The viral new video game Palworld, referred to by fans as “Pokémon with guns,” is attracting players by the millions. It’s also got fans of Japan’s legendary pocket monster franchise outraged over perceived similarities.
Japanese developer Pocketpair Inc. sold 5 million copies of Palworld in three days, the company announced Monday on X. On the video-game marketplace Steam, 1.6 million people simultaneously played Palworld on PCs, putting the game No. 1 in the current standings and marking the third-highest total ever for that service. Microsoft Corp.’s Xbox division is also distributing the game on its consoles and Game Pass subscription service.
In Palworld, players work together to capture monsters, build bases and survive the elements in a cartoonish fantasy world. Unlike those similarities to Pokémon, which aims to be kid friendly, Palworld players can shoot Pals with guns to catch and then train them. The game is in early access with no full release date planned.
Gamers are debating the similarities in blog posts and on social media. And some Pokémon lovers are clearly outraged. Pocketpair CEO Takuro Mizobe wrote on X that developers at the company are receiving “slanderous comments against our artists” and even “tweets that appear to be death threats.”
Palworld “was the right game at the right time,” said Serkan Toto, chief executive officer of Japanese consultancy Kantan Games. Adding a prominent multiplayer element to a monster-collecting game is a winning format, he said, especially when it’s combined with two other popular genres: shooter and survival. In fact, many gamers say Palworld more closely resembles the hit title ARK: Survival Evolved.
While the Pokémon brand has never been more popular, Nintendo Co.’s last few Pokémon games have received mixed reviews. The video-game site IGN gave 2022’s Pokémon Scarlet a rating of 6 out of 10 and Pokémon Legends: Arceus a 7 out of 10, with the reviewer describing both as feeling unfinished.
Toto suggests Palworld’s resemblance to Pokémon is a primary draw.
“Of course it’s a well-made game and the mechanics play a role, but nobody would talk about this game like they are right now if the designs weren’t as reminiscent of Pokémon,” Toto said. “If you changed the characters, the game would be far away from the success we’re seeing.”
Neither Nintendo nor Pocketpair responded to requests for comment.
Brandon Huffman, founding attorney at Odin Law & Media, said Pocketpair has little to worry about. In the past, he said, there was some reputational risk when a game company took inspiration from a past hit, but today, especially with survival and battle royale games, there is a strong precedent for adopting colleagues’ ideas.
Huffman’s colleague and fellow attorney Connor Richards, who played 10 hours of Palworld over the weekend, said “most of the Pals don’t really look like Pokémon.” Several look like similar takes on generic animals, and the more complicated monsters, he said, aren’t exact copies.
“None of them give you the impression that they’re supposed to be the Pokémon,” Richards said.
Despite the social-media controversy, Palworld continues to receive rave reviews on Steam, where it is rated “very positive” in an average of 45,000 reviews.