pokemon-online

Wii U Needs a Giant Online Game That Takes on the Role of Pokémon

When it comes to handhelds, Nintendo’s always got an ace in the hole: Pokémon. Each of the series’ five generations has managed to find an audience of over 15 million players – that’s the most consistent performance for any of Nintendo’s franchises ever.

How does Pokémon manage to find such a large audience over and over again? It’s because it combines a deep single-player adventure with fun, socially-driven multiplayer that takes full advantage of today’s wireless and Internet capabilities. It’s because the world of Pokémon is constantly expanding with new monsters, new regions, and new battle techniques that keep players training.

Even if Nintendo’s having trouble coming up with a revolutionary game for the Wii U GamePad, I think they’ve always got another untapped option to consider: a deep online experience that does for the home console space what Pokémon does for handhelds.

A Vast Adventure Both On and Offline

If there’s anything we’ve learned from the recent “always-online” debacle, it’s that players like the option to play their games without an Internet restriction. So far, Nintendo hasn’t created a single game that requires players to connect to the Internet, and I don’t think they should. Like Pokémon, a big online game for Wii U should enable players to enjoy a fulfilling single-player adventure while offering plenty of ways to enjoy online play with others.

pso2-1-millionA good example of this approach in action is the original Phantasy Star Online. The game offers four game zones, each with multiple maps, a full story mode (with four difficulty modes!), as well as a series of “quests” to complete that reward players with hundreds of collectible and upgradable weapons, armor, items, and so on – and the game length effectively doubles if you add Episode II on top of that. But when you link up with other players via either local or online play, the game takes on new life.

When you go online, you’ll gain access to dozens of exclusive quests, events, and online lobbies where you can meet others, trade goods, and team up to take on tough challenges or simply to hunt down rare gear. Anything you earn online can be brought back to your offline game. If you decide to have some buddies over for local play, they can bring over their characters and gear, just like they can online. You won’t gain access to online-only features, but the game difficulty and balance adjusts accordingly, so it’s still just as fun to play with friends offline.

I had logged hundreds of hours between solo and multiplayer offline before I ever jumped to online play, so it’s definitely a working idea. The real challenge will be finding – or creating – the right IP to take advantage of the scale and scope and potential offered by a game that’s both fully online and fully offline.

Adapting an IP for the World of Online

monolith-soft-x-e3Fortunately, it sounds like Nintendo already has at least one idea in the works: Monolith Soft’s X. We spotted an online chatbox in a portion the game’s debut trailer, but the game also seems to support a fully offline single-player experience judging by other footage. This is a great step, and indicates that Nintendo’s studios are definitely up to the challenge of investing the time, talent, and dollars that it takes to produce an experience of such magnitude in both the connected and disconnected spaces… but X is poised to be a niche RPG, not a mainstream mass market title.

If Nintendo wants to use any of its existing IP for an online experience to take on Pokémon‘s dominance of the handheld space, I think it actually should be… Pokémon.

I mean, think about it – one region could be reserved for offline play, where it serves as the setting of the main story and the place where new trainers can raise their Pokémon before taking them online. When players feel ready, they can connect to the Internet and discover an entire universe beyond that starting region that containing all kinds of monsters and trainers from all over the world. There they can join Gyms, run Poké Centers or Marts, participate in League matches, and enjoy a vibrant online community.

The benefits of an online Pokémon world extend to some of the longer-standing series elements as well. Gen II introduced a day/night system, Gen III introduced weather conditions in the field, and Gen V introduced seasons, but a fully online world enables a much finer attention to these kinds of gameplay systems. If they’re server-based instead of set in stone in advance as an offline feature, time of day and time of year events could be introduced and adjusted based on player feedback. Weather systems could occur server-wide, rather than being fixed for certain areas or completely random. And at any time, wild Legendaries, rare Shinies, or other unique monsters could be introduced, sending players on a mad scramble to catch them while they’re still available!

Miiverse SmartphoneAll of these timed online events would mesh fantastically with Miiverse. As soon as it’s discovered that Ho-oh is loose, I’m sure word would be all over the Pokémon Online community. Announcements for more formal events like League tournaments could be delivered via official Miiverse announcement channels. And giving players the ability to communicate privately with their more close-knit groups like Gyms would make it easy for them to organize and announce events of their own. This kind of sharing represents Miiverse at its full potential.

Of course, Nintendo’s big online game doesn’t have to be Pokémon – these are just some examples of hopefully good ideas that use Pokémon gameplay elements as a reference. We could just as well see an online title set in the Zelda or Metroid universes… or a whole new IP built specifically for the combination of offline, local, and online play and Miiverse social connectivity.

