Armed Pokémon: why Palworld could become the biggest game of 2024 | Games

The new year has barely started, but it looks like we already have the biggest game of 2024 – and it’s not a multi-million dollar sci-fi extravaganza set in a vast universe created by a gigantic publisher . It is a survival adventure published by a small Japanese company, which had only released one game before. It’s called Palworld, and it’s accurately described as “Pokémon with guns.” And if that sounds horrible to you, it sounds like you’re very alone. Three days after its release on January 18, it had sold 5 million copies. What in the name of Pikachu is going on?

What is Palworld?

Developed by Tokyo-based Pocketpair, Palworld belongs to a genre known as survival adventures, in which players are thrown into an inhospitable open-world environment and must – yes – survive, by finding food and shelter, making tools and of course fighting enemies. , whether aliens or hungry wolves. Minecraft is perhaps the most famous example, but titles such as Rust, Ark, Don’t Starve, and Subnautica all compete in a similar space.

What do you actually do?

Palworld: funny, silly and strangely captivating. Photo: Pocketpair

You control a character who arrives in a lush, open environment known as the Palpagos Islands and must survive by farming, cooking, building shelters, and fighting various enemy factions. Also living in this world are over 100 different types of cute creatures named Pals, all of whom have their own abilities. You can capture these cute beasts and use them to fight your enemies, or put them to work in your base crafting useful items.

Much of the game involves exploring the world, searching for friends and resources. It is important to monitor your hunger levels and gather resources. As you fight enemies (using your captured friends), you unlock new crafting recipes by working your way through a varied tech tree. You can either play alone, or, if you choose the PC version, you can choose to go online with up to 31 other “tamer buddies”.

It’s funny, it’s silly, and it’s strangely captivating even though all the separate elements are so recognizable. Some believe that Pokémon developer Game Freak has been too reluctant to really shake up its aging series over the past five years, and that Palworld is the modern incarnation that fans have long been clamoring for. This certainly went down very well with many video game influencers, becoming the #1 game on the Twitch streaming platform within a day of its release. It certainly helped attract attention.

It is therefore a sort of neoliberal pastiche of Pokémon, accentuating the immoral exploitation of these animals as simple resources?

Um, that might be a bit of overthinking, but sure, why not. And in fact, one of the enemy factions you face in the game is the Free Pal Alliance, an activist organization dedicated to freeing the Pals from slavery.

Palworld video game.
A screenshot from Palworld shows a character riding a monster-like flying dragon. Photo: Pocketpair

Are people mad at the obvious Pokemon connections?

The game has been extremely controversial, not only for its similarities to Pokémon, but with some developers. accusing the developer of plagiarism with its creature designs, but also its use of tropes and conventions from other successful survival games, including Ark and Rust. However, those responsible for Pokémon – Nintendo, Creatures and The Pokémon Company – have yet to comment, although Don McGowan, who led the Pokémon Company’s legal team for a decade recently told news site Game File: “This looks like the usual scam I saw a thousand times a year when I was General Counsel for Pokémon. I’m just surprised we got to this point.

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For his part, the CEO and main developer of Pocketpair, Takuro Mizobe, claimed that the game has been checked against legal requirements and does not violate copyright.

Additionally, Pokémon isn’t the only game based around monster hunting: other titles like Digimon and Monster Rancher have been around for years alongside it, and the entire genre is based around monster hunting. the popular Japanese pastime of collecting insects, so it is certainly not a concept that can be protected. The history of video games is a story of successful ideas being “borrowed” and improved upon, with most modern genres being traceable to one or two massively successful ancestors.

There has also been debate over whether or not the studio used AI-generated art to create its assets without informing the platforms or players. Mizobe has has expressed an interest in AI art generation in the past. The Steam PC platform requires that studios disclose any use of AI-generated assets in the games sold on its site. The industry has raised concerns about the risk of job losses caused by the widespread use of generative AI and the unauthorized use of AI models trained on copyrighted works . But there is currently no evidence that Pocketpair has used AI models in this way.

Where can I play it?

The game is technically still in development, and there are bugs being fixed. However, if you have a PC, you can download the Early Access version on Steam for £25. You can also play a preview version on Xbox, but this version is even less stable and does not currently offer 32-player online mode. You can play cooperatively with two to four players. If the idea of ​​cute mini monsters wielding machine guns appeals to you, you know where to go.

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