There is no doubt at all that Pokémon Scarlet and Violet (PSV) has been released in a poor state. Riddled with bugs right from the opening scenes, many game-breaking, it’s impossible to ignore. With no guarantee of sustaining progress, it has been released in an unacceptable condition. Right, that’s all said, so I can move on to what I want to write about today: It’s also a joy to play with someone else.
Over the weekend, my 8-year-old son and I were playing Pokémon Violet and Scarlet respectively. This is the first time either of us have played a mainline Pokémon game day one (well, for him day two, since Amazon saw fit not to deliver them Friday until he was in bed), both of us having played Sword over the last few years, but never, you know, together. So Saturday afternoon, the two of us sat on the couch, and figured out how to link up. And immediately, this broken mess of a game became over 17 times more magical.
Toby went to one of the new, vastly-improved outdoor Pokémon Centers, stood on the yellow circle, and used the screen, generating a four-figure code for me to enter. I went to an entirely different Center, entered the code, and was immediately teleported to where he was playing. There was no fuss, no undoing of any of my or his progress, no crummy limitations on what was now available to us. Most importantly, this wasn’t like one of us being confined to playing in the others’ game. My game and his game were now the same game, as if we were playing on the same server, with our individual progress maintained. It even let us run around in contradicting Scarlet/Violet cities together, showing our orange or purple detail without any issues.
OK, there were so many issues, but not—crucially—with the tech behind letting us turn this game into a two-player MMO. There were so many pressure points where I felt sure we’d run into issues, such as how Toby had already completed the first Team Star base mission, and I’d not been anywhere near it. When we arrived, surely the games would sputter and collapse at this paradox? Except, not at all. Instead, Toby could run right in to take another attempt at the climactic boss fight, while I had the various characters turn up and babble inanely and near-infinitely at me before I was allowed in. Later the same day, having both leveled up a bunch, we returned here together and it calmly instanced two different versions of the base, as we fought the boss simultaneously but independently, and then met up again as soon as we both walked out the front gate.
Sure, yes, of course, you’d expect exactly this of most online games, but honestly, just an hour with PSV will teach you to be certain almost nothing should be in working order. Having had the game bug out in the opening scenes for me, as my character got stuck unable to leave the living room of his own house, my expectations were through the floor. It makes it bemusing that PSV not only gets sharing the game world so right, but does this as if it’s the normal way to play, rather than something just a small percentage of players will ever try.
What delighted me most about playing this way was just how uneventful it all was. I’d expected it to lock us into playing closely together, needing to visit the same places at the same time, or pursue the same tasks. But none of this is the case. It really is as if we’re both playing World Of Warcraft, each nipping off to do our own thing, but able to meet up on the server. I’d insist that I actually wanted to get a task done, while Toby was far more focused on the vital task of jumping off cliffs to see what happened, so we’d part for a bit. Then, we’d arrange to meet up at Artizon or somewhere and run around hunting for Sunflora that the other couldn’t see.
Like I say, it wasn’t without bugs. However, they were largely amusing ones. Oftentimes, a Legendary mount would disappear on the others’ screen, leaving our characters floating in the air, legs akimbo. That’s never not funny. Basically, this:
The coolest details of the shared world are also incredibly temperamental. Watching your buddy battle a wild Pokémon is awesome when it works, seeing the attacks flying between the two monsters, and even the Poké Ball being thrown and sparkling. More often than not, sadly, it doesn’t work, and instead you see two static Pokémon staring at each other, until one of them pops out of existence. Yet, optimists that we are, we cheer whenever it chooses to function, and more importantly, stand on top of the Pokémon being battled to make it look like we’re fighting each other’s Legendaries. (Incidentally, that’s how this viral video was done, rather than being a bug.)
It’s more annoying that the general brokenness of the game interrupts our play, given one person’s game crashing means having to reload, both of us head back to a Center, etc, etc.
But bugs and crashes aside (which they rarely are), there’s genuinely something so calmly special about how co-op PSV works. It’s so low-key, so entirely without nags or suggestions or limitations, that we end up just happily getting on with our games, but with the comforting knowledge that the other is there, available.
Then there’s just goofy stuff, like making up our own race courses, or even playing tag and hide-and-seek (from which I was disqualified for using the map to mark his location as a destination). We challenge each other to glitch over an impossible jump, and then try to land on hard-to-reach columns or islands when playing tag. Then I get distracted by a Pokémon I haven’t caught yet, and Toby jumps off the nearest available cliff.
Now, of course, this isn’t the first time a Pokémon game has let you do this. Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee allowed players to share a game, but never having played them, we can pretend it never happened.
If you’re in the situation where you know someone else who’s playing, whether in the same place as you (done using Offline mode) or anywhere else in the world (using Online), I really do recommend it. It’s that it’s not game-changing that makes it feel so special in the Pokémon world, just letting you do your own thing, but in the company of up to three others. And, as I said, without having to drag the game back or forward to the point the host has reached, instead capable of allowing it to exist in different states, sometimes via instancing, but mostly by simply making features invisible if they contradict a players’ reality.
For a game that isn’t yet able to just let you walk through a house without somehow getting you stuck in a wall, or showing you the world from an under-floor perspective, that’s quite the thing.