On The Majesty of 3D Pokèmon, and The Series’ Future.

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Any gamer worth their salt will be familiar with the oft told tale of Pokémon’s humble beginnings on the original Game Boy. Squeezing an experience of such size, scope and depth onto the modest handheld was certainly an impressive feat, but it has to be said that the battles themselves weren’t terribly exciting from a visual standpoint; all static, low-res bitmaps and crude, basic animations. However, Pokémon Stadium on the N64, which hit British shores in 2000, allowed budding trainers to upload caught monsters to the big screen and see them face off against the AI or other trainers in glorious 3D. The sweeping dynamic camera and flashy effects owed much to the at the time wildly popular Playstation era Final Fantasies, and bought battles to life in way that the Game Boy simply couldn’t.

Upon first beholding such wonder, I remember thinking that, eventually, all Pokémon battles would be rendered that way. Fast forward to the present and that’s finally come to pass with the release last year’s new entries, X and Y, plus the recently released Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire remakes.

Up until just a few weeks ago, my only true Pokémon experience since the original Blue back in 1998 had been HeartGold a couple of years ago. HeartGold seemingly went to great pains to roll every major change to the franchise up until that point into one neat package, but I was largely ambivalent to them. My sole focus was on experiencing all over again the addictive rock, paper, scissors core gameplay that Game Freak perfected right out of the stable 16 years ago.

Playing through Alpha Sapphire at the moment in an equally puritan manner, each and every battle brings a wry, nostalgic smile to my face. Seeing my childhood (and early adolescent, I’m a little loathe to admit) imaginings made flesh, all the gaps lovingly filled in, never gets old. It truly feels like this is the ultimate realisation of Satoshi Tajiri’s original vision.

From here, though, it’s difficult to predict the series’ future. The fact that Nintendo’s handhelds can now offer both 3D graphics and online play would make another Stadium game for the Wii U completely redundant. As it stands, the only main Pokémon games 3DS owners can’t play are Red and Blue, but given that they’ve been remade once already for the Game Boy Advance, a third go round seems unlikely. Also, it feels far too soon to return to Sinnoh, the setting for first DS Pokemon outings, Diamond and Pearl. Perhaps Game Freak will opt for a 3DS version of Yellow, which rejigged Red and Blue so as to align them more closely with the cartoon series, or simply push forward with new games. But the million dollar question is what the company could possibly opt to add or change going forward, notwithstanding the fact that by this point they’re surely running low on appropriately contrasting nouns to use as monickers.

A few days ago Nintendo announced European and Stateside release dates for the New 3DS and 3DS XL. Both feature a camera that now tracks the position of your head and adjusts the 3D effect accordingly, but also pack a faster processor, more RAM, two additional shoulder buttons and handy right control nub. It’s a pretty substantial upgrade, and in the future, titles that take advantage of these improvements will likely be incompatible with older 3DS models.

But already committed Poképhiles need not worry about being left out in the cold any time soon. Whatever form the next few Pokémon games take, Game Freak are not about to ignore the 3DS’ enormous existing user base to service a handful of diehards. At this point, there’s no telling how the New 3DS will fare; if it’ll eventually supersede the original 3DS and forestall the release of a true successor device, or go the way of the N64’s Expansion Pak and only have a couple of exclusives worth playing while the bulk of consumer and developer attention remains on the vanilla offering. Whatever happens, expect to enjoy a few more years Pokémon battling with your trusty older model yet.

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