Pokémon Scarlet and Violet are massive technical glitches

Pokémon Scarlet and Violet are massive technical glitches

Recent Pokémon games haven’t really been known for their technical sophistication. Recent titles have oscillated between simple isometric 3D games and more ambitious, open-ended efforts, but none have particularly impressed. However, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet seem to be qualitatively different. Almost every review cites major technical issues, and players have documented countless areas of concern – from poor image quality and frame rates to basic issues like game-breaking bugs. Our own analysis is damning: the new Pokémon release has problems across the board – and it’s actually in comparison to Pokémon Legends: Arceus that we start to see how much of a step backwards this is.

Pokémon Scarlet and Violet simply do not live up to the standards of other Pokémon titles. There are so many glaring technical issues that it’s going to be difficult to cover them all, but the most fundamental issue is the poor visual design and quality of the assets. Scarlet and Violet are bland and extremely basic looking: environmental assets are low quality with basic geometry, ugly tiled textures and simple designs. From a distance, the environmental values ​​look at their worst, stripped of most details and completely devoid of shadows. Violet uses some pretty tough normal maps to add detail here, in keeping with the game’s otherwise generally low-key aesthetic.

Textures in general are pretty poor, both in terms of artwork and asset quality. Low resolution 2D art is everywhere, while texture art used for larger surfaces is usually very roughly tiled, with obvious and unsightly repeating patterns. Even before you consider some of the game’s serious technical flaws and cuts, the basic artwork often looks ugly and cheap.

The written review is not particularly favorable – but when you see it all in video form, the problems look so much worse.

There are also issues with draw distance and LOD handling. At first, NPCs and Pokémon suddenly appear at relatively close distances, often jumping in and out of existence as you approach. It’s a very distracting problem, especially when traveling at speed. To make matters worse, the game doesn’t keep track of Pokémon units at all after they appear, so moving forward and backward effectively disappears whatever Pokémon was present. Environmental geometry and shadow maps also pop in quite close to the camera, which is jarring. There is zero approximation of shadows in the area, apart from some ugly texture-based cloud shadows, so shadow drawing can be very noticeable here. Certain environments also have sudden lighting changes when you pass a certain threshold.

That’s not all. At just about any distance from the player at all, animated objects will start running at a reduced speed, presumably to reduce CPU load. I noticed reduced animation rates anywhere between 1/4 rate to 1/15th rate in my game. In the video you’ll see what I mean, where I use a windmill as a glaring example – at close range it refreshes at 30fps, then 7.5fps, then 3fps, then 2fps as we get further and further away. This is most noticeable on NPCs in the game’s urban areas, which run at very low animation rates until you’re within a few meters. Reduced animation is a perfect optimization to ease CPU demands, but it’s rarely used in anything like this range.

I have many more visual complaints. Pokemon battles take place on the world map, but don’t look very good, with awkward camera animation and poor asset quality. It’s pretty easy to get the camera to clip through the geometry in general gameplay, even without trying. Visual glitches such as glimpses of scrapped geometry are a frequent sight, especially when traversing back and forth through environments. And this early game physics challenge just looks ridiculous, with fluid physics that have zero impact on the player character.

One shot can sum up a lot of problems – low geometry, terrible textures, inappropriate normal mapping, terrible lighting, bizarre shadows, tiled artwork – the list is extraordinarily long.

So is there something about Pokemon Violet that works? Some of the smaller scale environments can be reasonably attractive, with nicely baked lighting and decently detailed assets. These areas are quite limited and usually presented from fixed camera angles, but they are definitely the visual highlight of this game. Character designs can be quite attractive and unique, especially for NPCs that are important to the main story, and the Pokemon themselves mostly look good too.

Beyond that, there aren’t many positive things I can say. And that unfortunately applies to image quality and performance. In docked mode, the game runs between 720p and 1080p, usually hovering around 864p during gameplay. Portable mode has a resolution range of 576p to 720p, although it usually stays at or near 720p outside of cities. In practice, the image quality is questionable in docked mode. The combination of long sight lines with zero anti-aliasing and limited post-processing makes pixel crawl very apparent. Portable gaming fares somewhat better here, but it’s not particularly clean, especially when the resolution drops.

Pokémon Violet aims for 30 frames per second, but suffers from almost constant frame rate drops and stutters. Frame rates between 25 and 30 frames per second are common during traversal, with occasional frame time spikes to 100 ms and above. It’s a pretty unpleasant experience overall. Portable mode costs about the same as docked, with similar frame rate drops and short-term issues. At its worst, Pokémon Violet can run at 20 frames per second for extended periods of time, such as in certain demanding cutscenes and when traveling through some of the game’s cities. All in all, it’s a very unstable title. Pokemon battles fare somewhat better than traversal, but you’ll spend a lot of time moving through the open world, which makes for a choppy and rough experience.

