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Pokémon's New Dynamax Feature Is Already Controversial in Competitive Play

Watching Pokémon get big is cool, but apparently the balance problems are proving too much.

by Patrick Klepek
Dec 17 2019, 6:59pm

One of the big hooks for this year’s Pokémon Sword and Shield is ability to make Pokémon real big through a feature called dynamax. A big Pikachu is cool, yes, but a Pikachu the size of a kaiju? Better, of course. The game also includes a variant called gigantamax, which is basically turbo-charged dynamax. But dynamax is hell for game balance, and while it’s cool to play with in single-player, one of the most influential Pokémon competitive communities, Smogon, is now outright banning dynamax from certain forms of competitive play.

“The biggest reason for banning Dynamax is perhaps the unpredictability that comes alongside it,” said the fan organization in an announcement last night.

It’s not a flat ban, however, just removed from one of their most popular one-on-one formats. Which means dynamax will show up elsewhere, but its ban here remains a significant move.

The response to Smogon’s decision, at least on Twitter, seemed mixed, albeit with most players, even those who like dynamax, understanding why the decision was made.

“Why bother to learn the new mechanic of the generation when we can ban it and go back to playing the same game we did before,” said one user. “What a joke.”

“Good,” said another. “I genuinely enjoy the mechanic but it makes competitive singles not fun. I think it’s balanced in doubles though and is a welcome mechanic there.”

An argument against the ban was that removing a premiere feature would “strip the generation of its identity.” Sword and Shield are part of Pokémon’s eighth generation, but Smogon erred on the side of competitive balance, rather than respecting a feature set.

“Preserving a metagame that has player skill as the main determinant of the outcome of battles is of greater importance than preserving a mechanic to align the generation's identity with, which we deem unnecessary,” continued the statement.

Smogon has been around since 2004, and claims to have more than 450,000 members.

Unsurprisingly, Nintendo’s own tournament rules do not ban dynamax, but there are restrictions. In the Play Pokémon rulebook, revised earlier this month and going into effect for tournament play early next year, Nintendo is currently restricting the species of Pokémon that can enter gigantamax, a list that will “expand periodically as the season continues.”

“Players using a Pokémon with the Gigantamax Factor that is not on this list during a game will be subject to penalties,” explains the rulebook.

Follow Patrick on Twitter. His email is patrick.klepek@vice.com, and available privately on Signal (224-707-1561).

This article originally appeared on VICE US.

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