Every generation of Pokemon games has a gimmick. From Sword & Shield’s Kaiju-esque Gigantamax to Sun & Moon’s Z-Crystals, players are seeing a pretty obvious pattern emerge of a new battle gimmick with each new generation. But that wasn’t always the case.
To explain, I’ll take you on a brief history of fundamental changes that were added with each Pokemon generation to make the games we have today. It all started with Gen 1, of course, but those games were pretty buggy and certain things were broken. Ghost-types ran wild and Hypno abused the Special stat to be an incredible tank. So, Gold & Silver split the Special stat into Sp. Def and Sp. Atk as well as adding the Dark type. This generation also brought in gendered Pokemon and Shinies, which are key for breeding competitive Pokemon and flexing respectively.
Gen 3 brought abilities (yep, Intimidate wasn’t a thing before Ruby & Sapphire) and Gen 4 the Special/Physical split when it comes to moves. You take it for granted nowadays, but before 2006 your Gyarados with a massive Attack stat was forced to use its weaker Sp. Attack stat because all Water-type moves were Special. Gen 5 was where everything was perfected – I’ll talk about that another day – which brought some gimmicky battle types rather than any fundamental changes. While Triple Battles and Rotation Battles have been thankfully lost to the endless march of time, it can be argued that Black & White were the culmination of Pokemon, where the formula was first perfected.
Black & White made some other changes, too. For the majority of the game, only new Pokemon were available – a decision that caused outrage at the time, and in the wake of Dexit, would likely cause more if announced today. After significant backlash for Gen 5 – it’s still not a popular era for the series – the developer needed something to get players back on board, and Mega Evolution was the option it chose.
Now here’s the kicker: I like Megas. It was a safe choice to give old favourite monsters a refresh and stat boost, and for the most part the designs were ace. Mega Pinsir is probably my pick of the bunch, with special shoutouts to Houndoom and Shiny Mega Gengar. Anyone who played even semi-competitively back in the day will have flashbacks to Speed Boosting Mega Blaziken – when else would we have seen Blaziken taken into battle other than your Gen 3 story playthrough?
However, Mega evolution started a trend that I’m completely bored of, to be frank. I don’t know why the Pokemon Company decided to start implementing a new gimmick every generation – or why it ever thought Z-Crystals, the worst battle mechanic ever, were a good idea – but I’m done. If it had just designed more Mega Evolutions each year I’d be a very happy Pokefan, but we know that in Gen 9, Dynamaxing will be left in a ditch by the routeside along with Mega Stones and Z-Crystals.
Mega Evolution’s only crime was that it was the beginning of this tiring trend. Generations 2, 3, and 4 all made meaningful progress to making Pokemon a more complex and competitive game, whereas these new fads feel… I don’t want to say lazy, but they’re clearly gimmicks. Adding a mechanic that you know full well will be ditched in the next games is a short-term solution to making Pokemon more exciting. Think about the first time you saw Mudkip’s Torrent kick in to take down an opponent that you thought you wouldn’t best, or the first season change in Black & White – these are truly special memories that would be just as exciting to experience for the first time in modern Pokemon.
I do think Dynamaxing fits in well with Sword & Shield’s stadium-sized gym battles, but what’s next? If the next region will truly be set in India, as the Mythical theories suggest, will we just get another gimmick instead of interesting gameplay innovation? What I’d do for Mega Copperajah and Mega Oranguru to lead the lineups in Gen 9…
I admit that Pokemon Legends: Arceus looks to bring some innovation back to the series and potentially revitalise Pokemon for more jaded fans. I’m more excited about switching between different battle styles than the semi-open world or Hisuian starter evolutions, but all will be a welcome change from the slightly stale main series titles, which seem weighed down by having to introduce a new gimmick each time around rather than innovating in other, more interesting ways.
I’m sorry Mega Blastoise with your massive, cool-ass cannon, and I’m sorry to Mega Kangaskhan with your adorable joey and completely unique ability – it’s not your fault. I just wish that modern Pokemon’s innovation wasn’t limited to spin off games.
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