Last year was exciting for Pokémon fans as the series began transitioning to a fully open world. A ton of excitement and anticipation surrounded the release of Pokémon Scarletand Violetlate last year. These games promised a fresh take on the beloved Pokémon formula, and while it mainly delivered, there were some rough spots. Despite a few technical hiccups along the way, the journey through Paldea felt like a much-needed reinvention of the Pokémon world that I hadn’t experienced since the early days of the 3DS games.
I was engaged throughout the campaign, from the enigmatic Area Zero to the mind-bending Teralstalization anomalies and the captivating Paradox Pokémon. It was like a breath of fresh air, making me fall in love with Pokémon again. Game Freak returns with Pokémon Scarlet and Violet‘s first expansion pass: The Teal Mask. This expansion has some excellent moments and engaging content that builds on the lore and world-building of the base game while delivering an experience that stands on its own two feet without any excess baggage. But it’s a technical mess that is even worse than the base game.
A Tranquil Retreat in Kitakami
The Teal Mask transports you to Kitakami, a mountainous region inspired by the serene landscapes of traditional Japanese countryside. It’s a departure from the bustling cities and busy highways of Paldea, offering a more condensed and peaceful setting. Here, you’ll trade in your cityscape for rice farms and apple orchards; I must say, it’s a refreshing change of pace.
Kitakami may be smaller than Paldea, but don’t let that fool you. The compact nature of this region means you’re constantly stumbling upon new Pokémon in this tranquil and picturesque setting.
The Teal Mask’s narrative revolves around a school trip to Kitakami in collaboration with Blueberry Academy. You must visit three signboards scattered across Kitakami to uncover a local folktale featuring Ogerpon and the Loyal Three. Ogerpon, the tormentor of Kitakami and its residents, is the central figure in this expansion, while the Loyal Three serve as its protectors who ultimately drive Ogerpon into hiding. It’s a captivating story that adds depth to the Pokémon universe. Along the way, you’ll meet Carmine and Kieran, and depending on how you feel about their actions, you will either like them or put up with them. Can you guess which camp I fall into?
Easygoing Battles and Quirky Pokémon Designs
The combat in The Teal Mask is undeniably accessible, even by Pokémon standards. If you’ve conquered the base games, you’ll likely be over-levelled for trainer battles and encounters with wild Pokémon in Kitakami. While fights against characters like Carmine may require some strategy for under-levelled teams, seasoned trainers might find these battles a breeze.
One of the highlights of The Teal Mask is the introduction of new Pokémon designs that are refreshingly rounded and animalistic. Unlike the jagged, mechanical methods in the Gen 9 games, these Pokémon embrace a more organic aesthetic. Take Okidogi, for instance – it’s fun to look at and embodies the playful spirit of Pokémon. The DLC’s sense of humour shines through in these new additions.
The biggest issue releasing The Teal Mask this late into Scarlet and Violet’s lifecycle is that most players have hit a party level of 100. Coming into the expansion with an overpowered roster is an issue Game Freak continues not to understand how to make it work. Most Pokémon are around half the ma level, so you find creatures anywhere from level 60 and above. This nitpick falls into Raid battles where you constantly face Pokémon near the max level and will demolish your team in minutes. The lack of game balance punishes players for Game Freak’s missteps.
The Teal Mask Has Some Performance Issues
The performance of The Teal Mask is a mess. Pokémon games have long been criticized for their graphics. Unfortunately, frame rate drops persist here, just as they did in the Scarlet and Violet—the game stutters, especially during activities like the Ogre Oustin’ minigame and gliding across the island.
Furthermore, the abundance of items and TMs in Kitakami can take an eternity to load, and NPCs and Pokémon occasionally pop in and out of existence. While bugs are not as glaring as in the base games, these performance issues are hard to ignore, especially given the smaller scale of DLC.
A developer like Game Freak should not face such dismal performance issues, given how successful the franchise is. They can make some of the best video games in their niche yet consistently struggle with bugs, glitches, and slowdown. There comes a point when this no longer becomes a talking point and more of an accountability issue. People spend money to enjoy themselves, and it’s hard to do that when Pokémon struggles to offer an experience not plagued by pop-in or ugly textures.
The Teal Mask is a delightful addition to the Pokémon Scarlet and Violet experience, offering a fresh setting, captivating folklore, and quirky Pokémon designs. However, it’s marred by technical hiccups that can be a dealbreaker for some players. Despite these issues, it captures what makes Pokémon games enchanting: the sense of adventure, discovery, and wonder.
The Teal Mask is a must-play if you’re ready for a tranquil retreat to Kitakami and don’t mind a few bumps. Just be prepared for a performance that might leave you yearning for smoother skies in the Kanto region.
[The publisher provided a copy of the game for review purposes.]
Reviewed on: Switch
The Teal Mask is a delightful addition to the Pokémon Scarlet and Violet experience, offering a fresh setting, captivating folklore, and quirky Pokémon designs.
The expansion is on the shorter side
Kitakami is an excellent environment
Pokémon designs are great
Performance issues and a lack of technical polish bring the experience down