I was born in late 1995 and the first Pokémon game came out in early 1996. It's a series I love and have spent my whole life playing. I can almost define eras of my youth by the Pokémon game of the time, which is why it hurts me so much to admit that right now it's not the best game in the monster-catching genre. That feels like an almost illegal thing to say, but it's true. Welcome Palworld to the throne.
Since its early access release on Game Pass and Steam on the 19th of January I've spent more hours than I care to divulge palling around in the Palapagos Islands catching critters. The game features over 100 different 'Pals' but that's not all all Palworld has to offer.
There are a number of key differentiators between Game Freak's mega-franchise and this indie gem. The most obvious is the tone. A couple of disturbing Pokédex entries aside, Pokémon exists in a sickly sweet world where even with the likes of Team Rocket causing trouble, everyone is happy all of the time. It's great for kids, but I must admit I often feel like the story in the games 'isn't for me anymore', and that's fine.
If Pokémon hasn't grown up with its original fans, then Palworld is its rebellious older brother with a leather jacket and a motorbike. Most noticeably you can craft weapons and even guns to fight both pals and other people with. You can also eat your beloved pals, and catch humans in Pokéba- sorry, Palspheres. It ain't for kids.
The second main way it differs from Pokémon is that monster catching is only one-half of the game. This is as much a survival game in the style of Rust or Ark Survival Evolved as it is anything. With multiplayer servers for up to 32 players (on the Steam version), it's nice to be able to carve out your own corner to call home and build a base, setting your pals to work to help it become sustainable.
Fans have long wanted a truly open world Pokémon game, and Scarlet and Violet tried to do that, but it often felt incredibly shallow and empty. Palworld doesn't have that problem. Exploring its huge map is exciting and challenging with boss battles, dungeons and collectables all over the place, you can even find settlements of NPCs to trade with or invade their bases and build up a GTA V-style wanted level.
Of course, nothing can come close to the fondness I have for some of the Pokémon I grew up with but while some may have been accusing Palworld of being a blatant Pokémon rip-off, I disagree. In fact, I hope the opposite comes true, and that Pokémon finds some inspiration of its own from the new kid on the block.
Palworld is available on Xbox Game Pass on both Xbox and PC, as well as Steam.