Matcha the mood
As a series, Pokémon is one that has held onto tradition pretty firmly. In the 25+ years since âs release, the fundamentals of the game haven't really changed â you explore a world, you fight Pokémon, you catch Pokémon. Last yearâs was the mainline seriesâ first big attempt to change things up a bit, expanding exploration to an open-world setting and letting you progress in your own way. But fundamentally it was still Pokémon, warts and all.
Itâs perhaps fitting, then, that the first part of The Hidden Treasure of Area Zero DLC, The Teal Mask, is set in a land besotted with tradition. The people tell folk tales, new native Pokémon are steeped in history, and with the Kitakami region's clear Japanese inspirations, it feels like a throwback to the older days. This does mean that while The Teal Mask is a fun time that builds on Scarlet & Violetâs strengths, it also exposes the base game's â and the seriesâ â weaknesses that much more.
Your character embarks on a school trip to Kitakami. While there, youâll learn about the culture and explore the rice paddies and grassy fields, all while hearing about The Loyal Three and Ogerpon, a fearsome legendary Pokémon of the region. The lighter story here makes sense given that The Teal Mask can be accessed within the first five hours of the main game, but your adventure in Kitakami does feel like one big sidequest â albeit one that ends with a big carrot dangling for the second half of the Expansion Pass, The Indigo Disk.
We have to talk about the DLCâs new characters, Carmen and Kieran. These siblings continue the base gameâs trend of characters with fantastic development. This duo takes some warming up to, but both really grew on us by the end of the DLC. We have a soft spot for Kieran and his character arc, which leaves us with plenty of questions for part two.
Itâs impossible to return to Scarlet & Violet, even in this new region, and not talk about the much-maligned visuals and performance issues. If youâre expecting any improvements here, then youâre out of luck â The Teal Mask looks just as fuzzy and struggles to maintain a consistent frame rate just as much as the base game does. Miraidon still hops at a sluggish pace, pop-in from characters, âmons, and plants are as pervasive as ever, and any NPC or Pokémon thatâs more than a few feet away will move around at a slideshow pace.
Returning to the game almost a year after its release to still find it in this sort of state is incredibly frustrating. It particularly stings in a year where weâve seen both Tears of the Kingdom, which pushes the Switch to its limits, and Pikmin 4, which shows the systemâs visuals at their absolute best. But hey, boxes now load without lagging horrendously. Thatâs something, right?
The Teal Mask is Pokémon very much as we know it. Run around, fight Pokémon, fight trainers (if you wish), and catch âem all â including a new batch of returners from previous generations. In a similar manner to the base gameâs Treasure Hunts, you go around and are given objectives, which involve you exploring the Kitakami region. Youâll learn about the folk tale of The Loyal Three and see how people celebrate their culture and the history that came before it.
As a result, Kitakami does feel more alive than Paldea. Though thereâs only one town in Mossui and another populated area in the Kitakami Hall, there are far more NPCs walking around with more varied buildings. The landscapes also feel more populated and bring some much-needed diversity; the sheer verticality of the region is fun to experience. Mountain caves and paths lead up to hidden springs and large vistas make climbing and heading up feel extremely rewarding, although there are still a few too many barren spots and open areas with too few Pokémon idling about.
In terms of new things to do, thereâs a whole sidequest line featuring Pirrin the photographer, which helps change the pace of the DLC up a bit, and a minigame in Ogre Oustinâ â which weâre not really in love with given how choppy the visuals are in this particular section and how frustrating it is when youâre playing it alone.
Beyond that, new features are few and far between, which means that sore points stick out all the more, particularly with battles. Turn-based combat is still incredibly slow, with stiff animations taking you out of the action. But if youâve beaten the main story and you happen to have a party of high-levelled Pokémon, youâll probably wipe the floor with most of the battles â which is a shame because there are some potentially challenging encounters. The seriesâ age-old problems and its desire to stick to its roots often come back to bite, and it's in battle that this is most noticeable.
Fortunately, the Pokémon and the world do a lot of heavy lifting that helped us still enjoy the DLC. If we were to pick one true highlight of The Teal Mask, it would be the new legendary Pokémon Ogerpon, who might possibly be in the running for the most adorable legendary of all time. We won't spoil why, but weâre serious. Honestly, all of the new Pokémon here are great, with the legendaries being heavily tied to the story, and both Dipplin and Poltchageist having perfect designs and being great to use in battle.
When all is said and done, however, Kitakami left us wanting more, in both a good and a bad way. On the one hand, The Teal Maskâs story is lighthearted and delightful to go through, and the two main characters and the legendary Pokémon really shine. But Game Freak's refusal to let go of the past, and this entry's continued performance woes, means weâre still wishing for more.