Is Pokemon Hurting the 3DS?
Editor’s Note: Nintendo and The Pokemon Company International requested a chance to comment on the topic of our editorial. Below are their remarks, followed by the full opinion piece.
Executive Editor, IGN.com
“Remember that Nintendo 3DS can also play all Nintendo DS Pokemon games. The Nintendo DS family also has a massive installed base of more than 51 million systems in the United States alone, and we are keen on continuing to deliver new experiences to this audience.”
In one of the more bizarre announcements in recent memory, Nintendo/The Pokemon Company International and GameFreak are releasing sequels to Pokemon Black and Pokemon White on the DS, a full eight years after that platform first debuted and, more importantly, nearly a year and a half into the life of the 3DS. Though Pokemon arriving on a previous generation of hardware doesn’t necessarily change the fortunes of Nintendo’s new portable, it certainly contradicts the company’s need to maintain the momentum of its new handheld. Millions of gamers have invested in the 3DS at this point, and they no doubt expect a franchise like Pokemon to make its way to that system – and take full advantage of its strengths.
Certainly 17 months ago, even with the 3DS just around the corner, releasing another wave of Pokemon games on the DS made sense. The DS family of systems had cleared 130 million units sold at that point. That install base is far too large to ignore, particularly in the face of delaying a game’s release for a platform that hasn’t established itself at all. Nintendo’s gamble paid off; as of April 2011 the two titles had surpassed 11 million units sold.
However there’s a difference between 2011, when the 3DS was just arriving in stores, and 2012, when the 3DS is attempting to have its first full successful year on the market. By the end of Nintendo’s fiscal year in April 2012, the 3DS should have an install base of about 14 million pieces of hardware. Though the system currently has a mere tenth of the sales of its predecessor, that level of sell-through should be more than enough to justify development from one of Nintendo’s key teams, even if the company technically operates on its own.
There is simply no way Nintendo, as a longtime partner of GameFreak and The Pokemon Company International, should encourage this kind of development practice – or allow it to happen at all. If the primary motivation behind supporting the DS once again (for the sixth and seventh times) is financial, Nintendo should offset those costs. The time for supporting an older generation of hardware with games this significant is long past. From a long-term perspective, Black 2 and White 2 on the 3DS will pave the way for future installments. The games are certain to sell well – but only by coming to the 3DS do they ensure the next Pokemon games have bigger audiences.
While Black 2 and White 2 are in some respects forging new territory for the franchise by being numerical sequels, they are still symbolic of the larger problem the entire Pokemon series often faces – intransigence seemingly for the sake of tradition. All companies involved with Black and White knew the 3DS was on the way. They should have known a sequel on the DS would be ill-advised, undermining the 3DS’s progress both symbolically and financially. These upcoming Pokemon games would do far more for the 3DS than they will the DS, and not having them is a mark against a system that has already struggled plenty. The fact that these games are published by the same company making the 3DS makes the situation that much worse.
Refusing to push the Pokemon franchise aggressively to a new platform, even for a sequel to a generation already started, would seem poorly advised at best and frustratingly oblivious at worst. No doubt many DS owners, seeing the success of the 3DS and anticipating a core series like Pokemon to make the transition, sold their systems to make way for the new hardware. These games could not arrive at a worse time.
What’s perhaps most exasperating is that the Pokemon games are good RPGs. Black and White brought some very welcome alterations to the franchise, and while year-to-year those changes might seem small, the series as a whole has evolved considerably since its debut. That new games will arrive in 2012, and fail to take advantage of ideas like StreetPass, SpotPass and the advanced power of the 3DS, is a huge missed opportunity. That many of us will have to play these games on the 3DS – and experience them blurry or shrunken down because of the resolution difference – is salt on the wound. Black 2 and White 2 will likely be great – but we’ll partly be wishing they were made for a different platform.
Rich is an Executive Editor of IGN.com and the leader of the IGN Nintendo team. Follow his ridiculous adventures through MyIGN and Twitter. Keep it cool, Koopalings.