January routinely gets a previously unknown game to stardom. Valheim, Hi-Fi Rush, and now Palworld all took advantage of a calm month to steal headlines. For those living at the address of “Under a Rock”, Palworld is where Pokémon meets guns. Pocketpair’s new game combines survival crafting gameplay with creature collection who then help you in battle with their own equalizers.
Many gamers are enjoying it. I bought it on Steam and have a handful of hours logged in. However, it also has two important truths: it steals a LOT from Pokémon, and Pokémon had this coming.
Writer’s Note: Since this released in early access, we will not be doing a full review until it leaves early access.
Pokémon Has Failed a Lot in the Switch Era
About five years ago, Pokémon Sword and Shield were announced as the first main entries on the Nintendo Switch. These games marked a frustrating switch for the series with a much smaller amount of Pokémon available in-game.
Past generations did curtail its Pokémon available to catch in game, but you could still port them from previous generations. Now, many of those past Pokémon weren’t even in the game files.
Fast forward to this generation, carry the same limited variety, and add in a whole host of technical issues. The game struggles to run properly as textures pop in after the camera shines on them, framerates are nowhere near mid-life crisis numbers, and the same formula’s age is showing.
In that timespan, fans clamored for progress and fixes to dissatisfied results. These failings led to deep toxicity in the community, driving away non-toxic members. The world’s biggest franchise let a bad space appear and fester. Any game that could recreate that nostalgic feeling could easily take the world by storm, but Palworld’s developers don’t deserve to be it.
Guns Aside, Palworld Has its Own Host of Issues
As of writing, I have over eighteen hours into Palworld. I cannot stress how much PocketPair’s game straddles the line between taking inspiration from Pokémon and taking actual work from Pokémon.
To catch Pals, you need to lower their hit points, and throw a Pal Sphere at them. If it shakes three times, you’ll catch it, and add it to your party or your storage boxes. Anyone who’s completed a Pokémon tutorial knows that that’s exactly how to catch Pokémon with Poké Balls.
Many of the pals themselves look way too like certain Pokémon. Take Anubis and Cremis, who look like Lucario and Eevee respectively. Other Pals aren’t such clear comparisons to Pokémon, but still take heavy inspiration from them like Dinossom and Meganium.
If Pokémon had its own personal bubble, Palworld would be standing in the entryway. You can’t blatantly rip off other designs like that.
The Kicker Though? Palworld Still Improves Upon Pokémon
Despite its artistic controversies, Palworld plays like the game I’ve wanted from Pokémon. Yes, Pokémon has added rideable mounts, an actual open world design, some crafting, and co-op multiplayer, but the games looked poor and sometimes ran worse.
Meanwhile, Palworld, a game in Early Access, runs flawlessly. Yes, it’s designed for way more powerful platforms than the Switch, but even Tears of the Kingdom runs wonderfully on the same hardware (save for some framerate slowdowns).
It’s still way too early to know how Pocketpair guides Palworld’s future, but there’s no denying that they hit on something strong.