Despite the fact we’re getting two Pokemon games in 2022, we’re all still looking for our next PokeFix. That’s not Legends: Arceus’ fault, it’s just not particularly replayable. I liked it a lot, especially the unique catching mechanics and yeeting Jet Balls left, right, and cenny, but its lack of competitive battling and dull shiny hunts means that I’ve barely touched it since catching ‘em all.
So what have I been doing in the nine months since? Temtem took up a lot of my time, but the grind put me off a little. I also liked Pocket Crystal League, an Inscryption-like Pokemon card game. Now, I’ve stumbled upon another fan game that’s iterating on Pokemon in a unique fashion: PokeWilds.
PokeWilds is an open world Pokemon game that uses Gen 2 graphics for a simultaneously retro and futuristic experience. Scarlet & Violet will be the series’ first fully-fledged open world game, but fan games like PokeWilds have undertaken the challenge well before the main series. It achieves this by procedurally generating its world, complete with classic pixelated sprites roaming the wilds (get it?) alongside you.
PokeWilds is inspired by a lot more than just Pokemon, though. You can build your own base in a manner that feels more Minecraft or Animal Crossing than Pokemon, and harvest raw materials to craft into crucial items like beds and walls. Farming animals also feels like the more messed up elements of Animal Crossing: creating a pen filled with a certain type of Pokemon means you can gather hundreds of Ultra Balls with ease, despite the ethics being a little bit shaky. But who cares when you’re making progress?
The Pokemon themselves are great too. Not only do we have Gen 2 sprites, the hundreds of creatures released since then have been retro-fied too. Many Pokemon also have HM-like abilities when you catch them, from Cut and Headbutt to Repel and Build, which is how you set up your base. Pokemon can follow you, and you can also ride some. Ponyta and other Fire-types act like a torch at night time or in deep dungeons, and you can whizz across the map by jumping on some Flying-types. One of my favourite touches is that Sudowoodo can disguise themselves as practically any tree, including ones holding berries. There’s nothing worse than trying to pick a simple Pecha and facing a level 61 Sudowoodo with your level 12 Machop.
Poaching is the most invigorating thing to do in PokeWilds, though. You can talk to each Pokemon in the overworld once and it will either try to join your party, or act all defensive. Talk to a defensive monster again, and it will attack. If you flee, it will chase you down. And it will not stop. Angry Pokemon are the Alphas of PokeWilds, and they will chase you with speed and fury. However, there’s another way to anger Pokemon: steal their eggs. There’s no breeding in PokeWilds (the daycare couple aren’t there to encourage your pets to shag or whatever it is they do), so eggs appear in the overworld, often in clusters. These nests are protected by older Pokemon of the same line – presumably the parents – and they will get mad if you take their babies. Obviously.
But when I see a clutch of eggs protected by Garchomps? I need that baby Gible. It must be mine. So I channeled my inner Team Rocket and stole that egg. I didn’t have a ride Pokemon at this point, so every misstep meant that the Garchomps gained on me. They caught me a few times, fainting a party member before I could flee, and I was properly terrified. I must have crossed half of the map (which is vast) before I trapped the pursuing Garchomp in a dead-end of trees. The dumb dino behind me, I hatched my Gible, heart still pounding. It was more exhilarating than anything in Sword & Shield – and I explored the entire Wild Area with level 15s – and even beats out the meanest Alpha Pokemon chasing you in Legends: Arceus, due to the PokeWilds AI being completely indefatigable and unwaveringly relentless.
There’s a story, too. If the base-building and exploring weren’t enough, there are plenty of secrets to uncover. Why aren’t there any trainers here? Why are some Pokemon friendly enough to join your party without so much as a battle? What’s in that abandoned warehouse? I won’t spoil any of it, because you really need to experience it for yourself, but make sure you investigate all the mysteries that this world has to offer.
Pokemon fangames often iterate on the classic series in interesting ways, by adding new types or enforcing Nuzlocke rules. However, few are as innovative as PokeWilds. Don’t let the 20-year-old graphics fool you, PokeWilds has plenty of ideas that are ahead of its time, especially for the Pokemon series. With camping returning in Scarlet & Violet, it seems only natural that full base building will be on its way in a decade or so. PokeWilds also shows that the main series doesn’t need to keep marginally improving its graphics each time around: interesting mechanics and a good story will carry a game far. I’d still love to see Pokemon embrace an HD 2D style, and if it can take some inspiration from fangames like PokeWilds while it’s there, I’ll go all-in.
Next: Check Out Asako Ito’s Adorable Crocheted Pokemon