To make sure you never miss out on your favourite NEW stories, we're happy to send you some reminders

Click 'OK' then 'Allow' to enable notifications

Pokémon Scarlet review: A great adventure held back by poor performance

Pokémon Scarlet review: A great adventure held back by poor performance

Paldea, I hardly know her!

Pokémon Scarlet and Violet are strange games. In no way am I saying that the franchise’s ninth mainline entries are bad - in fact they are a marked improvement over Sword and Shield - they just fall short in every way of fulfilling the dream of the perfect open-world Pokémon game. Earlier this year we had our first glimpse of what an open-world Pokémon game could be in the form of Pokémon Legends: Arceus, with its selection of large open areas full of monsters out in the wild to be caught, offering not only one of the finest Pokémon video games ever made, but a promising peek into what the future holds for the franchise.

If you like your reviews in video form, check out our Pokémon Scarlet video review below:

It’s rather apt then, that after the backlash to Arceus’ visuals, that Scarlet and Violet should often fare worse, not only in terms of visuals, but also general performance. These games drop frames a lot. NPCs barely a few steps away from the player jerk through the world, walking animation frames seemingly cut in half. The camera clips beneath the floor at times during battles on sloped surfaces and, between all the pop in, the real-time lighting inches across the landscape bit by bit like stop motion. These visual issues can really take a player out of the game, especially when an extremely small Pokémon pops into existence mere feet away from the player, barely noticeable, activating a battle.

Oh, and there was this one time a Pokémon was walking through the sky.

Me and my Chililad
Me and my Chililad

I’m going to say it now, with no insider knowledge or insight of Nintendo or The Pokémon Company’s plans, but Scarlet and Violet feel like they were developed for future hardware and not the Nintendo Switch. I can’t see Nintendo or Game Freak being happy that one of their flagship/tentpole IPs released in such a poor state, even after the day 1 patch.

Towns and villages are full of buildings that can’t be entered, with NPCs you can’t talk to. It’s what I imagine walking through the set of Eastenders would be like, opening doors on the street just to see scaffolding. Most stores just open doors into a menu and the grandiose academy you attend is connected through a ‘room select’ map, rather than letting the player explore the corridors between.

There are also no actual side quests or, at least, I’ve not spoken to anyone who has given me any during my 30 hours play time. It can make the towns of Paldea feel like a facade, which is so frustrating given how great the open world is to explore. I would love to be given an excuse outside of “catch them all” to survey it. It’s an RPG released in 2022, there needs to be something more to do beyond the main narrative. I’m not saying there aren’t secrets to find in Paldea, but the majority of the time you find a secret cove, or an area that feels special, chances are you’ll either find just a TM or wild Tera Pokémon, and not one that particularly sparks much joy (at least for me anyway).

Believe me when I say this, the region of Paldea is bloody littered with TMs and items. You can’t walk a few metres without spotting a glint on the floor, or a glowing Pokéball.

A view from early in the game
A view from early in the game

I’ve been quite scathing of the game so far, and I’m sure I will continue to say negative things further on (man, some of the new Pokémon designs are atrocious), but I had a lot of fun making my way through the main three story paths, and the events that tie them all together at the end. Unlike in Sword and Shield you are the hero of the story again, a major driving force in solving the regions problems, but on top of that you actually feel yourself developing bonds with the characters, with one particular narrative path throughout the story genuinely affecting me emotionally in a way a Pokémon game never has. By the time the credits rolled, I had audibly gasped at a revelation that wasn’t related to any sort of returning Pokémon or alternate form.

As part of the review process I played Pokémon Scarlet, and I don’t know how to say this, but Koraidon, this version’s specific legendary mount, is perfect in every way. The animation and cutscenes have improved over those in Sword and Shield which really helps bring out all the “Toothless-esque” emotion from my favourite ever in-game mount. I say this to all Violet/Miraidon stans - I can’t see any way that rocket robot can have any of the same cuteness and emotional range as my new buddy.

I would die for Koraidon
I would die for Koraidon

It's actually quite impressive the developer managed to pull off a narrative with character growth, as the story's three paths (Starfall Street / Path of Legends / Victory Road) at first seem quite distinct and separate. The Starfall Street path involves a lot of repetition, each base starts with an incredibly non-challenging push through hordes of Starfall Grunt’s Pokémon using the autobattle system. The boss of each is always just tough enough to make you think about how you’ll change up your team next time (although you’ll never likely need a second pass), but it's a good way of helping level your team up for the Victory Road story, as well as the Path of Legend’s Titan bosses - the hardest of which is based in a relatively mid level zone and absolutely trashed my team first time around.

