card, and Nintendo is pushing the eShop more than ever. Some of us were rather disappointed with Sword and Shield, but this is a step in the right direction. This gives us more for less, and that’s always a good thing.