Pokemon Scarlet and Violet introduced some of the most radical changes to the mainline Pokemon formula in years, most notably with a wide-open world to explore and free-roaming Pokemon to capture. For the first of its two-part expansion, The Teal Mask, you ventured away from the massive landmass of Paldea and into a new, self-contained biome--a sort of miniaturized version of the open world. Based on a brief hands-on, the second part, called The Indigo Disk, seems to echo this approach, albeit with more challenge for experienced Pokemon masters.
The Teal Mask introduced us to the land of Kitakami during its Festival of Masks, where we uncovered a long-buried secret about its culture while befriending two of the locals, Carmine and Kieran. Though it wrapped up its own Kitakami story, it also ended on a cliffhanger for the second half of the expansion to pick up. In Indigo Disk, you're a visiting student at Blueberry Academy, where Carmine attends school.
Blueberry Academy is a high-tech, expensive-looking place attended by the best and brightest trainers, and its major feature is a massive terrarium at its center. This is essentially a wild area with free-roaming Pokemon, but it's notably denser than the open world found in Paldea. To capture the variety of biomes, the terrarium is separated into quadrants with different environment types, like snow or canyons. These quadrants are separated by glowing gates that look like Mario Kart's Rainbow Road.
This means that if you're still on your quest to catch 'em all, you can easily explore a wide variety of environments and their own matching Pokemon types without a lot of legwork or fast-traveling. The snowy landscape is only a quick jog from the beach, so it's easy to traverse between different biome types in a snap. The terrarium includes at least some regional variants and is also said to include every starter Pokemon from past games, in case you still need to capture a Bulbasaur.
Blueberry Academy specializes in double battles, as an homage to official, real-world Pokemon League battling. That means that your trainer encounters will be two-vs-two, adding an extra layer of strategy and complexity to the usual battle types. Nintendo promises you can invite trainers from the Paldea region to come battle you at Blueberry Academy as well, which could mean new variations with double battles for them as well.
Trainer battles at Blueberry are meant to be late-game content, so the Pokemon tend to be in the level 70-80 range. To make things even more difficult, Blueberry also has its own Elite Four, and since they too use double battles, this allows them to take advantage of more complicated combos than you would typically see in single-player Pokemon. The one I sampled, for example, culminated in a Terrastalized Metagross partnered up with a Reuniclus that used Trick Room--effectively making the super-slow Metagross into the fastest. Usually, Metagross' slow speed helps counterbalance its strength, but the ability to create clever combos like this one means you may need to carefully formulate teams and strategies beyond the usual type match-ups. I completed the battle, but I was using a pre-fab team for the demo and I spent a small fortune on Full Heals and Max Revives.
I also got a brief glimpse at a new flying mechanic by passing a simple test of flying through a set of rings on the back of my winged Koraidon. This was less like the glide function of the regular game and more akin to real flight a la Star Fox, and it seemed likely that once you've unlocked it, you can fly more freely around Blueberry's terrarium area. While the ring-passing mini-game acted like a simple tutorial to help you understand the concept, having real flight in the open world is definitely an appealing concept. I hope it can also be transferred to Paldea, but that remains unconfirmed.
While the additions are welcome, this is still Scarlet and Violet, and the same visual bugs persist. The sweeping shots of Blueberry Academy often looked rough, with jagged textures, frame-rate dips, and pop-in. It's no worse than you've come to expect if you played Scarlet and Violet proper, and perhaps it may even be improved before launch. But it was very distracting for now, and if you are able to freely fly over the environment, I have to imagine that will push these blemishes to the forefront.
Those issues aside, The Indigo Disk looks like a fine way to cap off the first mainline open-world Pokemon game. The new biome is a clever way to pack lots of Pokemon types into one space, and double battles offer a new level of challenge not usually seen in single-player Pokemon adventures. All in all it appears to be a fitting bookend for an experimental Pokemon game, and one that should keep fans occupied as we wait for whatever the franchise holds next.