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Scarlet & Violet Fan-Made Pixel Art Makes Me Want A Gen 9 Demake

You don’t play Pokemon for the graphics. Sword & Shield were much maligned for their low quality trees and ‘reused’ assets for the monsters themselves (the latter of which wasn’t actually true, but even if it were, it would be a good way of reducing the workload for design staff). In contrast, the towns and cities of Galar look positively stunning, but lack the depth of previous generations. Think about the magic of Ballonlea and the impressive ramparts of Hammerlocke. The subpar graphics are more than made up for with great art design, but that ends up lacking on the generic routes, which then stick in your mind for all the wrong reasons.

I had the same problems with Legends: Arceus. The gameplay was a clever innovation, and offered something new in a series that was slowly going stale. Nothing in Pokemon beats flinging Jet Balls at unsuspecting Bidoof, but as soon as I called in my Braviary and took to the skies, things took a turn for the worse. It wasn’t just air sickness, the landscapes of Legends: Arceus were suddenly blurs of shapes and colours, one area practically indistinguishable from the next.

Things look to be improving slightly in Pokemon Scarlet & Violet. The graphics aren’t Sword & Shield levels, but they’re hardly up to scratch with other Switch titles like Monster Hunter Rise or Breath of the Wild. Once again, I found myself wishing that Game Freak committed to an interesting art style, rather than trying this semi-realistic thing that ends up halfway between uncanny valley and plain old bad.

If I think of the most beautiful games on the Switch, my mind immediately goes to Breath of the Wild, Gris, Link’s Awakening, and Octopath Traveler. (Sure, Alien Isolation looks amazing on the Switch OLED, but it’s not what comes to mind, alright?) What do these games have in common? They commit to an art style. Breath of the Wild’s cel-shading, Gris’ watercolours, Link’s Awakening’s toy-like characters, and Octopath’s HD-2D style all cleverly circumvent the Switch’s graphical limitations and create games that look unique.

That’s why I’m not excited about the graphics of Scarlet & Violet. The Pokemon designs are great (especially Lechonk), I haven’t decided on my starter yet because they’re all too good, the Professors are hot, and it’s probably a time travel story. With all this in its favour, I don’t need to worry about the graphics. But seeing fan artists create beautiful pixel art images of the adorable monsters has made me nostalgic for a game that never existed.

The most beautiful Pokemon games are SoulSilver and HeartGold. It’s the height of Pokemon’s 3D pixel art which inexplicably stopped after a couple of generations, but it’s a style I’d love the series to revisit. I’ll forever remember the stunning autumnal route towards Bell Tower, and now I want a new game made in this style.

Aside from fan games, it’s been over a decade since we’ve had a pixel art Pokemon game. Of course back then, it was just called art. Nowadays, the best chance of getting a new pixel art Pokemon game would be through a fan-made ‘demake’. Hell, with the Nintendo DS eShop closing, the best chance of playing a pixel art Pokemon game including those that actually released would be through a demake. But that should change.

Game Freak is persevering with this weird middle of the road art style with its Pokemon Switch games, but it should abandon that altogether. Take inspiration from the likes of Celeste, Hyper Light Drifter, and your own back catalogue to make a game that’s visually interesting and carries its own sense of style. Pixel art Lechonk is even better than the 3D model in Scarlet & Violet. The criminally overlooked Pawmi looks extra adorable, as does Smoliv and the starters. We haven’t seen the box Legendaries, Koraidon and Miraidon, in-game yet, but they look suitably fearsome in fan-made pixel art forms.

Returning to the pixel art style of its roots would be a big risk for Game Freak, but at this point they have to roll the dice or else we’ll be stuck with visually boring games for the rest of time. I don’t expect the developer to listen to me, but it’s worth a try. And in the meantime I’ll enjoy the fanart and replay SoulSilver, pretending Whitney has a Lechonk instead of a Miltank. Let’s just hope it doesn’t learn Rollout.

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