The story behind that weird camping minigame in Pokémon Sword and Shield
How the sausage is made.
If you've been keeping tabs on Pokémon Sword and Shield, you've probably heard about Pokémon Camp.
Pokémon Camp is a fairly typical minigame for the series, where you can interact with the Pokémon in your party, hang out, and maybe whip up a little meal without having to actually battle with them. The concept's nothing new - Pokémon games almost always feature some kind of non-combat minigame for you and your Poké-pals - and they're often a little strange, in one way or another, from the odd decorations of Pokémon Amie to chasing herds of Diglett around a pen in Pokémon Let's Go.
What makes Pokémon Camp strange, though - especially strange - is what you actually do when you go camping. You cook a curry. You cook a curry and then you put sausages in it. And then your Pokémon eat the sausage curry for some special effects.
Now, to me this raises exactly two questions. The first: why? The second: what exactly goes into those rather meaty-looking sausages?
Did someone say “curry on rice”? It’s #NationalCurryWeek in the UK, and #PokemonSwordShield producer @Junichi_Masuda sure is making the most of it! Looks like Grookey, Scorbunny and Sobble want some too! 🍛— Nintendo of Europe (@NintendoEurope) October 10, 2019
More curry here: https://t.co/ASAnKGmB3S pic.twitter.com/XQBb35Gk8I
The most obvious answer to the first question is that it's Game Freak's attempt at doing British food: Galar, Sword and Shield's region, is intentionally based on the UK and here in the UK we like sausages and we like curry, so maybe it's just a bit of culture lost in translation - a bit like the odd character telling you your new trim's looking "fresh as a mint".
Where that theory falls down a bit though is when you throw camping into the mix. Correct me if I'm wrong, but camping isn't a particularly British thing and neither is cooking a sausage curry when you go. Tins of baked beans with mini-sausages in, absolutely, but sausage curry? No. And anyway, Game Freak apparently put an awful lot of time into researching the UK properly. So what gives?
"One thing that we wanted to do," Shigeru Ohmori, Pokémon Sword and Shield's director, told me in our Sword and Shield interview, "because we have the Switch, and all the different communication features that it allows, was create an area where you could interact and play with your Pokémon in a different way. You've got these six Pokémon with you; how can we have them all playing together and interacting with you? The thing that sprang to mind is a sort of camp feature."
"Something that's perhaps uniquely Japanese is, when you think of camping, you think of eating curry rice - the sort of curry-rice, Japanese-style dish - so that's where this kind of curry-making minigame was inspired.
"When you're with other people, everything is just kind of a bit more fun, and the same goes for making food and eating food together. So that's the inspiration for the idea of these curries that you'll make together and eat together: they actually have different effects because being together actually has that different effect on people."
So the camping is a general, bonding thing, and the curry is a Japanese thing - so why now, in Sword and Shield, when everything else seems so focused on being true to the UK?
"We have a designer actually, called James Turner, who we kind of talked to about this as well, and he confirmed that actually in the UK, curry itself is really really popular," Ohmori went on. Lincoln-born Turner, the first western developer to design a Pokémon for Game Freak and art director on Sword and Shield, is of course absolutely right, we do love a curry. "So, from that way of thinking we thought, well, the kind of experience here where you're camping and making curry, the feeling of it, the meaning of it would still kind of be communicated well to players in the UK, and people who understand the UK as a whole."
That, I'm not so sure about. Veteran producer Junichi Masuda was also a little more tentative. "In the UK do you usually go camping and make curries?" he asked me. I said not really, to be honest - we're more likely to have a barbeque, or maybe grill something - and he didn't seem too surprised.
Well, "all our Pokémon fans should definitely try going out camping," he said, "and you know, if they're barbequing stuff, then great! Make a curry as well, put the barbeque meat on a curry, have a good time! If you see people making a curry when they're camping, you know they're Pokémon fans."
So there you have it. It's camping because it's social, curry because it's a Japanese thing associated with it, and sausages because, well who knows - but hopefully people in the UK will get the idea.
What about those sausages, though? Pokémon's always wrestled with the idea of meaty food, from chefs aboard the SS Anne mentioning "prime beefsteak" back in Red, Blue and Yellow to the Slowpoke Tails - a delicacy made from an actual Pokémon's tail - popping up in everything from the old Gold, Silver and Crystal games to much more recent ones like Pokémon Sun and Moon. Are these ones made from "real" animals, or more horrifyingly, from Pokémon?!
That question received an audible groan from everyone in the room, which is probably understandable, but Ohmori eventually worked out an answer. "I wonder what is in those sausages! But you'll never know unless you go out into Galar and try eating them in a curry yourself."
So, not Slowpoke tails then?
"Mmm. I wonder."