A year ago, Eurogamer reported on Pokémon Stars, an expanded version of Pokémon Sun and Moon which sources had told us was then pegged for release on Nintendo Switch this Christmas.
Except, as we now know, plans changed.
So what happened to the Stars project? Why did Nintendo and The Pokémon Company change course, and what might Pokémon look like on Switch when it does arrive? A year on from our initial report, it’s time to revisit Stars – and look to the future.
Speak to a number of people with knowledge of the Stars project and a picture emerges that there was no single reason why development on Switch’s first proper Pokémon changed course.
A couple of points stand out, however. First, a growing belief in Switch’s success – which meant Nintendo would not need a new Zelda, Mario and a new mainline Pokémon game within the console’s first eight months.
Stars – part-developed in parallel with Sun and Moon – would always have been a way to get Pokémon on Switch sooner rather than later. But, as the Switch’s success has now borne out, Nintendo did not have to lean on Pikachu and friends to ensure it.
Second to all of that was a desire to keep 3DS supported with games through 2017 – which lead to the birth of Ultra Sun and Moon, instead.
Nintendo likes to err on the side of caution prior to the release of a console – the company regularly refuses to call a new piece of hardware a “replacement” for its previous machine (this happened with DS, Wii and Switch) in case its latest experiment (touch controls, motion controls, a combined portable/home console) doesn’t catch on.
While Nintendo was confident in Switch, moving Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon into development for launch on 3DS this Christmas instead ensured there was an established audience for this year’s Pokémon game – and, more importantly, meant 3DS had a tentpole launch this winter.
2017 had a number of important releases for the aging 3DS despite the launch of Switch, although it certainly felt like the system was slowing down – we got Metroid: Samus Returns and Monster Hunter Stories, but also a Yoshi’s Woolly World port from Wii U, Mario Sports Superstars, a Mario Party compilation, and then titles pulled from the back of the sofa: Miitopia, released last Christmas in Japan, and Brain Age, five years after it was first announced.
Lastly, while Stars had been planned and worked towards while Sun and Moon were in production, it never represented a true leap towards what a Pokémon designed for significantly more powerful hardware might be.
This had always been an issue, and one which would certainly have dampened excitement – both for its launch on Switch and for Switch itself, getting a fairly straightforward port of a year-old game instead of a fresher experience.
Bearing all of this in mind it’s almost surprising Stars got as far as it did. It had made sense – a way to quickly launch Pokémon on Switch with assets which had been made to be upscaled for Nintendo’s new platform. But it would not have been anywhere near as exciting as a project started from scratch for Switch. I understand that development on Stars switched course around the end of last year.
It’s fascinating to have heard about Nintendo’s earliest plans for Pokémon on Switch – all of which were pencilled in throughout Sun and Moon’s years-long development. (Nintendo declined to comment officially for this article.) And it’s promising to know this decision was made for positive, logical and – to be honest – not that surprising reasons.
I’m confident that Pokémon for Switch, when it is finally fully detailed next year, will be far more surprising than a port of a year-old 3DS title. It will have benefited from far longer in development as well. There are still things which could be included originally built for Stars (all those HD Pokémon sprites and, at the moment, plans for buddy Pokémon) but for a project developed over a expanded timeframe – and one which will mark Pikachu’s leap to Switch in a suitably more expansive way.