No ‘Ultra’ versions means Pokemon Sword and Shield have finally moved into the 21st century

One of the things speculated to make an appearance during the January 2020 Pokemon Direct was the possibility of a Pokemon Sword and Shield Ultra version despite the games having been out for less than a year. Thankfully, the people behind the game had the sense to create the Pokemon Sword and Shield Expansion Pass, finally bringing the franchise into the 21st Century.

‘Ultra’ is Not So Great

Pokemon Sword and Shield Female Trainer Tundra

The Pokemon franchise has a storied history of releasing upgraded versions of their games. Sometimes they’ll do a rerelease many years later like with Pokemon Fire Red and Leaf Green, both of which were enhanced versions of the original Pokemon Red and Blue released eight years after the original launch.

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Other times, they’ll crank out something like Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon around a year after Pokemon Sun and Moon came out. This surely was a sore move for people who just bought the game, only to find out that they were stuck with a lesser product.

The Pokemon Sword and Shield development team certainly had a tempting scenario in front of them. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a marketing meeting where they weighed the pros and cons of releasing new cartridges with several enhancements — but they didn’t. Instead, Game Freak did the right thing and announced the Pokemon Sword and Shield Expansion Pass in the Pokemon Direct.

Yearly releases are frustrating

Pokemon Sword and Shield Kubfu

Creating “enhanced” versions of games that you would have to buy again was certainly understandable in the cartridge gaming era; after all, there wasn’t really any way to download patches or fix a game after it was printed and sent out into the world. That changed in the era of the PS3 and Xbox 360 with integrated hard drives and broadband internet connections, but some companies are still doing it to this day.

There are a few offenders in this category that we’re all well familiar with. Off the top of my head, there’s pretty much every major sports franchise in gaming and stuff like Just Dance. Do we really need to go out and buy another disc for a roster update or some more songs? Why not just make a digital pass?

Some games even go the distance with major overhauls. Note the number of titles that offer things like “HD texture packs” or “enhanced editions” as free downloads or purchased expansions for existing customers. An Internet connection is all but required for modern gaming anyway, so gaming companies should be making use of it in the long run. It’s an annoyance that Game Freak seems keen on avoiding this time around.

The Pokemon Sword and Shield Expansion Pass is the Future

Pokemon Sword and Shield Big Ol Bulbasaur

With the franchise’s transition to the Nintendo Switch, Game Freak has had to put on its big boy pants. This means development of much more robust post-launch content beyond a handful of balance patches or the occasional code for a special Pokemon, and it looks like it’s delivering nicely.

What we’re seeing with the Expansion Pass is akin to the sort of post-launch content we’d expect from any major RPG. It isn’t a Bethesda game without at least one or two new islands mysteriously appearing off the coast of Cyrodil — and Game Freak does a fair few overhauls on the main game world, too.

Best of all, Game Freak has begun to restore some of the Pokemon that were originally cut in the “Dexit” debacle that saw hundreds of Pokemon not appear in a core game for the first time in history. Hopefully, future expansions will continue to remedy this gaffe and everyone will be happy with the finished product.

The general pattern for Pokemon games is that we get a new “core” title every couple of years or so. Now, we may genuinely have a robust lifecycle where we’re not having to buy Pokemon A and B with a hundred new critters right after we finished the last one. Game Freak can take their time making little bits of content, enhancing the original experience and taking more time to work on the next major overhaul.