The Hidden Treasure of Area Zero

Pokémon Scarlet And Violet: The Teal Mask Review – A Strong Start

A Refreshing Return to Scarlet and Violet.

Despite some growing pains and countless technical woes, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet felt like a much needed reinvention of the Pokémon formula when they launched late last year. A renewed focus on the wonderous aspect that Pokémon’s world so effortlessly flourishes made for an experience I’ve not had with the franchise since the early 3DS games. The mystifying nature of Area Zero, the Teralstalization anomalies, and Paradox Pokémon are big parts of the reason I enjoyed my journey through Paldea.

As the first part of Pokémon Scarlet and Violet’s expansion pass, The Teal Mask does an excellent job of honing in on this lore and worldbuilding. It simultaneously expands the scope and sense of adventure of the base game while presenting a bloat-free experience that stands remarkably well on its own.

the teal mask review

The Teal Mask takes place in Kitakami – a mountainous region inspired by traditional Japanese countryside. It stands in stark contrast to the bustling and busy nature of Paldea, trading out towns and fuel stations for rice farms and apple orchards. While Kitakami is dwarfed by Paldea’s total size, its more condensed nature means you’re always discovering new Pokémon in a more tranquil setting.

The gist of the narrative is that you’re selected to be part of a school trip to the land of Kitakami in collaboration with Blueberry Academy. The main objective is to visit three signboards across Kitakami to uncover a local folktale revolving around Ogerpon and the Loyal Three. Ogerpon is said to have tormented Kitakami and its residents, while the Loyal Three serve as protectors who ultimately pushed Ogerpon into hiding.

the teal mask review

Of course, not all is at it seems, and you’ll unravel the true nature of Ogerpon and the Loyal Three across the Teal Mask’s short and sweet main story. Accompanying you on your journeys are Kieran and Carmine – two students from the battle-focused Blueberry Academy. Both born and raised in Kitakami, each helps to show you around the region while providing their own perspectives on the legendary folktale.

Where Kieran’s quiet demeanour and enthusiastic obsession with Ogerpon paints him as a subdued and shy individual, his older sister Carmine is much more energetic and quick to anger. Her love for Kitakami and its cultural traditions makes her apprehensive towards outsiders and protective of her younger brother. Both of these characters go through satisfying arcs in The Teal Mask, and I’m genuinely looking forward to spending more time with both of them in the second half of the expansion.

the teal mask review

Overall, The Teal Mask does a fantastic job of balancing being the first part of a larger narrative while also telling a worthwhile standalone story. It builds up to a satisfying conclusion for its characters and broader plot while also teasing you with what’s to come in The Indigo Disc. It also ties back to the base games nicely in its exploration of themes like bullying, exclusion, and the spreading of rumours.

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The gameplay front is where the least has changed. Aside from a few fun inclusions in the form of Ogre Oustin’ and a new photography minigame, much of what you’ll be doing in The Teal Mask is the same as the base game. Plenty of Pokémon catching, trainer battles, and exploring the overworld. Tera Raid Battles also litter Kitakami’s landscape featuring returning Pokémon that are new to Scarlet and Violet.

the teal mask review

On that front, there’s a lot to love with The Teal Mask. While short in supply, the brand new Pokémon continue Scarlet and Violet’s trend of excellent new designs. Ogerpon is an adorable little legendary who’s appearance betrays its public perception. Sinistcha is a similarly great matcha-based take on Sinistea with some inventive moves and abilities. Other returning Pokémon are super varied with some real fan favourites back in the mix. The Kitakami Pokédex is nothing to shirk off either, with 200 total entries to fill out.

There’s a bit of post-game content to engage with here in the form of catching the Loyal Three as well as filling out all the Pokédex entries. It provides a bit of an excuse to explore Kitakami further but there are some worthwhile rewards for doing so. Level scaling also made for a nice difficulty curve for my level 70~ team to tackle as I progressed through Kitakami.

the teal mask review

The aforementioned Ogre Oustin’ is also a good bit of fun, if a bit shallow after a couple plays. It essentially boils down to collecting items and depositing them for points as fast as you can while keeping rogue Pokémon away from your collection. The photography minigame is sure to please Pokémon Snap veterans, and newcomer Perrin’s enthusiasm for landing great shots of these charismatic critters is infectious.

Unfortunately, much of Pokémon Scarlet and Violet’s technical woes have returned to rear their ugly heads at you far too often. Aside from regular slowdown and frame rate issues, Kitakami’s visuals are generally muddied despite attempts at variety in its environments. While character and Pokémon models continue to be some of the series’ best, the disparity in detail between them and general textures only end up exacerbating the poorer visuals.

The Hidden Treasure of Area Zero
Conclusion
The Teal Mask is a great first part to Pokémon Scarlet and Violet's pair of DLC packs. While it suffers from the same presentation issues of the base game, The Teal Mask offers a digestible standalone experience that simultaneously satisfies and teases you with the promise of more. A more condensed open world, great characters, and fantastic new Pokémon designs make for a worthwhile return to the world of Scarlet and Violet.
Positives
Short and sweet narrative with engaging characters
Kitakami is a unique and refreshing setting
Even more great new Pokémon designs
Worthwhile post-game content
Negatives
Ogre Oustin' loses appeal after a few plays
Still lacking in technical and visual polish
8