Eurogamer has reported that multiple sources have confirmed to it that the game is well into its development under the codename Pokémon Stars, and will launch sometime in 2017.
This certainly wouldn’t be the first time in the Pokémon series that a third title with more or enhanced features has launched after the start of a new generation; we saw this same thing happen when Yellow launched two years after Red and Blue and then again when Platinum was released two years after Diamond and Pearl.
This would, however, be the first time we’d see the Pokémon series span more than one console within a single generation and, more significantly, it would be the first time we’d see a mainline Pokémon game released on a home console.
Though Nintendo and Game Freak haven’t confirmed these rumors, after playing Pokémon Moon I can absolutely say that one of my first thoughts upon playing the game was that it would be an incredibly easy port over to a home console like the Switch. Personally I would have gone with Pokémon Eclipse rather than Pokémon Stars, but that’s pointless semantics.
So what is it about Pokémon Sun and Moon that makes them such a perfect fit for the home console? Well, it’s the little things. Literally the little things. There are so many more small and careful details in Pokémon Sun and Moon that are begging for the stage offered by a bigger screen to receive the attention they deserve.
First of all, character design has improved to the degree that the people that populate the world of Pokémon Sun and Moon actually look more human, well, at least as far as the characters in the anime series look human.
Gone are the short bulky bodies that we’re used to seeing on small console screens, they've now been replaced with proportional figures that have more options for customization than ever before. Not only that, an effort has been make to make these proportional figures move more like real people, too.
It's the little things
Each step your character makes actually looks like it has weight behind it; when your character stands unmoving for a long period of time, they start to move or dust themselves off; when they’re walking through tall grass, they raise their hands above it to make it look like they’re carefully picking their way through.
Battles in Sun and Moon are now more reminiscent of Pokémon Stadium than the original games, making the game world the setting for the battle rather than placing opposing Pokémon on tiny islands. This change makes it look like the Pokémon are actually taking part in a battle in the same location and their moves (which have vastly improved animations, by the way) actually interact with one another.
Even in the larger game world you can see more of an effort has been made to enhance details. The long grass is more textured, jumping from ledges looks more realistic, and when you’re walking through locations distant backgrounds are animated rather than static. When walking through a volcano location, for example, you can see steam rising from geysers in the distance. It’s a nice little detail that deserves, and is clearly intended for, a larger screen.
The game world in terms of its environments and movement between events feels more seamless than ever before and an effort has absolutely been made to create a game that balances the depth of a console game’s world with the lightness of play and shorter play sessions of a handheld title.
Then there are the bigger changes that are more obviously console-like. For the first time we get to see cut-scenes in a Pokémon game and they’re actually well done! Characters talk and react in them, and that includes your own character, though there’s no voice acting.
Since X and Y we’ve been seeing Game Freak developing the camera angles of the games to move away from the top-down view towards a three dimensional view. In Sun and Moon these angles have been refined and, though not perfected, they’ve vastly improved and would look completely at home on a larger screen.
In my review of the game I said these changes had a cinematic effect, making the game more like the anime than any other instalment we’ve seen in the franchise so far. This makes Sun and Moon feel like the most console-like instalments we’ve seen in the series so far.
No console left behind
Nintendo has promised that the Nintendo 3DS isn't going anywhere, even with the Switch. In fact, Nintendo has said that it doesn’t think that the Switch will impact on the 3DS at all, despite the fact that it’s also a handheld device. Why? Well, the 3DS has an excellent library of games behind it that will continue to sell it. This library of games now includes Pokémon Sun and Moon which are the highest pre-selling Nintendo games in history.
Still, though the 3DS isn’t going anywhere right now, it’s going to have to go somewhere at some point. The same can’t be said for Pokémon.
The New 3DS console will be over two years old when the Switch is released and although Game Freak has continued to push the 3DS hardware to its limits, its ambitions are going to go beyond what the console is capable of sooner rather than later.
The hybrid console/handheld nature of the Switch makes it the perfect device for the increasingly advanced Pokemon titles to first come onto our living room TVs and the Pokémon Company has already said that we can expect to see a Pokémon title on the platform.
A Switch version of Sun and Moon could even be a move which prolongs the lifespan of the 3DS. According to Eurogamer, Pokémon will be tradeable between Sun/Moon and Stars via the Pokémon Bank app which would enable those still using the 3DS to play with those who have moved onto the Switch. It makes sense to start the transition over to the Switch now and keep fans happy no matter what platform they decide to choose.
“When it comes to the main series, thinking of Pokémon RPGs that we develop at Game Freak, we always really considered the timing of when we released them,” Masuda once told Game Informer. “There has to be a certain point where we're able to release the games and get them into the hands of enough people, to make sure the audience is big enough. This year, with Pokemon Sun and Moon, obviously we're going to be starting to think about the next title, and then depending on what that timing is, I think that will determine which platform we would release it on.”
Considering the Nintendo audience for the 3DS is currently at its highest, it makes sense to release Pokémon Sun and Moon on that platform and profit over the holiday season before the release of the Switch. Then, once the new visual direction the series is taking is embraced by fans they can be drawn into the new console.
A chance to experiment
The main problem facing Game Freak when porting Sun and Moon over to the Switch would be the loss of the dual touchscreen. However, Pokémon games have managed without the touchscreen before and the Switch offers an interesting new element in the form of its modular controllers that's ripe for innovation.
Pokémon could bring some extremely interesting controller modules to the Switch which could even see the introduction of a special Pokédex attachment since the game draws particular attention to the new Rotomdex that’s as much a companion as it is a tool.
Though it’s rumored that the Switch version of the game will be launched in 2017, it’s not clear when during the year this will happen. Regardless, the 3DS title we’ve played is absolutely a solid base game for porting over to the greater power and larger screens that will be offered by the Switch.
- Looking for some more 3DS titles to play? These are our picks of the best Nintendo 3DS games