Same as it ever was, same as it ever was, look where my Chatot was


Pokémon Sword & Shield (2019)

Many enthusiastic youths fancy themselves as stayers on the quest to become a professional sportspersonmember, but very few make it. The journey to the top takes immense sacrifice, more than a bit of luck, and some God-given talent. A hefty bank account wouldn’t hurt either. Even then, you might still get hacked down before your prime. For every marquee athlete, there’s hundreds who have chanced it all, only to fail and end up with nothing but a hard luck story. Well, that’s not fully true: some of the more fortunate ones might have stolen a peek at a now-famous sportsman’s tackle in the showers, giving them a story to tell for the rest of their lives.

Have you ever dreamed about it then? Convinced yourself that you could make it as a professional footballer, or some other sort of paid jock? You may have been the best footballer on your road, even in your whole school, but that only meant you were the best in your own area. That ‘area’ is massive to you as a young child, but microscopic in reality – it’s a big world out there.

If you get the chance to start mixing it up at regional and national level, it eventually becomes apparent to you that you’re nothing special, and the competition is vast. You had no chance of making it really, none at all, because quite apart from the daunting task of coaxing a massive football club into paying you ridiculous wages, you’ve got an uncountable number of other lads to outshine.

In the old days of sport, when scouting systems were more limited and teams weren’t trawling the Amazon to the Andes to the Ganges to the horn of Africa looking for the new Ronaldo, maybe you could have slipped through. But now the net has widened colossally, and the standard has raised massively along with it. You’ll need to fight hard, damn hard, and you probably still won’t make it.

Even if you do, the end could hit you at any time, that moment when everything’s going rosy until suddenly it’s not. The vultures will be on you from minute one, waiting for you to slip up, or even waiting for you to get chewed up and spit out through no fault of your own. When that happens, there’s little point in arguing. You will have already been replaced by someone better, and how long that new person will get out of it God only knows.

So that vicious cycle keeps going, except this time you’re not part of it. So what can you do now? There’s not much else, is there? All you can do is try again and hope to make it work this time. Shake off the cynicism, try to ignore the fact that your self-confidence is being rapidly eroded with every knockback, every bad result, and have another crack at it. See if things change this time. The definition of insanity.  Why not?

Well! So much for all that. The world of Pokémon Sword and Shield, the heavily anticipated Switch-exclusive eighth generation of Pokémon, paints you and your rival as two young lads aiming for Pokémon glory – the big leagues, when it’s champagne and chère lingerie, and you’d better hope there’s no drug testing. I’m not asking for realism out of Pokémon – not since there was a Pokémon modelled after a set of car keys – but could you imagine a real-life professional Pokémon league? It’d be a lot more cut-throat and cynical than the pro ranks portrayed in this game, I should wager.

Your rival in this game, Hop, does turn out to be a failure, a kid that never made it. He even had a major leg-up in that his brother is the League Champion. Hop could have easily snuck in as a Ralf Schumacher, a Phil Neville, or whichever Klitschko won slightly less bouts. His inability to win is mostly owed to the fact that he fancies himself as one of your rivals, but in true Pokemon style of recent yore he’s insultingly easy. And when he’s on his last Pokémon and he’s there telling you, for the twentieth time, that he’s about to turn things around against your almost intact team, it all starts to get undignified.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. What would a sport be without its fans? Let me tell you, there’s nothing that gets my juices sizzling more than fan dismay – especially when the latest product in their chosen area of dweeby expertise isn’t quite shaping up to be the masterpiece that they’d already hyped it up to be. Being an argumentative bugger, it’s great for me when a new game, film or TV series doesn’t look like it’s going to cut the mustard because then it means I can wind up the long-time fans.

But I can see where the fans are coming from, this time. It’s not too much of a surprise that people’s expectations for Pokémon Generation 8 got a bit too high again – they were starting to imagine a Breath of the Wild-esque rendition. I don’t know how people could have expected something like that in one year’s development time, but you just try talking sense into them.

Where they did have a point was the cuts to the Pokédex and the ensuing excuses from Game Freak. I don’t think all that many of us really need to go out and capture 1,000 Pokémon, but it’s nice to have the option. What they shouldn’t have told us is that they wouldn’t have time or capacity to redo the animations and get everything balanced for competitive play, before releasing the game with the same old low-effort animations, and less moves and Pokémon than before.

There’s about 400 mons in the base game, and with an expansion there’s the opportunity to get more. That’s plenty for me, but cutting the Pokédex in half is hardly a good thing. Still, people got very touchy about this game. Set in a region that’s based on the UK, Pokémon Sword and Shield could hardly divide a room more if it was an aborted cloned sheep that suddenly reared up and belched the word “Brexit”.

I was dithering about buying this game, but I knew that me not buying the game as some form of protest would have been futile. I might as well have headed down to a packed-out Aviva Stadium and stood outside, while a sold out Ireland match was taking place. There’s the fans going in there to enjoy themselves, and there’s me out there protesting by dancing erratically like David Byrne and shouting, “same as it ever was! Same as it ever was!” at people just looking to enjoy themselves. I’m the one who’s going to be a freak and laughed at, while the popular moneywagon keeps roaring away into the distance without me.

As it turned out, perhaps predictably given the Switch’s popularity, Sword & Shield sold like funny tasting hotcakes and any efforts at boycotting the game were immediately rendered laughable. So that’s more money (60 bones rather than 45 odd for a 3DS game) for less content, and if you want to get into the nitty-gritty: almost no dungeons, a completely rail-roaded story, bundles of dialogues and forced tutorials… and they also fouled up the online trading, which is the biggest crime for me. That one does tend to be important in Pokémon games.

Not to mention the recent news that there’s two expansion packs for the game, one already released, which give some new regions to explore. No, I don’t mean Sinnoh or Unova, that would’ve been too swell, but some new slightly open areas (don’t hold your breath for a Great Plateau) including an island based on the Isle of Man.

Well, I went to the Isle of Man once as a constantly crying child and I’ve not stopped hearing about ruining the family holiday since, so going there again doesn’t exactly appeal to me. There’s another 200 Pokémon bolted on as well, which means that for 90 squid… you still don’t get the complete package. But that’s where the Pokémon series is at these days, I’m sorry to tell you: still good, but probably never going to be good enough.

27 July 2020

One thought on “Same as it ever was, same as it ever was, look where my Chatot was

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