So, it seems that the Pokémon Stars rumour saga has officially come to an end.
Which is unsurprising; I said repeatedly during this whole thing that Pokémon on the Switch should be neither rushed or expedited. You’re talking about a series that can tell ten million units in a matter of weeks, millions on its opening weekend and is known and indeed, proven to shift a lot of hardware as well. To launch such a franchise when there are still concerns about supply and demand isn’t just silly, it’s downright dangerous and would have guaranteed Nintendo no small amount of negative press – something I suspect it has been working very, very hard to avoid this year.
But there is even more – I would go as far now as to say you won’t see Pokémon Switch until 2019.
The first is easily proven; the Nintendo DS launched in November of 2004; Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, the start of Gen-4 Series Pokémon, didn’t land in Japan until September of 2006, and the rest of the world had to wait until April of 2007 before they got their hands on it. In short – that’s two years, five months between the DS launch and the first Pokémon on the platform. This can equally be repeated for the Nintendo 3DS too – which launched in March of 2011, with Pokémon X and Y not launching until October of 2013 – two years, seven months after the consoles launch. Even the Game Boy Advance can follow this path – the console launched in March of 2001, with Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire not getting global launches until April of 2003.
Given the track record here, it’s obvious that a new Pokémon game is never rushed out solely for a new console. And when you consider the trend of launching at least a couple of years after the launch of the machines, you’d be looking at an Early 2019 launch here and that’s -if- Nintendo wanted to rush it to market.
But I don’t think they will – mostly because Fall 2018 will be a more interesting period and I suspect Nintendo will want to see how this plays out.
Whilst it’s great Nintendo has driven the Switch sales so spectacularly on its own this year – third parties will, I suspect, want a period where their projects can shine. Since the Switch was only officially revealed to third parties during E3 of 2016 – at least, that’s the most commonly held viewpoint – Fall 2018 is also very likely going to be the period where many of the bigger projects that began during this period, for the Switch exclusively, will start to hit the market (going by a two to two and a half year development cycle). Nintendo is driving the sales not just because it’s their baby; it also creates an install base for when these projects do materialise. That this is going well no doubt has many development studios heaving a sigh of relief right now.
What these third parties won’t want is the work they’ve spent countless thousands of hours and unspeakable volumes of cash making to be overshadowed by something as big as Pokémon. It would be ludicrous to spend all this time building up third party support, coaxing them in and encouraging some risks only to dump out the most anticipated game people want for the Switch. It would serve the opposite effect; it would be Nintendo admitting it doesn’t care about their sales figures, and not to put too fine a point on it – but this was one of the concerns back during the Gamecube era, that Nintendo was more enamoured with its own projects than giving outsiders their own window, expecting them to get out of its way despite set dates.
That still doesn’t mean that Fall 2018 will be an easy ride; taking their foot off the pedal a little will be a scary moment for Nintendo – who have driven the Switch quite well to this point. It could all, like the early days of the Wii U, blow up in their face. It’s possible – unlikely, perhaps, but possible nonetheless.
From there, Nintendo will be looking not at the Fall 2018 schedule – which it hopes third parties like Square-Enix, Bandai-Namco and others will fill – but towards the Fall 2019 schedule.
Nintendo probably knows what is coming for Fall 2018; we’re likely to get glimpses of this during the January Direct that EA oh-so-nonchalantly leaked weeks ago. Of course Nintendo knows. I’d even suggest the much-rumoured FROM Software title will drop in this period too. But that’s just it – Nintendo knows what is coming for Fall 2018, but Fall 2019 is a massive unknown at this point. What happens if software sales plummet during this period, and third parties run away again? Nintendo needs a trump card, as it were, in reserve for the prospect of a rough ride during the 2019 Holiday Season – and there’s no bigger or scarier card in Nintendo’s deck these days than Pokémon.
Not only does this fall in line with the usual development cycle of previous Pokémon releases – it gives Game Freak time to develop the game properly too. The Stars rumour was based on some random porting to the Switch in anticipation of being needed – which it clearly wasn’t. Everyone quickly realised a Pokémon game on the Switch couldn’t be a quick and dirty port job; it was going to need to be custom-built for the hardware (not least that the Switch brings us back to a single screen!). A new generation Pokémon game is kind of a big deal, and with the additional power that the Switch offers versus the 3DS, there is limitless potential for where Game Freak could take this series now. To polish, hone and refine what is, for many people, going to be one of the biggest releases of the Switch’s lifespan. An HD Pokémon game. After years of waiting and hoping… the hardware has arrived to carry it through…
It is, of course, going to be the game that will continue to follow the Switch until it does drop – this has been the case since the Game Boy Advance, after all. It’s just never I suppose been this tantalising for so many people. I happen to think Metroid Prime 4 is likely to release before Pokémon Switch. Call me crazy, but I suspect that’s an early-to-mid 2019 title. Metroid Prime is a fan favourite – it’s not, however, a big system seller so I doubt it’ll be the cornerstone of a Holiday line-up. I could be wrong, but I just doubt it.
But if we’re going by the series to date – Pokémon Switch won’t debut until 2019. And by this time, Nintendo will probably be hoping to have significantly more Switch consoles on hand – and in the wild – that it will be huge. And I suspect Nintendo will want that. Something this wanted, this tantalising and this successful in the past – Nintendo will be aiming to break records with this. It will spend the end of 2018 and I’d say most of 2019 hyping the ever-loving pants off the game, and it will be inescapable. You’ll be sick of hearing about it to a point.
Then it will release, and the sales figures will just go mental. At least, that’ll be the theory.
So yeah, take that as you want. Using past data, some knowledge of how the system works and good ol’ common sense to extrapolate what I think is a perfectly sensible theory. I mean, it could drop for Holiday 2018. If Nintendo really, really wanted or needed it to.
I just have a hunch they won’t push it. After all, they gave X and Y space and it was a massive hit. Why on earth rush what is, very likely, to be your most lucrative game to date? That’s not to mention the DLC that Nintendo could finally push for it (Fancy a whole ‘nother region to play with for an extra $10?). Me? Cynical? No, no. Not cynical.
… just horribly realistic.