Victory Road is exactly what you’d expect. Defeat the eight gyms, take on the Elite Four, become the champion. Just like in Sword and Shield each gym has a task that needs to be completed before each fight, and mostly these feel like filler as they bring very little challenge, other than maybe helping establish some of the vibe and lore of the leader or the town - but even then, that can be a stretch. Some of the challenges do make you wish for the olden days of awkward slippy floor puzzles trying to make your way to the leader.

A gym in the snowy mountains
A gym in the snowy mountains

A month or so before receiving the game for review I was invited down to London to play an hour of Pokémon Violet, and in that session the previewers were given access to a small section of the map near the starting point of the game. In this preview, Koraidon or Miraidon (version dependant) had all of its traversal skills unlocked, giving those in attendance the impression that our legendary buddy would be able to sprint, glide, jump incredibly high, climb walls and swim from the very start of the game - this is not the case. Koraidon / Miraidon, actually unlock these abilities as the story progresses. Doing this allows Game Freak to hide certain things out of grasp in the earlier areas, and help push the player along in specific directions to progress in each of the paths in the correct level order.

As much as I complained near the beginning of my review about the appearance of the visuals and Pokémon pop-in, during the moments it all comes together, while riding across one of the varied biomes, surrounded by wild Pokémon all ready to be caught and battled, something clicks and the game works. Climbing over a cliff edge to reveal a lake full of powerful water Pokémon or walking through the woods with a family of bug monsters nearby just chilling out - it’s the experience we’ve all been waiting for. It’s just a shame the technical side holds it all back.

It’s also great to have battles occur in the game world, allowing for an almost seamless transition into a fight while staying in the same space, as other wild Pokémon still meander around in the background. It feels like a huge step forward for the franchise, although sometimes it can lead to very silly situations. At one point in my playthrough I took part in a relatively important battle in an area populated by NPCs and, during the fight, a pedestrian decided to walk right up and past me like a battle wasn’t even happening. I had similar occurrences battling trainers out in the wild, but with wild Pokémon.

It’s a shame to have lost the ability to run around the fights like in Legends: Arceus, that was a lovely touch, but being able to rotate the camera around in the battles is just about good enough. Maybe going forward for Generation X, Game Freak will cherry pick the best aspects from this year's two Pokémon releases, as the ability to catch Pokémon in the overworld is also sorely missed in Scarlet and Violet.

Lechonk never stood a chance
Lechonk never stood a chance

As a reward for making it this far into my review, have a pro tip. Turn off auto-save in the menu. The game will save after each battle, which can be a real issue if you accidentally defeat a rare wild Pokémon you were trying to lower to a sliver of health… I’m not saying this happened to me, but I’m devastated I never managed to catch that wild [REDACTED].

Online functionality wasn’t active during the review period, so I wasn’t able to fully test out the Tera Raids with friends. There’s something fun about heading up to a Tera Den, knowing full well from the colour of the “ice” what Tera type a Pokémon will be, but then being happily surprised when it obviously doesn’t suit the typing that Terestalizing gives it. The raids themselves feel strangely unstructured compared to those in Sword and Shield, opting for a more “spam attacks” approach, where it seems everyone attacks in fast succession, allowing for a quicker turnaround in choosing attack. We’ll have to see how this works out in actual multiplayer, as one slow teammate could still hold up the entire process.

Pokémon Scarlet and Violet have finally delivered on the promise of an open-world entry, but with all the technical issues and stripped-back features, it’s hard to not feel like the Nintendo Switch held these games back. The next mainline games will be the tenth generation, a major milestone, and you have to assume that by the time it releases, a new Nintendo console will be out. If this is what an open-world Pokémon game is now, it's tantalising to consider what is coming in the future.

Pros: An open world full of Pokémon, characters with emotional arcs, Koraidon

Cons: Terrible frame rate and visual issues, doesn’t take full advantage of being an open-world RPG.

For fans of: Pokémon Legends: Arceus, Pokémon Sword and Shield, Pokémon Franchise

7/10: Very Good

Pokémon Scarlet (version tested) and Pokémon Violet release November 18 on Nintendo Switch. Code for review provided by Nintendo . Read a guide to our review scores here.

Featured Image Credit: The Pokémon Company

Topics: Pokemon, Nintendo, Nintendo Switch