Here's how Nintendo should release the old Pokémon games

Here's how Nintendo should release the old Pokémon games

I’ll admit to no longer being the world’s biggest Pokémon fan. I dabbled a bit in Pokémon Sword & Shield when they were released, but between then and Pokémon White, I’d barely touched the series. But back in my earlier childhood? I was hooked. I owned Pokémon Red and Blue, as well as separate Game Boys and a Link Cable, so I could transfer between them.

I still love the old Pokémon games, and many have lamented the fact that they’re still not available on the Nintendo Switch. I’m one of those people, too, but I’m worried Nintendo will fumble its golden goose when it finally gets around to announcing them for the Switch. It needs to be very careful when it releases the games, and needs to make sure it does it right.

Despite their age, pretty much all of the old Pokémon games are still excellent games, and I would be happy to recommend them to anyone. But a long running problem has been accessibility. While we’ve had remakes of many Pokémon games, even those remakes are now confined solely to aged and defunct consoles. Want to experience the original Pokémon Red or Blue? Buying can be expensive, and difficult. Despite selling millions of copies, the oldest Pokémon games still retail for close to full price, and it can be tough to find one for the price you’d expect for a used game.

It’s not hard to see why this is the case: Pokémon is still big business, and it still has millions of fans worldwide. Many of those fans will have come of age (or were even born) after the first Pokémon game, and never had the chance to own the games when they first launched. As such, constant inflated demand has created inflated prices, and weirdly, that seems to be something Nintendo isn’t too bothered about.

That’s odd because it makes Nintendo and The Pokémon Company no money. Inflated second-hand sales may be good for Pokémon’s brand, but it does nothing for either of their bottom lines.

The answer is simple: Nintendo should release the old Pokémon games on Nintendo Switch. That would reduce the demand for the old cartridges, relegating them to collectors items only, and making pieces of gaming history more accessible for everyone.

Only, it’s not that simple. Because Nintendo isn’t really up against the second-hand market at all. It’s up against a very different beast entirely, and one that could harpoon its chances of a good old Pokémon game release. I am, of course, referring to the ROM community.

No matter how much Nintendo tries to ignore it, all the old Pokémon games are available on the internet through emulation software. Emulation software and game ROMs are something of a legal gray area in the U.S. and other countries, but it’s generally agreed that downloading and playing a ROM of a game you already own is not illegal (though this is not legal advice by any means). It would be folly to pretend everyone using ROMs already owns every game they play, but that’s not the point: The point is that ROMs are Nintendo’s real competition, and they should keep this in mind when releasing Pokémon games on the Nintendo Switch.

Ultimately, price is going to be the most important element of this battle. If Nintendo releases the Pokémon games as part of Nintendo Switch Online, or even the Switch Online Expansion Pack, then it will probably be fine. But if it releases them as a full price (or even close-to full price) release on the Switch Store, then it’ll be in trouble.

The reason is simple: People don’t want to pay full price for old games, and even less for old games they can play for free. The key audience is also likely to be older games with a taste for nostalgia, who want to play the old games they love. Those are exactly the people who fall into the legal gray area of ROMs, and who aren’t going to be happy if Nintendo asks them to pay $50 or $60 for Pokémon Red.

So, the first point is that Nintendo needs to charge a reasonable price for the older Pokémon games. Where that falls is a tough choice to make, but $20-$30 seems reasonable, especially if some other tweaks are made. What tweaks? Well, some of the series' more arbitrary kinks need ironing out.

Unless Nintendo wants to deal with setting up an entire online system for the much older games -- Gen I, II, and III, specifically -- it needs to make some tweaks. Removing the evolution-trade mechanic from Pokémon like Gengar and Steelix is a must, but more importantly, it needs to just remove the most tiresome part of the series. I’m talking about the version differences.

Back in the day, needing to trade to get an Ekans or a Sandshrew was fun, and it encouraged cooperation and socializing with other players. These days, it makes more sense to ship re-releases of the older games with all Pokémon available on the world map. Including the starters, and fossils.

I realize this is a controversial point, and it does remove one of the more interesting parts of the game. But by removing the need to introduce a new online system for these extremely old games, Nintendo cuts costs, and can more easily justify a lower price tag. I get to catch all the Pokémon without needing to trade, and also get to do it for cheaper. It’s a big win, and one Nintendo needs to seriously consider.

Are we even close to seeing the old Pokémon games on Nintendo Switch? There have been rumors going back years, but it seems we’re no closer now than we were before. But, if Nintendo wants this to go well, it needs to consider doing it well.