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Snorlax looks happy to be in The Teal Mask Pokemon expansion Image: Game Freak/The Pokémon Company, Nintendo

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The Teal Mask is a refreshing change of pace for Pokémon Scarlet and Violet

The returning Pokémon don’t hurt, either

Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

Kitakami sits at the base of a mountain range, rice paddies and fruit orchards surrounding the small village. Rivers run through the mountains, which expand well past the village limits, to create an idyllic little world to explore in Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet’s new The Teal Mask DLC. It’s an altogether brief adventure, and it doesn’t reach the heights of the one I undertook when Scarlet and Violet were released last year — but it’s brimming with charm and character nonetheless.

You can begin The Teal Mask, which is the first part of the games’ The Hidden Treasure of Area Zero DLC, whenever you want, regardless of your progress in Scarlet and Violet. The DLC’s difficulty will scale to your experience level, but based on my playthrough, the highest it’ll go is roughly to Lv. 75 — so if you’ve spent a lot of time in Scarlet and Violet and have maxed out several powerful Pokémon, you probably won’t find much of a challenge here. Still, the storytelling is excellent, and there are new Pokémon — three that may have killed a man — and plenty of returning stalwarts from older generations.

Okidogi, Munkidori, and Fezandipiti stand together in Pokémon Scarlet and Violet: The Teal Mask Image: Game Freak/The Pokémon Company, Nintendo via Polygon

Here’s the plot setup: The people of Kitakami revere three Pokémon they’ve dubbed the Loyal Three. Okidogi, Munkidori, and Fezandipiti are said to have protected the village from an evil ogre Pokémon that attacked the village generations ago; the town even honors the trio with a festival of masks. You arrive in town on a school trip — basically a cultural exchange program where you learn about Kitakami and its traditions — despite the townspeople not being entirely smitten with tourists.

Quickly, you learn that things aren’t entirely as they seem. Specifically, Kitakami’s culture may be based entirely around a lie. Partnered up with Kieran, a kid from the town, and Carmine, his protective older sister, you head out into the world and dig deeper into Kitakami’s apocryphal legends. Compared to Scarlet and Violet’s world-bending story, The Teal Mask’s local drama is refreshing. It allows for a quieter sort of storytelling that lets the town and its inhabitants shine.

Kieran, Carmine, and their mask-making grandpa are the standouts. While you’re uncovering the secrets of Kitakami, you’re also observing this family’s dynamic between a shy, eager brother and a pushy yet protective sister. At one point in The Teal Mask, Kieran overhears jarring information about the ogre from the legend — aka the Pokémon Ogerpon — which he’s always loved. Grandpa and Carmine, assuming the kid is too sensitive to hear the truth of the legend, have maintained the lie for as long as they can; when Kieran finds out about their misdirection, he’s gutted, and it drives a wedge into the family. It’s a mess of misunderstandings, and you’re along for the ride. It runs as a potent undercurrent beneath the story of the Loyal Three legends.

Dipplin charges up a sugary blast in Pokémon Scarlet and Violet: The Teal Mask Image: Game Freak/The Pokémon Company, Nintendo via Polygon

The Loyal Three are essential for the story about distrust, misinformation, and the fallibility of belief — but none of the new Pokémon feel groundbreaking. For Pokémon fans that have exhausted Scarlet and Violet’s Paldea roster, though, Kitakami’s additions are a nostalgia trip. It’s been a real delight to stumble on some of my favorite older creatures, like Vulpix and Poliwag. The new evolutions and reworks add a bit of spin to existing Pokémon, like Dipplin, the candy-coated evolution of Applin. None of the new Pokémon have been compelling enough to switch up my superpowered roster, but I have kicked out one Pokémon for my new Vulpix.

Scarlet and Violet brought Pokémon into a new era with their open world. The scope of these games made everything feel big — as if things might never be the same afterward. But The Teal Mask’s appeal is in its slice-of-life intimacy and its small-town charm. It’s not groundbreaking, but it is vibrant nonetheless.

The first part of Pokémon Scarlet and Violet’s The Hidden Treasure of Area Zero DLC, The Teal Mask, was released on Sept. 13 on Nintendo Switch. The game was reviewed using a download code provided by Nintendo. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.