Earlier today Nintendo unveiled several new Pokémon games, one of which is headed to Nintendo Switch. If you were one of the fans counting down the days until the latest Pokémon Direct, though, you may have walked away still dreaming about what wasn’t announced rather than what was. The short version? As of right now, there’s no Pokémon Stars in sight.
The theoretical title had been built up by wanting fans as something of a myth, simultaneously representing both a traditional year-after revisit for the Sun and Moon titles of 2016 as well as Nintendo Switch’s first foray into mainline RPG Pokémon. Of course, the implication there is that the game would be redone from the ground up for Switch, or at the very least made to look presentable on its superior hardware. While I like the idea myself, it never felt particularly feasible; an HD remake of a one year old game, jumping from a system that outputs 400x240 to the Switch’s full 1080p? Maybe someday, but not less than a year later after the originals.
With Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon each respectively confirmed, the outlook for Stars suddenly becomes quite bleak. The last time this happened via Pokémon Black and White 2 in 2012, Nintendo forewent a culminating single version in favor of dual direct sequels, featuring new plot and narrative elements. As with any new Pokémon release, a swathe of additional monsters is also expected, though given that this isn’t a generational leap the total number will be relatively modest.
It’s understandable to feel let down about the lack of a Switch Pokémon RPG arriving soon, but if you consider what we actually are getting and what that likely implies, there’s a serious chance the additional waiting will be worth it. As with Black and White 2, Game Freak intends to overstay its welcome a bit on waning hardware, but in exchange Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon will be heartily full-featured and rife with new narrative, more so than your standard generational redux. At the same time, new assets or large tweaks to the game engine won’t be necessary, implying a light lift when it comes to development. There are plenty of reasons a studio might approach a sequel this way, but chief among them is multitasking. After today’s news, there’s little doubt in my mind that Game Freak is multitasking on its first Switch Pokémon RPG.
If true, the eventual outcome is surely preferable to what a theoretical Pokémon Stars would have been. Again citing the case of Black and White 2, spending an extra year on Nintendo DS eventually yielded a huge graphical overhaul and long-awaited break from an entirely grid-based style of Pokémon game in the form of X and Y (graduating from single-square sprites to more of a refined chibi look). That evolution continued with Sun and Moon, though in exchange those games were seen by some as linear and by-the-numbers compared to their forebears. This despite a wide array of new gameplay that brought the games and Pokémon anime closer in style than ever before.
Sun and Moon is the nearest we’ve yet come to game and serialized animation stylistically merging, while the older Pokémon titles were comparatively far-flung with environments that, while not quite “open world,” could easily be lost in while exploring. An ideal experience on Switch would combine old and new, while simultaneously leaving the painfully slow crawl of camera-angle evolution behind. A fully 3D, truly third-person Pokémon RPG may be on the way, but if you want it, you’re going to have to wait for it. If what’s in store even partially resembles that, then it sure sounds a lot more compelling than a half-hearted Sun and Moon upscale for Switch.
And thus, we can finally put to be the legend of Pokémon Stars, a title that never was and that may prove, down the road, it was never meant to be. In many ways the name simply represents a Switch Pokémon title, something that is most definitely coming and will steadily improve the more time it's given to hatch. It’s no Pokémon egg, though; sadly, running around your house counting hundreds of steps probably isn’t going to help.