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Despite the Valid Criticisms, I’m Loving ‘Pokémon Scarlet’

What? That's not a Koraidon, that's my CrocoStimpy. And I love him.

The crocostimpy looks a lot like Koraidon from Pokemon Scarlet.

I’ve had a pretty wild start to my 2023. I got stuck in the Bay Area storms, and in the process of trying to get home, a stranger tried to kiss me at a gas station. Of course, this was after my window got shattered, and I had to get it fixed in the rainy weather. Needless to say, my immune system got blasted by stress.

So, while laid up and trying not to regurgitate a single piece of toast, I decided I’d finally give Pokémon Scarlet a shot. All the criticisms of it seemed perfectly reasonable, and as I saw the money leave my wallet, I wondered if I’d actually just made a pretty dumb decision. After all, wasn’t this the game with glitches so bad that it was virtually unplayable?

Well, by the time I got my paws on it, I think a patch had already fixed those specific glitches. And while, yes, I agree with everyone’s complaints and I’m in no way trying to be a Nintendo bootlicker … I gotta admit, guys, I liked Pokémon Scarlet a lot.

Paldean Pizzazz

The Pokémon Quaquaval in Pokémon Scarlet and violet

So, yes, the graphics are kind of ass. I’m not gonna deny that at all, because it almost turned me off of the game. As I climbed hill after hill to get to some school I’d certainly never applied to, I was struck by how generic the terrain was. The frame-rates were the added slap in the face: I’d climb a hill, look out and see a Ralts, and watch as that poor little helmet-head stuttered pitifully just to get to a new patch of grass.

But I pressed on, determined to get my money’s worth, and I’m so glad I did because this might just be one of my favorite entries in the series. Granted, I haven’t played Legends: Arceus yet, but I’m still having a blast so far. It took a while to get into, sure, as the structure of the game is pretty overwhelming, but I’m really digging that overall structure—story and gameplay included.

As you probably know, you have three routes to zigzag back and forth between: the Titan route, the Team Star route, and of course, the Gym route. Initially, it feels intimidating having so much to do in such an unfamiliar world, yet the game ultimately shines in the way it rewards you for exploration. You’re encouraged to go to new places, even the ones that vastly out-level you, and the result is a game system that gifts you a journey that is uniquely yours.

Now, with that comes a certain mechanic that others were iffy on, but I personally find funny: out-leveling other bosses and gyms because of the way you go about doing things. I sincerely thought the last Team Star boss was, you know, at the very tip of the map. Because that’s the top of their gang’s map star. So before I went there, I battled Eri— the rightmost arm of the star, and by far the toughest—first. That battle gave me a run for my money, so I was steeling myself for the last fight with the top star boy.

Related: Best Team Builds in Pokémon Scarlet and Violet on GamerJournalist

But the “top star boy” was chump change, at least 10 levels beneath me and my team. It was almost pitiful how much we swept him. And look, I get that some people found this free-leveling system a little clumsy and stupid, but I personally found it hilarious. Like, here I was, sweating over whether or not my Armarouge could handle such big, tough fairy types … only to obliterate most of them with just one Fire Blast. Poetry.

Speaking of Armarouge, I really enjoy these new Pokémon designs! As I wrote about in a prior piece, they feel creative and fun in ways I haven’t seen from the franchise since the Unova days. Dachsbun, in particular, stole my heart and fed it to the moon, I love its design. And having Mabostiff as its counterpart—ahh, creative joy! So many puppies!

Then there are the NPC designs, which, again, I love. While a common complaint I saw (that the towns and city fell a little flat) is certainly apt and valid, I feel as though the NPC designs make up for that and then some. We only get so much time with certain people, such as the gym leaders, but they all have a little spark in their personalities and designs that make them stick with you. In particular, I love Rika from the Elite Four, who both reminds me of early gen NPCs, AND was, you know, hot.

This also extends to our “rivals,” who aren’t so much rivals as they are companions in this game … which, yes, is adorable. Nemona took a while to grow on me, but eventually I just started seeing her as one of those lonely overachievers who just really needs a good friend. Arven is my homeboy, and his quest is by far my favorite (even if his bangs are a little ridiculous). Penny leaves a little to be desired, but I enjoy the inclusion of Director Clavell as “Clive” alongside her story arc.

And finally, speaking of which, we get to the school itself. Initially, I thought it was such a dumb, pointless thing to include in the game. You get there, go through a time-skip, and then you never really have to set foot inside the main school building again. But the more I engaged with it as a world hub in between expeditions, the fonder I became of it. Yes, the classes were silly and useless, but I thought it was really cool roleplaying to imagine my kid hunkering down after a lot of traveling, resting and recouping and using what they’ve learned in class. That’s right, I said roleplaying. In a Pokémon game! The times are truly changing.

Granted, I first roleplayed as an adult stuck in a child’s body, wondering why the hell I was going back to school because ultimately this is a kid’s game and at times I felt a little silly playing it. But eventually I started to feel very connected to the region and the story happening before me. I started seeing my kid as a depressed little punk who was being sent to Poké-Boarding School just to lighten up and start having fun. And it worked.

We’re both having a lot of fun.

So what you’re saying is, I should try this game after all?

The three starters from Pokémon Scarlet / Violet: Sprigatito, Quaxly, and Fuecoco

Nah, man, you do what you want. I completely understand why people are upset with this game, and I’m not trying to prove them wrong or anything like that.

Ultimately, I wrote this for the people, like me, who were looking forward to this game but were put off by the bad reviews. I really, truly enjoyed Pokémon Scarlet, and I feel as though I got my money’s worth. I love my stupid little Pokémon—especially my gay samba duck, my miniature Fire Emblem character, and my CrocoStimpy (a.k.a. Koraidon)—and if you just want to hunker down with the joys of Pokémon to kick off this new year, then I say give it a shot. Maybe you’ll end up with a shiny Froslass like my bougie ass.

(featured image: Nickelodeon)

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Madeline (she/her) is a writer, dog mom, and casual insomniac. She aims to use her writing to positively represent mixed-race people like herself. Niche interests include folk music, elves/wizards, and why horses are cool actually.