Pokemon: Let’s Go Pikachu and Pokemon: Let’s Go Eevee. Photographer: Akio Kon/Bloomberg

INTERNATIONAL – Nintendo is gambling that it can sell millions of Switch consoles this holiday season by introducing a new Pokémon game that interacts with the free-to-play mobile hit Pokémon Go, as well as a new character that resembles a hex nut.

Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee went on sale Friday globally, the first titles from the popular series for Nintendo’s newest console.

Armed with richer graphics, the games are designed to appeal to the 850 million fans who have played Pokémon Go. 

Only those who buy the new Let’s Go games can sync their smartphones and Switch consoles through a Bluetooth connection. Doing so lets users transfer pocket monsters between the mobile app and Switch games, and also unlock Meltan, the new character.

Nintendo is aiming to boost Switch sales during an otherwise lackluster year for software releases. Analysts point to 2016 when Pokemon Go’s debut reignited interest in buying 3DS consoles to play more games in the series. 

They estimate Meltan can help sell 7.5 million units of the new titles by March, according to four analyst projections compiled by Bloomberg. Meltan was trending among Pokemon social media users within hours of the game’s release. 

By comparison, the Pokémon series has sold 101 million titles on Nintendo devices since 2004, second only to the Super Mario franchise with 121 million, according to Nintendo’s data.

“Pokémon Go had a significant positive impact on 3DS hardware and Pokémon software sales, so I think the potential is there for a similar impact on Switch,” said Piers Harding-Rolls, head of games research at IHS Markit. 

“Nintendo believes this will make a great gifting product over the holiday sales season and is a key reason it hasn’t dropped its Switch full-year shipment forecast."

Nintendo needs to win the support of more gamers like Christina Grybel, a lifelong Pokémon player in the US who plans to buy a Switch to collect the new pocket monster. “The main reason to get the Let’s Go game is for Meltan,” she said in an interview.

At the same time, the move to link the new Switch game titles to Pokemon Go has alienated some members of the Pokémon community, who say Meltan’s introduction is a cheap move aimed at fans who like to collect every available pocket monster. 

That, they say, forces gamers to spend at least $360 (R5114.90) to buy a Switch and a Let’s Go game. As a result, some say that Nintendo is making it very difficult for fans to achieve the motto of the series, “Gotta Catch ’Em All.”

“Some people will never be able to finish their collections in Pokémon Go, which is sad and against what Pokémon stands for,” said Lisa Zahn, a lifelong Pokémon gamer from Germany.

Other veteran players are also threatening to boycott purchases because they say core features such as battles have been over-simplified to appeal to smartphone gamers. Lacklustre reviews aren’t helping, with the new titles receiving some of the lowest scores in the series.

Nintendo declined to comment. Pokemon acknowledged that the Let’s Go games and a Switch are needed to obtain Meltan, but a company spokesman said even those without Nintendo’s console can do so during a promotional event this winter. Details will be announced at a later date, he said.

Bloomberg