Love it or hate it, it’s hard to deny that Pokémon is just as (if not more) culturally significant amongst millennials now than it was when we were actually its target audience. Everywhere you look these days, it’s poké-this and poké-that, it gets pretty poké-nnoying after a while.
But listen, I understand. Every once in a while, you get that monster collecting itch that only Pokémon can scratch. So you do what any sane person would do: you whip out your dusty old Nintendo DS, slap your trusty copy of Pokémon Platinum (which retails for over £60 now, just so you know) into the cartridge slot, create a new save file, play solidly for three days, then get bored and move onto something else.
But what if you still want to experience the joy of trapping small creatures in tiny prisons, without playing Pokémon? Well, what I am about to tell you may be shocking. There are, in fact, OTHER monster catching/collecting/battling games out there that AREN’T Pokémon. Like Digimon… and Nexomon… and many other varieties of ‘mon’ I’m sure.
Nexomon started off as a mobile game. It belonged to an extremely rare breed of mobile games that were, you know, actual games, unlike the putrid excuses for entertainment you see festering on the App Store today. It became a ‘proper’ videogame in 2017 with the release of Nexomon: Extinction.
Nexomon is very similar to Pokémon in some ways…
A common complaint levelled at games like Nexomon (usually by people who haven’t actually played the game) is that they ‘rip-off’ Pokémon. In honour of this, here is a definitive list of all the things that Nexomon ‘ripped off’ from Pokémon:
- You battle Nexomon against other Nexomon
- Winning battles gives EXP points which helps your Nexomon level up
- Levelling up your Nexomon causes them to learn new moves and evolve to become more powerful
- Nexomon have type attributes
- Nexomon can be stored when not in use
To some people, these might be more than enough similarities to render Nexomon nothing more than a cheap knockoff. But I don’t think that logic makes much sense. Of course games within the same genre will be similar – otherwise, what would be the point in categorising games into genres at all?
Whilst it is true that Nexomon does borrow many of its core fundamentals from Pokemon, that doesn’t make it a ‘rip-off’ any more than Mortal Kombat is a ‘rip-off’ of Street Fighter – they’re both 2D fighting games, so why wouldn’t they be similar?
… and very different in others …
I’m as big a Pokémon stan as anybody, but even I have to admit that Pokemon’s battle system sucks. It’s over-simplistic and poorly optimised, especially at end-game when battles are over in less than a minute due to pretty much every move being a one-shot. Nexomon, on the other hand, adds another layer of challenge and flavour to its battle system by incorporating a stamina meter. Using moves takes up stamina; the stronger the move, the more stamina you lose, which adds a new dimension to your battle strategies.
One thing that I always felt made Pokémon a little tedious in places is the random encounters. I just want to get from one city to the next without being swarmed by level 5 Weedles, is that too much to ask? Nexomon opts instead for visible encounters, which makes travelling much easier. Another great improvement is to the variety of wild Nexomon you can meet out in the world. There are almost 400 Nexomon scattered across a relatively small map. The game even has the courtesy to tell you when a Nexomon is common, uncommon, mega-rare or ultra-rare. Coming across an ultra-rare Nexomon in the wild is kinda like stumbling across a wild starter Pokemon. Wouldn’t that be interesting?
Nexomon definitely has a sci-fi aesthetic to it. Part of that is the ability to modify your Nexomon with crystal shards that can improve its attributes or give them cool buffs like EXP-share.
Surprisingly, the actual Nexomon designs are pretty unique compared to Pokémon sprites. I expected to see a lot of rehashed or reskinned Pokémon designs, but I honestly didn’t find a single one.
Speaking of designs, the art direction for Nexomon is pretty easy on the eyes. It opts for smooth, high-resolution 2D textures in soft, dreamy colours.
But you know what Nexomon really got right? The very thing that Pokémon got so very, very wrong for all these years. The characters, the dialogue and the plot.
Pokémon’s writing is spectacularly poor. Come on, we all know it’s true! The characters are boring and one-dimensional, the plot is always predictable, it’s the series’ weakest feature.
The opposite is true for Nexomon, which delighted me with its entertaining characters and genuine, self-deprecating humour. Most of the gags come courtesy of Coco, your wonderfully nihilistic feline companion – he genuinely made me laugh!
As for the plot, well alright, it isn’t exactly life-changing but there was at least an attempt to take the genre somewhere interesting. It’s certainly a whole lot better than anything I’ve seen in Pokémon’s sorry excuse for story-telling. My only complaint is that it’s simply too long. Monster-catching games, by their very nature, are simple and repetitive; it’s too much to expect for them to grip an audience for more than 20 hours, nevermind the 30 hours Nexomon asks you to invest to see the story through to the end. It would have been more impactful had it been shorter.
I’ll admit that not all these changes are welcome ones. For example, as a Pokémon fan, Nexomon’s type matchups took a LOT of getting used to, and even after 20 hours of playing, I still needed to rely on a matchup diagram. Although there aren’t as many types to remember, they don’t always interact with each other in a way that makes much sense. For example, psychic-type is super-effective against electric-type and water-type is super-effective against ghost-type. OK, but why? And how? I’m so confused.
Not to mention the fact that there is no in-game map, for some ungodly reason, so getting from A to B boils down to just ‘go generally east’ or ‘go generally south’, making it absolutely certain that you will get lost and miss an area by mistake.
And, of course, what monster catching game would be complete without the obligatory-but-still-incredibly-tedious grinding? That’s very much still alive and kicking.
There’s a difference between ‘inspiring’ and ‘imitating’
Coming in to Nexomon, my expectations were low. I expected go through the game being hyper-aware of the fact that I was playing what was essentially Pokémon dressed up to look like something different, with no real identity of its own.
But in truth, Nexomon is sufficiently unique that it definitely feels like it’s own game to play. I think the developers tried to take only the aspects of Pokémon that players actually enjoyed – the elements of the monster catching formula that Pokémon has spent 25 years perfecting – whilst adding a fresh new spin.
As of right now, I still wouldn’t choose Nexomon over Pokémon, but I think that has far more to do with my nostalgia for the franchise than the games being better in any way. I can acknowledge that Nexomon is a far more polished and balanced monster catching game than Pokémon, but it will be hard for a new franchise to topple Pokémon’s rock solid monopoly.
However, with fans becoming more and more disillusioned with the Pokémon franchise, I think Nintendo should be very wary of other people doing their thing better than they do!