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What’s Going On With Pokémon This Year?

by Kyle Hilliard on Aug 02, 2015 at 10:50 AM

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Every year since the release of Pokémon Platinum on Nintendo DS in 2009, Game Freak has released a core Pokémon game on a Nintendo handheld. Unless there are some surprise announcements in store, it looks like 2015 will break Game Freak’s pattern for the first time in six years.

In 2014, we were made aware of Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire in May. The game had a small presence at E3 in June, and it had a simultaneous worldwide release in November of the same year. Pokémon X and Y were announced even earlier in the year with its reveal in January 2013, and its worldwide release nine months later. It’s currently July, and as far as we know, there is no core Pokémon planned for release this fall.

It’s a strange year to be a Pokémon fan. In 2015, in terms of new Pokémon releases, we’ve seen Pokémon Rumble World on 3DS and the free-to-play Pokémon Shuffle. Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon is coming later this year, and arcades in Japan will receive Pokkén Tournament soon – a game that may not be making it stateside. It’s a tangential addition, but Super Smash Bros. also saw Mewtwo added as a fighter in April.

Compared to other franchises on the same level of popularity as Pokémon, three new releases and some notable DLC in another game is a lot. Even without a mainline Pokémon game, no one is at a loss to play with Pokémon at some capacity, and you can’t reasonably complain there needs to be more. But the lack of a core entry, and not even a tease of one being on the way, raises some eyebrows.

Game Freak certainly deserves a Pokémon break. It partnered with Sega to release Tembo the Badass Elephant recently, and has plenty of non-Pokémon games in its development history; the studio has always had more than just monsters in its pockets, even if nothing has ever quite hit at the same level as Pokémon. The studio is also dabbling in mobile with the Trading Card Game on tablets, so that is likely also keeping Game Freak busy.

The answer to Pokémon’s absence may be a simple one, however. Core Pokémon games are, simply, demanding to make at such in impressive pace, and Game Freak may not have been able to keep up this year. As is the case with every video game, as technology increases, so do the resources required to make a game, and the series has recently modernized to a strong degree.

Pokémon X & Y, which marked the biggest technological leap forward in the series’ history, took three years to develop. We asked series producer Junichi Masuda about how long a modern Pokémon game takes to create after the release of X & Y, and the timeline is surprising. "The conceptual planning for Pokémon X and Pokémon Y began before Pokémon Black Version and Pokémon White Version were released," Masuda told us in the interview. "The idea for the game first arose around June of 2010. Then we spent three years developing the game, and – when you include the localization work – it ended up being a big project on which around 500 people were involved."

The release of X & Y and Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire were a year and a month apart, which is hugely surprising considering X & Y (which admittedly was a huge technical step forward from the previous year’s Black & White 2), took three years and around 500 people to create. The schedule the studio had maintained for six years to release annual Pokémon titles was bound to require a gap at some point, and it seems 2015 may be it.

We’ve grown accustomed to a new Pokémon game ever year, but a franchise can grow tired and stale with too many entries, even one as beloved as Pokémon. We’ll miss the chance to learn about new creatures and explore a new Pokémon region in 2015, but maybe it’s the break we all didn’t realize we needed.

For more answers to questions about Pokémon, like what's inside a Pokéball? Or what does Rare Candy taste like? Head here. For a poem about all the weird reasons trainers start fights in the world of Pokémon, head here.