Whatever the case, because Nintendo consoles haven’t really seen a major online-driven experience outside of a handful of multiplayer modes in games like Smash Bros. and Mario Kart, Wii U represents the company’s first chance to really catch the world’s attention with an online game that can’t be found or approximated on any other platform. This first major online game can’t just be a half-hearted effort – it really has to knock it out of the park and prove that both Nintendo and Wii U are up to the challenge of entering the realm of online play. That’s why I insist on making a strong comparison to Pokémon – the series stands in a class of its own.

What kind of online-driven game would you like to see for Wii U? Share your thoughts in the comments!

(Header image credit: Evan Liaw, more images here)

  • Ghabulous Ghoti

    Make it a new IP. I am completely okay with sequels, but something like this just seems like it’d be best suited to something new.

  • Tensei

    I whole heartedly agree. One of Iwata biggest mistakes is the infamous quote he made in 2004 “We do not want online games.” And that has been Iwata’s direction for Nintendo, avoiding online like a cancer instead of embracing it.

    When I pointed this out…people started being shortsighted and mentioning worthless FPS games that I dont even play.

    I love Mario Kart, Super Smash (melee not Brawl), Mario Tennis, Mario Golf, F-Zero, Star Fox (I lovvve Star Fox) Metroid etc. The list is endless as to how many of these games/Nintendo franchises would benefit from simple competitive online muliplayer elements.

    I believe the biggest failure of the Wii wasnt the graphical difference but that lack of establishing online community around all these dfferent games. I really dont think Mario Kart Wii would have sold 30m without its online mulitplayer. If the Wii had done this, I think transferring the install base to the Wii U would have been a hell of a lot easier.

    • Blake Wigert

      Multiplayer is over rated. You have 3 main groups FPS’s, which I despise, racing, and fighting games. Let’s start with FPS’s generally everyone uses either built-in assistance or new player friendly guns and attachments and if you don’t parrot them or have an innate talent you are often outclassed, nevermind the hacking. Racing is fine, I haven’t experienced any negative factors. Fighting games, again innate talent is needed or you have insane people beat the crap out of you and your mood for the rest of the day.
      I enjoy co op that doesn’t allow friendly fire for shooters, Left 4 Dead 2 is okay if you don’t get immature people on your “team”.

  • MusubiKazesaru

    Seems like extremely wishful thinking but I doubt anyone would disagree with this, people have been wanting the equivalent of a Pokemon MMORPG for a long time

    • Jonathan Brown

      I would so play that. I have been a WoW player for 7 years, and would jump at a Pokemon MMO.

  • Stealth

    No it really doesnt need that. I doubt the quality of the game would be good. What a stupid article.

    Lets just ignore the fact that gamefreak polled for a pokemon mmo and found out that the people who wanted one were a vocal minority

  • Quinlan Green

    I predict in the next give or take 5 years – if the Wii U dosn’t make a come back which it might just not – Nintendo will have to focus on no longer suiting their developments to the creators intent/company intent and really focus on marketing to the demands in western gamers and their consumers as a whole. No more new gameplay “gimmicks” or “revolutions”, quirky experimental art styles etc. They really will need to fit their games to what WE want to make their system desirable (its freaking obvious.) This means yes, a Pokemon MMO, realistic Zelda, LOTS of Metroid games. Should be great, but it will be sort of sad to see Nintendo lose their bit of ‘rebellious spark’ so to speak in order to conform.

    • http://www.gengame.net/ Alex Plant

      To be fair, some of the characters and ideas fans are now most attached to came from games designed to fit fans’ wishes: e.g. Midna in Twilight Princess.

    • DWraySweZ

      what we want from nintendo are great games. the gamepad isnt a gimmick, its conveinant. i dont need to use my phone or tablet to surf the net or play a game, it right here, and when i do use my phone, my wii u is on still. i love the wii u and the average gamer would too if it had software that appealed to the people who play nintendo games to begin with. very few ps4 titles appeal to me and the ones that do arent even sony games, theyre final fantasy 15 and um…kingdom hearts 3 and thats it. thats all. those are 3rd party titles that are going to be on xboxone… and fortunatly, i have X to tide me over until ff 15 is released on wii u which unfortunatly never will be unless nintendo can stomp ps4 or xboxone into oblivion, which probably isnt going to happen because todays consumers are tricked into purchasing crap, and nintendo isnt and never has been crap. Sonys and xbox hardware always had severe flaws. and Nintendo until this gen has been pretty reliable.

  • Stealth

    Systems dont need online experiences or games to need them to be good, sorry

    • http://www.gengame.net/ Alex Plant

      They don’t need them to be good.

      They need them to good-selling.

