Pokémon Scarlet & Violet: The Teal Mask is an interesting bit of DLC for a few reasons. The biggest one is that it’s part of a set of two, which means the story that it tells is going to continue with The Indigo Disk when that releases later this year. The other reason it’s interesting is that Pokémon Scarlet and Violet are, at least in my opinion, some of the worst entries in the franchise we’ve had.
I’ve not gone back to Pokemon Violet since my review of it, partly because incredible games haven’t stopped releasing since November last year, but mostly because I find the experience sort of depressing. Despite the potential of the open world and the new free-form approach to everything, the game’s performance on Nintendo Switch is so mind-bogglingly bad that it makes it hard to focus on anything else.
Unfortunately, The Teal Mask doesn’t drop alongside sweeping optimisation or essential performance fixes, and instead, just opening the map up to warp back to the school to start the DLC is a painful reminder of how sluggish everything is. Things are alright once you’re inside and chatting with the teacher who’s going to take you on your school trip to Kitakami, the new subregion for this DLC, but that is a fleeting moment.
I’m going to try and keep my complaints brief, but I also want you to understand that there’s no escpaing them. The glitches and performance issues are ever-present, and if you can’t deal with that fact, you won’t be able to enjoy this DLC.
Once you hit the new area, you’ll notice that even during the cutscenes, textures and shadows pop in and out of existence like Thanos is performing a jazz-inspired finger-clicking session. Then you’ve got other little things, like sending a Pokemon off to fight on its own, only to have that adorable monster end up fused with the floor and unable to move. Or there are camera issues where the battle camera can’t actually find anyone who’s involved in the fray. Anything further than 10 metres from you may as well not exist, and you end up chasing shadows around a lot as the game struggles to bring them into reality ahead of you. It’s bad in a way that AAA games simply shouldn’t be, and it’s unacceptable.
Much like the core games, it’s made far worse by the fact that everything outside of that is good. The story is compelling and surprisingly heartfelt, taking you to the new region of Kitakami which is lovely to explore, and introducing you to new characters who shine consistently. Kieran, a nervous boy who follows you along serves as a very effective analogue for the story unfolding around you, while Carmine, his assertive older sister, does a good job of being a more stern rival, at least to begin with.
There’s also a great mix of new and returning monsters, headlined by the new legendary Mask Pokémon Ogerpon, but also bringing back around 100 from previous games. Seeing all of these monsters roaming around next to each other helps make everything feel far more alive. I’d love to see future games iterate on this by having them interact with each other too, because then I’d feel even worse for mowing them all down.
Given how big of a shift we’ve seen to open world adventuring and the battles in the last couple of games, there won’t be any surprises for how battles play out in this DLC, and exploring remains a little tricky with how your Pokémon bike controls, but it all gets the job done.
It’s just all wasted when you can’t enjoy the game unless you’re playing it with your glasses off, have just chopped up 1,000 onions or dipped your Switch in vaseline. Pokémon fans deserve a game that works, and this DLC, despite it’s potential, is being bolted onto games which don’t.