There is a darkness at the edges of the Pokémon universe. It is a franchise about capturing monsters in small orbs and making them fight each other, all while everyone wears a cheery anime grin. The subtext and horror undergirding the Pokémon universe has been explored in a million blog posts, YouTube videos, and Tumbler posts but no game has had the gall to make that subtext explicit. Enter Palworld, a new game about enslaving Pokémon-style monsters and putting them to work in factories manufacturing AR-15s. I am here for it.
According to its Steam page, Palworld is a “multiplayer, open-world survival crafting game where you can befriend and collect mysterious creatures called "’Pal’ in a vast world! Make your Pals fight, build, farm, and work in factories.”
The trailer apes the happy and bright cartoon style of Pokémon and Genshin Impact. Players explore a vast open world populated by cute and capturable monsters. Monsters they can mow down with assault rifles or use as shields while fighting against other humans. At one point in the trailer a player holds up a Woolo-type monster to block incoming fire. The poor sheep beast thrashes and cries as the bullets slam into it.
More than just shields, the Pals of Palworld can work in factories to automate production. “They will work forever as long as they're fed until the end of their lifetime,” the Steam page said. You can also use the monsters to help build structures. “Do you want to build a pyramid? You can have a large number of Pals work on the construction. Don't worry; labor laws won't be applied to Pals.”
It’s surreal to see a Pokémon game that leans into the horrors of the universe while still maintaining the hyper-cute aesthetic. It’s as if The Pokémon Company took its mask off and made the game that's been hiding underneath the surface the entire time: a world violence and exploitation of the natural world to satisfy our depraved desires. Palworld has a planned release date of 2022.