If you’ve had the joy of playing Palworld or even seen any media surrounding it, you may have noticed that the similarities to Pokémon are uncanny. Nintendo is notoriously protective of its intellectual property, so it begs the question, how have Pocket Pair not been sued into oblivion?
Not the first of its kind
I think the main fortress Palworld can stand behind is the freedom of the genre. Palworld isn’t the first game to use the pocket monsters idea and develop it into an RPG. Other titles like Monster Sanctuary and Nexomon have both taken the concept and turned it into a role-playing game. Nintendo has left both of these games well alone.
Along with these pocket monster RPG-style games are a huge selection of similar manga/anime. Yu-Gi-Oh and Digimon have had huge followings and all the related media that goes along with it. Games, cards, toys, and other merchandise have existed off the back of these franchises without so much as the threat of a lawsuit from Nintendo.
While certainly the biggest name in the Pocket Monster genre, Nintendo does not own it. Just because Pokémon is by far the most recognizable doesn’t mean no one else is free to create something new within the genre. However, resemblances between Palworld and Pokémon are a little more than skin-deep.
Many of the monsters shown in the trailer have uncanny likeness to the beloved and extremely well-known monsters of Pokémon. Within the first few minutes of gameplay, players will encounter creatures that are almost the spitting image of Wooloo and Evee.
However, despite the similarities in appearance, these little creatures are also based on animals we have in real life. So maybe both Palworld and Pokémon have monsters that look like sheep or foxes. It’s not like Nintendo owns the visual rights to nature. Though, I wouldn’t be surprised if they did.
Nintendo, despite its reputation for suing anyone who attempts even the most minor of intellectual theft, might have a hard time claiming the rights to wild animals. This being said, there are a few creatures that have little resemblance to nature and can still be seen in Palworld. This may end up being a problem for Palworld in the long run, but owning likeness is a hard battle to win.
In a recent lawsuit against a Palworld modder, The Pokémon team rapidly shut down a plan to create a reskin of the game. YouTube user ToastedShoes recently uploaded a tweet of his many videos containing his Pokémon mod. Most of them had been removed due to copyright infringement. This little lawsuit against the Palworld modder only got spicier as he continued developing his mod.
Despite the mod making it to Nexusmods, within hours, Nintendo had hit ToastedShoes with a DRM notice. He was ordered to stop working on the mod immediately, and Nexus took it down. They weren’t about to risk their site hosting something the almighty Nintendo may have a problem with.
This keen eye of Nintendo shows they’re very much aware of the game. They may not have a case to take down Palworld with a lawsuit just yet, but they’re still protecting their IP. Direct rip-offs of the game, visually at least, are still covered under Pokemons ownership. This direct action and public show of power is just a shot across the bows of anyone thinking of trying to step on Pokémon’s toes.
All powerful Nintendo
Some of you may remember the vast lawsuit that swept the internet back in 2016 in which Nintendo shut down many indie homage games. With one big legal threat, hundreds of games were removed from hosting sites. Over 500 fan-made games, ranging from Metroid to Pokémon, were removed from sites like Game Jolt.
Creators of the indie games, hosts, and collaborators all received the same letter threatening legal action. Some games had seen teams working for years to create their homages to their favorite, often forgotten games. Nintendo was having none of it. Overnight, hundreds of games vanished.
One game, in particular, comes to relevance amount the list of the fallen. Pokémon Uranium had been in production for around nine years when the cease and desist came through. The title was immediately dropped only days after it had finally released.
Palworld seems to be safe from the Nintendo legal team so far. However, there was no way they weren’t aware of the hundreds of fan-made games from before. Sometimes it seems they simply bide their time and strike when the damage is the most devastating. Once the money and time have been sunk in the game, it is time to wave the legal hammer and bring a company to its knees.
Nintendo need to step up to the plate
Fans have been begging for a 3D open-world RPG version of Pokémon ever since the game first came out. Pokemon Legends: Arceus seemed to be what the fans were looking for, but it just missed the mark. It was the same old formula, and that was maybe where it faltered.
With Palworld, Pocket Pair has taken the things that are so well-loved in Pokémon and breathed new life into the game. With the elements of base building, resource collection, resource management, and, of course, cold-blooded murder, the original Pokemon concept has been remixed. Now, with its new formula, the game appeals to many more folk.
Nintendo sometimes gets stuck in its ways, afraid to shake up the proven methods. Crazy, considering some of the biggest recent successes, like their Nintendo Switch Zelda games, were near-complete reimaginings of the many games that came before them. I think this is what has held Pokémon back. Now, with the release of Palworld, we see the monster-capturing fun of Pokémon taken into a whole new genre. I think this is what will save Palworld from being sued by Nintendo. It’s Pokémon while not Pokémon at all.
Palworld brings enough new elements to the table that it sets itself far apart from the game it is being compared to. Yes, there are elements of Pokémon in the game, but there are a lot of new ones, too. Some of the models may look like carbon copies of Nintendo’s, but again, the likeness is debatable.
Palworld is hopefully delivering something that fans have been asking for for years, but Nintendo has been too stubborn to hear. Sometimes it takes an indie dev with the guts and extensive knowledge of copyright law to bring the players what they want. With Nintendo producing weaker Pokémon games than ever, it is time someone took their ideas and ran.
It may not be peachy for long
Although Palworld has its defining features, it could still be in the sights of Nintendo’s legal team. It may be the case that putting together the lawsuit or judging the competition is taking time. To bring Palworld to its knees, Nintendo will need to make sure their case can’t be refuted. A lot of what makes Palworld so similar to Pokémon can be disputed.
As of yet, a lawsuit against Palworld hasn’t been filed. However, this does not mean that Pokémon creators haven’t addressed the issue. In a recent release, The Pokémon Company made a statement revealing that they have received a lot of queries about “another company game released in January 2023.” This can be no other than the wildly successful Palworld.
Now, this statement does make clear that the team is incredibly dedicated to ensuring their IP stays uninfringed. However, the statement does not address whether or not they actually have a case at all. They may not. Nothing may come of all this furor. For now, we’ll just have to wait and see.