And it’s not for lack of optimization, as it looks like a lot of effort has been made to dial back every possible margin for performance here. From the aggressive draw distances, to the brutally cut animation speeds, to the extensive use of dynamic resolution, Violet is scaled down about as far as you can go – and still can’t keep up with 30 frames per second. Additionally, when the game drops frames, you may feel the animation slow down, suggesting that the game speed is tied to the frame rate. Given these cuts, I suspect Pokémon Violet is significantly CPU-limited in general play, which would also make sense given the dramatic frame-time spikes we often see.

Recently, in Bayonetta 3 coverage, we floated the idea that the game was just too demanding for the Switch hardware — but the same can’t be said for Pokémon Scarlet and Violet. Stacked up against Breath of the Wild or Xenoblade Chronicles 3, it’s clear that the Switch is capable of delivering great, expansive open worlds with decent image quality and pretty solid performance. However, it’s the comparisons against Pokémon Legends: Arceus that prove to be the most devastating – truly remarkable, considering that it’s the same developer with many of the same team members producing both games.

At the time of its release, Arceus wasn’t exactly a top-notch visual experience, but it looks a lot better than Pokémon Scarlet and Violet. The terrain in Arceus is quite nicely sculpted, with realistic looking rock formations and reasonably high quality textures. Most of the terrain features in Violet look ridiculously simple, by comparison, with some of the most obvious texture tiling I’ve seen in a modern game, and the geometry is simple and roughly rounded. Even effects such as cloud shadows are downgraded in the transition from Arceus to Scarlet/Violet.

Environmental values ​​generally look much better in Arceus. It’s hard to make one-to-one comparisons, but I think the buildings in Arceus look much more appealing, especially from a distance. Basic textures are also of a higher quality in Arceus, like the grass textures, which are quite coarse in Violet. Arceus suffered from some pop-in issues, but Violet is dramatically worse. NPCs recede much further away from the player in Arceus, fading in over multiple frames. Shadows draw in at a much greater distance in Arceus as well. Critically, distant NPCs and animated objects run at good animation speeds in the older game – but not in Scarlet/Violet.

There are plenty of fundamental visual flaws in Violet as well. The rendering resolution is reduced compared to the Arceus, which typically ran at 1080p in docked mode and ran at a locked 720p when on the go. Shadows also look seriously degraded, especially in Pokemon battles. On top of all this, I think Arceus’ visual style looks more cohesive. Arceus maintains a style clearly inspired by Breath of the Wild, with the same painterly mix of cel-shaded characters and stylized, low-contrast environmental artwork. Violet kind of mixes different visual elements together – smooth Pokemon and untextured grass are juxtaposed with rough environmental geometry with strong normal maps. Even in the absence of the game’s obvious technical flaws, I just don’t find Violet’s basic visual design very pleasing.

And despite all these cuts, Violet has a much less stable framerate than Arceus. 2022’s first Pokémon title manages to stick to 30 frames per second most of the time, with the occasional dropped frame or two. Violet obviously struggles a lot more here, with dramatic swings in frame timing and an almost constant barrage of dropped frames in general gameplay.

Of course, there were technical controversies surrounding Arceus as well, but things have gotten worse, not better.

Arceus isn’t exactly the high-water mark of Switch visuals, but the concept of a game-to-game downgrade is notable. Without word from the developer, it’s hard to say what went wrong, but the concept of delivering two Pokémon titles in a single year must have been daunting — and the larger scope of the new game must have been challenging. Scarlet and Violet do not have a completely coherent world as it is broken up by loading screens when they cross certain areas. However, it has fairly substantial open spaces with cities, settlements and many NPCs all presented without loading screens or visual barriers. Of course, this is nothing special compared to other modern games, but it is a significant step up from Arceus, which had somewhat more limited open world spaces populated mainly by natural terrain and Pokémon.

It’s likely that engine limitations probably play a role here, and I suspect that Gamefreak’s proprietary technology is headed for an overhaul if not an outright replacement, especially when it comes to more ambitious and open-ended titles. But even the coding issues don’t excuse how crude some of the artwork is, suggesting a production bottleneck elsewhere as well. It’s clear that Scarlet and Violet are well below the technical standards set by previous Pokémon titles, and that extends far beyond the visual and performance complaints we’ve mentioned here. The game suffers from serious bugs and game-breaking issues, most of which have been extensively documented online. These range from momentary visual artifacts to ridiculous traversal feats. There is no end to the variety of bizarre problems players have managed to uncover.

Ultimately, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet are largely technical failures. Embarrassing artwork, terrible draw distance, poor performance, mediocre image quality, and a host of bugs plague this pair of very choppy games. Pokemon fans deserve better.

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