      • Stealth

        I disagree no they dont. Single player games move systems

        • http://www.gengame.net/ Alex Plant

          Only 1 of Wii’s top 10 best-selling games doesn’t have multiplayer.

          • Stealth

            But its not a major feature like your suggesting, its just a side thing. Almost every one of the top 20 has strong single player.

            • http://www.gengame.net/ Alex Plant

              Good.

              Now actually READ my article, and you’ll see that I advocate for games with good offline AND online components.

              • Stealth

                and I am saying its not necessary the wii u gets one this year. Its library is strong enough now

  • Blake Wigert

    I miss the Poke’mon games from 1995 and the 2000′s, they’ve just changed too much for me to want to get them or this if it materializes. I almost bought Heart Gold or Soul Silver but thought it would depress me too much at all the changes to the game and my childhood

    • Ernesto Palma

      Well, things change. But you can always replay those old games as much as you like.

      • Blake Wigert

        I do, believe me. I’ve come to realize there are few games that I enjoy playing as of late so I’ll probably go retro shopping and get old games I missed growing up.

        • wooloochief

          I have started doing that too. I just finished my first run-through of Chrono Trigger. It was amazing.

        • Ernesto Palma

          Definitely. The library of games available now is ridiculously big! There’s no reason you shouldn’t be gaming just because you don’t like the new stuff. We can always enjoy the classics :)

  • Nicholas Russell

    A Pokemon MMO that takes the basic stuff that already exists in the series sounds like the kind of thing that would make me want a Wii U. It also seems to me to be one of the only compelling arguments for the wii u’s gamepad.

    It’s just a damned shame Iwata didn’t decide to resign since I bet a new guy would have gotten the ball rolling on this kind of thing the first day on the job. Well, there’s always the next generation.

  • Joshua Rizk

    Put it this way…. If the Wii-U doesn’t sell massive units after Mario 3D, Kart and Super Smash Bros. they need a killer-app system seller. Pokemon is the only franchise capable of outselling Mario and Wii Sports.

    Besides the Gamepad is like a DS (or a pokedex) and the DS has 8 core Pokemon games.

    Game Freak have repeatedly iterated Pokemon is a handheld experience. Well it’s time to change your thinking. The Gamepad is like a DS-second screen, perhaps releasing a Pokemon Z on 3DS and have save file transfers (similar to Monster Hunter Tri) and then it’ll still be a portable experience.

    I’d keep the Anime look, keep battling the same, but integrate a more deep levelling system and a trainer job/class system (to customise your characters abilities) including all the stuff said in this article.

    Great article

  • Ernesto Palma

    Well, I for one am all for a Pokemon MMO, however, they might feel it could deter them from their handheld sales. Now this is a very selfish thing, a very company-ish thing, I’m not defending it at all, but I can see why they won’t just do it.

    What I would like, that seems more probable for them to do, is for them to make a really good looking WiiU game with tons of stuff to do online, battling being the main thing, but also pokemon minigames, and a regular quest for you to play a la Pokemon Colosseum/XD

    But they need to make it in a way that it is not mandatory to play the solo campaign on the WiiU, however it could be something useful to unlock extra content, and of course precious pokemon and whatnot.

    If Colosseum or XD would have had a better way to handle their Stadium mode, with more challenges like the original Pokemon Stadium had, it would have done MUCH better, in my humble opinion. The lack of mini games is what also killed it. We love battling, but you need a break from that, too! Something to immerse you further in the pokemon world, or to just have plain old fun!

    • Ernesto Palma

      And I forgot to mention, the pokemon handheld games must be integrated in a way that you may use what you’ve accomplished in your pokemon X/Y cartridge on its own, and also compliment the game if you choose to play the main campaign. But you can’t force people to do BOTH things. Look at what happened to Pokemon Battle Revolution on the Wii, massive failure if you didn’t own Diamond or Pearl. And even then, it had NOTHING but battles to offer.

  • Mrgaful

    Monster Hunter… anyone?

    • http://www.gengame.net/ Alex Plant

      Monster Hunter, like X, is a very niche title. Especially in the West.

  • Vitamin E

    I have a (quite possibly wrong) theory: vast offline adventures can affect the amount of people that play the game online. Far Cry 3, for instance, has a pretty good offline game. And for whatever reason, it can be challenging to get an online match started.

    Anyway, what I’m getting to is that the online mode needs be in some way related to the rich offline mode, like with Pokemon where you’d battle the Pokemon you level up in the offline mode. So, in a nutshell, what you were saying. ;)

  • RockyAlboa

    3D pokemon fans may be interested in this

    /watch?v=qP0CEq5N_uk

    Look up pokemon generations