Towards the end of the main story in Pokemon Sword & Shield’s Crown Tundra DLC, you’re faced with a choice: do you grow a frozen carrot in a pile of pristine snow, or a spooky one in a freshly dug grave? In case you didn’t know, Pokemon – a game ostensibly designed for children – places a concerning amount of emphasis on graves.
Anyway, this choice is what ultimately determines which Calyrex form you obtain. An icy carrot attracts Glastrier, while the spooky one is a bit more up Spectrier’s street. Once you plant the carrot, the relevant form of Calyrex’s steed will show up – after you catch it, you can bind it with Calyrex to get either Ice Rider Calyrex or Shadow Rider Calyrex, both of which have an immense stat total of 680.
I’m going to be honest – I’m not too fussed about Calyrex. It’s not as bad as Zarude, but I don’t think a frail rabbit with Ki Adi Mundi’s forehead is quite on par with Lugia or Rayquaza either. That being said, Calyrex’s case is an interesting one. Instead of Spectrier being tied to Sword and Glastrier only appearing in Shield, you’re given a choice between both steeds regardless of the version you’re playing. I understand that this might not seem like a huge deal, but it’s quite prescient of how Pokemon could improve going forward.
I’m not arguing against version-exclusive Legendaries, for what it’s worth. If Zacian is on the cover of Sword and Zamazenta is on the cover of Shield, it would be pretty stupid to have both ‘mons in both games. Why would I buy Sapphire if I wanted Groudon?
But that’s where the issue lies. Sableye, one of my favourite regular Pokemon, was exclusive to Pokemon Sapphire. But I loved Groudon far more than Kyogre, and was an avid fan of the Ruby-exclusive Zangoose at the time (I had just turned seven and thought it looked cool, cut me some slack).
Game Freak has always maintained that version-exclusive Pokemon exist to encourage trading, which is a lovely sentiment except for the fact that it is immensely outdated. There was something special about going around to your friend’s house when you were eight, armed with link cables or a wireless adapter, and spending hours trying to complete your Pokedex across alternate versions together.
But that magic is lost now. I have Pokemon Sword and am a huge Tyranitar fan. Because Larvitar is Shield-exclusive, I turned on my Wi-Fi and started looking for trades – but the people trading are all random, and there’s no way for me to tell them what I want. They might flash a couple of version exclusives, but after ten minutes in the trade room it could turn out that, actually, they don’t have a Larvitar. This can happen so many times – some people quit out immediately, others flash Pokemon just to show off… it is tedious and thoroughly unenjoyable. Obviously you can still trade with friends, but the lack of physicality makes it more of an, “alright man do u have larvitar” than the special, link-restricted trades of previous generations.
It’s almost paradoxical – trading is easier than ever, but it’s also a load of shite for the most part. I think keeping box art Legendaries exclusive is a good idea, and there would still be room for trading in that vein in what I’m proposing, as well as trading based on shiny ‘mons, perfect IVs, or just general preference. I think the magic of trading with friends for the sake of swapping your favourite Pokemon is something that desperately needs to be recaptured. To this day, my favourite Pokemon I have ever owned was a level 83 Magneton called Sean that I got from my brother when I was eight years old. It wasn’t version exclusive, it was just a Pokemon he loved that he thought I’d like, too. The amount of Elite Four Hall of Fame certificates I earned with Sean in the first position of my party is frankly absurd, and I’m not sure I’ll ever care about a Pokemon the way I cared about that one – I really wish I could bring it the whole way from my original Pokemon Silver cartridge to Pokemon Sword today.
From a more practical perspective, you could even implement a new kind of choice – maybe the version exclusives become gift Pokemon like Eevee, and at a certain point in the story you’re asked, “Pinsir or Scyther?” I know this takes the fun out of actively hunting for rare Pokemon, so maybe we could transpose the general idea of gift Pokemon onto a kind of Safari Zone concept, or reintroduce concepts like Gen 2’s bug-catching contest. Or just make all of the Pokemon aside from version exclusive Legendaries available – it’s already basically like this except we have to deal with shit servers and trolls instead of bumping into a ‘mon in the Wild Area. It’s no less difficult, it’s just less fun.
I love traditional Pokemon, and there are plenty of things from the first few generations that I miss dearly – I only recently came around to Pokemon Black & White, mind, after years of decrying anything after Gen 4 (I like all of the generations now, and genuinely adore Sun & Moon). However, as with all great series that span multiple decades, there comes a time when we’ve got to let go of the past and move into the future. Version exclusives don’t make sense anymore and are little more than a nuisance that spoils the fun of both catching Pokemon and trading them. We’ve already seen Game Freak implement choice-based scenarios, so there’s no reason to think we can’t lean more into those in the future. You’ll still pick a game based on the cover Legendary, sure, but you won’t have to sacrifice loads of your favourite Pokemon to do it.
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Cian Maher is the Lead Features Editor at TheGamer. He’s also had work published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Verge, Vice, Wired, and more. You can find him on Twitter @cianmaher0.
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