2022 has been a good year for Pokemon. In fact, ever since Pokemon first appeared in the mid-'90s, it has been on a near-three decade run of good years. There have been ups and downs, as well as poor years by Pokemon's own lofty standards, but it has always been one of the most profitable entertainment franchises in the world. With two main series games, a bumper World Championships, and cards continuing their golden revival, a lot of Pokedollars have been poured into the Lechonk bank. Away from the financial side though, 2022 has been one of Pokemon's most complex and cluttered years to date.
We had two mainline games in the same year for the first time ever (or three, if Scarlet & Violet are to be counted as different entities), and as if to set the tone for 2022, the whole thing made very little sense. Pokemon Legends: Arceus kicked off the year, adding open-zone gameplay, introducing a fresh battling format, and by staying in a single town hub managed to inject the place with the sort of personality Pokemon games haven't had since the 2D days. Most importantly, it let you feel like a real trainer, creeping around in tall grass and catching Pokemon naturally by throwing Poke Balls at them, not via battles.
It wasn't perfect; the story was slow, the ending hectic, the foray into open play a little basic considering Pokemon's might, but it was marching forward. Unfortunately, Pokemon Scarlet & Violet followed up with a 'true' mainline game introducing the region of Paldea, and undid all of Arceus' progress.
It's open world rather than open zone, so kudos I guess, but the world feels so empty and soulless it hardly seems worth it. The towns are meaningless and share an identical lack of character, the battles are slow and mind-numbing, and catching Pokemon is as dull as ever – every advancement made has been stripped right back out again. Despite the larger scope and the pandemic delays, Pokemon hit its 'three year' rule for new regions, but it came at the cost of quality, though profits remained high.
With this new region has come an end to the Sword & Shield era of cards, and the run-up to the Scarlet & Violet cards. Pokemon cards saw a fresh boom a few years ago, aided in part by scalpers desperate to flip them for profit, but it does feel as though cards are a major part of Pokemon's branding once more, in ways they weren't a few years ago. However, Pokemon TCG Live, an online version of the card battling described by Pokemon as "the latest way to take on the thrills of the Pokemon TCG", also began its rollout this year, but has been struck down by teething problems. Similarly, Pokemon Go has pumped in new features constantly throughout 2022, but is also tightening its monetisation and pay-to-win strategy, further alienating more casual players. Some steps forward, some steps back, but mostly a lot of profit.
As for the anime, literally as I'm writing this paragraph the news has broken that Ash is leaving the series, so I'm gonna delete everything and let the chaos of that one speak for itself. Cynthia using a lipstick doesn't seem all that interesting in the wake of that.
Pokemon has made a lot of money in 2022, and has somehow grown again in cultural importance, but it hasn't been a year of unchecked victory. How much bigger can Pokemon get before we stop giving its small team the benefit of the doubt when its games fall apart?
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