Pokémon Scarlet & Violet The Hidden Treasure of Area Zero Part 1: The Teal Mask – Bug Buzz still not-very-effective

Posted on September 20, 2023

The Teal Mask, the first part of Pokémon Scarlet & Violet’s “The Hidden Treasure of Area Zero” DLC expansion content has been released, bringing with it a new area, new storyline, and new Pokémon to discover. Continuing in the tradition set by Pokémon Sword & Shield’s expansions The Isle of Armor and The Crown Tundra, this DLC expands on the core Paldea region adventure and brings back a number of Pokémon from previous generations. It’s a true extension of the main Scarlet & Violet experience… warts and all.

The Teal Mask begins with you taking part in an excursion to Kitakami, a region beyond Paldea’s borders. Here, you’ll meet Carmine and Kieran, students from the foreign Blueberry Academy. Your teachers partner you up and task you with finding three historic signs around Kitakami, each of which tells part of the legend of an ogre that once plagued the region’s only settlement Mossui Town. The shy Kieran accompanies you and shares his enthusiasm for ogre lore as you travel, while his standoffish sister Carmine initially only seems keen on battling you. As the adventure unfolds, you’ll discover more of the region’s history and culture, including the significance of its Festival of Masks and the true nature of the Loyal Three, Mossui Town’s guardian Pokémon.

Much like Paldea, the land of Kitakami features a charming world design that is marred by several layers of jank. While its rustic rice fields and crystal-filled pools spark the imagination, core issues that plagued base Scarlet & Violet have not been addressed at all. In fact, some issues are at times exacerbated by The Teal Mask’s mechanics.

At one point, the Loyal Three scatter themselves across the map in Titan Pokémon form – this means that they can be seen from a great distance, but due to Scarlet & Violet’s terrible rendering engine they appear like a poorly-realised stop-motion animation. The regular litany of bugs are also still present, including the infamous memory leak that means you’ll need to restart your game every few hours lest it start heaving for breath and performing at four frames per second.

The selection of returning Pokémon from previous games feel like a decent fit for the region, with its Japanese influence playing home to a large number of creatures from the series’ first three generations. It is a little disappointing to find how much of the Kitakami Pokédex was already available in Paldea. While its earlier areas are littered with returning favourites such as Yanma and Spinarak, most of the map is populated by Pokémon we’ve encountered multiple times in the base game. There are a few brand new ‘mons to shake things up a bit which vary in quality – Applin’s new evolution Dipplin is a little boring, but the matcha-inspired Poltchageist is charmingly in-tune with Kitakami’s vibe and has a cool new signature move.

One thing that The Teal Mask excels in is its “boss” encounters – excluding the core repetitive rival battles, of course. The unfortunately now-series-staple “😱 you know about type advantages?!” rival battles with Carmine and Kieran are all too frequent and feel just as pointless as in previous modern Pokémon titles. However, the actual battles with the Loyal Three and the final battle with a certain form-changing Pokémon all present a decent challenge, and successfully showcase the series’ incredibly deep battle system.

To their credit, even the later rival fights in The Teal Mask manage to at least feature creative use of held items. There’s even pretty good level scaling across Kitakami, with wild Pokémon showing up at higher levels depending on your progress in the main game. This means that while you might be tempted to bring a team of high-level ‘mons across from the main game, you’ll easily be able to embrace the much more fun experience of assembling a new team from Kitakami’s available pool of Pokémon.

Despite being the source of repetitive combat encounters, Carmine and Kieran are a little more realised than your average Pokémon rival. Their relationship as siblings is explored throughout the main quest, with a heavy amount of foreshadowing that they’ll be returning in Part Two of this DLC. While their character arcs are not nearly as engaging as our bestie Arven’s from the main adventure, you’ll spend enough time with the two characters across The Teal Mask’s four hours or so to care at least little bit about what happens to them.

Aside from its main questline, The Teal Mask includes a handful of side adventures and extra content. Speaking with the photographer Perrin starts a quest to track down the fabled Blood Moon form of Ursaluna. Like much of this adventure, the Pokémon itself is badass, but the quest is pretty undercooked. You join Perrin in the woods on a foggy night, and she sends you out to take photos of Pokémon to… prevent them from being detected by your Pokémon-tracker? Or something?

“It’s a perfect microcosm of modern Pokémon: cool concept, bizarre implementation, shoddy execution.”

It doesn’t make much sense, and the camera controls are about as polished as you’d expect from Pokémon Scarlet & Violet. You need to sneak up on Pokémon, but you can’t pull out your camera in stealth mode – the few seconds it takes to enter photo mode and re-orient yourself (because of course it resets your view) usually means any moving Pokémon will have detected you and fled. It’s a perfect microcosm of modern Pokémon: cool concept, bizarre implementation, shoddy execution. Once you’ve eventually photographed ten Pokémon you face off against Blood Moon Ursaluna in another of The Teal Mask’s actually decent boss fights. It’s a thankfully short quest with a neat reward, but could have been genuinely enjoyable if not for its lack of polish.

There’s also a minigame mode called “Ogre Oustin'” that seems like it was invented to make competitive players hate themselves trying for base-stat-resetting items, and a cute little side story where you track down the fabulous Glitterati around Kitakami and Paldea. These join the new in-game selfie poses and a small selection of additional outfits as extra things to discover in an experience that will entertain for a few hours.

While the core gameplay remains as compelling as it was in 1996, Pokémon Scarlet & Violet’s The Hidden Treasure of Area Zero: The Teal Mask DLC is once again let down by lacklustre execution. It’s particularly disappointing to fumble through the clumsiness of Game Freak’s latest offering when the modern RPG landscape is full of excellent titles such as Baldur’s Gate 3 and Sea of Stars. Elliot’s review of the base game of Pokémon Scarlet & Violet is as true today in The Teal Mask as it was nearly a year ago: while the Pokémon framework remains solid and there are some innovative new offers, the lack of polish and failure to realise its ambitious ideas in a truly satisfying way prevents this DLC from standing out. Core Pokémon fans will undoubtedly snap this DLC up for its competitive additions, but there’s not much here to entice any Scarlet & Violet players on the fence about purchasing the Expansion Pass.