Pokémon takes their role-playing gameplay concept to the next logical playspace: online.
Nintendo’s go-to cash cow for the past decade and a half has received almost universal acclaim for every core title. So why hasn’t the franchise stepped out of the handheld space for a proper console experience?
I will admit that as a child I was a bit of a Pokémon addict and, being a child of the 90s, who wasn’t? Like many, I grew out of the series after the franchise’s first few games but its appeal was not lost on younger generations. I don’t think anyone could ever have conceived just how much of an impact the Pokémon series would have on the gaming scene. As a kid, few of my friends owned a Gameboy but those that did and owned a Red, Blue, or Yellow edition were a blast to play against. I lost more matches than I won but I couldn’t help but continue on leveling up my creatures in preparation for the next battle. It is strange though that Pokemon has always been formulated as a 1 versus 1 experience, even if the earlier versions probably had to deal with a number of hardware limitations. Today, millions of people can play and compete against one another in World of Warcraft and other MMO’s. There really isn’t any excuse not make a Pokémon MMO.
Think about it! With a user base of - conservatively speaking – bajillions, it is hard to understand why Nintendo have never sought to take the natural role playing and competitive gameplay elements of Pokémon into the online space. The mechanics are easily adapted. In fact, most MMO games start out the same way as a core Pokémon title does: you create a character, select your class (or in this case, Pokémon) and head out into the world. Along the way you explore, do battle with monsters and level up your character with experience points. You even do battle with other NPCs for cash and items; the comparison is uncanny!
Fans have already created Pokémon MMO games such as the highly successful Pokénet for instance. Its success did not last long however, as the admins had to take it offline after receiving a cease-and-desist letter from Nintendo back in March of this year.
The possibilities of a Pokemon MMO are almost limitless in scope. In the fifteen years since the series came about, an entire lore has been created with new lands and regions being added on an almost constant basis. There really is no room for the argument that there isn’t enough source material to support such an endeavor. There are now, at the count of the latest title in the series, 649 Pokémon to collect and do battle with which is a staggering number. The rate at which the series has expanded through its games, anime, manga, and even trading cards is vexing. Surely there is ample material to find a way to combine them into a full multiplayer experience.
Core Pokémon games have always felt quite desolate and lifeless when it considered human characters. Adding thousands of human players to the experience has the potential to create a truly vivid world filled with guilds (or leagues in this case). Imagine large-scale battles between dozens of trainers taking place in a persistent 3D space. Throw in the ability to customize your creatures’ appearances, actions and commands and you may just find yourself with a MMO that could possibly steal a portion of WoW’s population away from Blizzard. What’s not to love?
Chances of this happening
Next to none, at least for this console generation. Nintendo has done their best to keep core Pokémon titles simple and there’s no sign of them changing their approach anytime soon. Nintendo’s attempts to enter the online space have been abysmal in execution. As long as the Friends Code system is still in place there is almost no room for innovation on the Wii’s online space. Since there has never been a core Nintendo title that did not use the Friend Code system, a Pokémon MMO is nigh impossible. Additionally, Nintendo has never expressed any interest in developing titles outside of their own hardware so a PC-oriented project is almost out of the question. Kotaku even addressed this with Pokemon franchise director Junichi Masuda last year who was quoted as saying:
"At this point, we're not thinking of going in that direction… Trading is a core concept of Pokémon. So when you're trading, you meet with a friend and decide which one you want and which one they want. I would like to emphasize real-world communication. You don't see each other online."
Perhaps five years from now we could see something like this approach on a Wii 2 with an enhanced online service but I’m not keeping my fingers crossed. Nintendo, admit it, you want to show us your Pokemans; just get it over with already!