I’ve played a lot of Pokemon games, but I’ve never actually made it all the way through one. What usually ends up happening is that I start playing, think “THIS IS SO AWESOME,” then get bored and meander off to do something else in about two hours. I don’t know why this has generally been the case, as the Pokemon series, on paper, is perfect for me; it combines my love of JRPGs with my bordering-on-OCD completionism and my love of cute shit. Regardless of why I never latched onto the series before now, however, I attacked Pokemon SoulSilver with a vengeance. Many players cite the original Gold and Silver versions (upon which, of course, these remakes are based) as the best, so perhaps that’s why I found such a newfound appreciation for them. Regardless of the reasons, though, I had a great time with this game, and I’m ready to discuss five things about it. I should note before I get started that I imagine most of these observations will be equally valid for HeartGold, but I actually did play SoulSilver. I don’t know why, either; I just went with instinct.
1. The Pokewalker– I am an adult, damn it. If you follow me on Twitter, this is something that you already know. And as far as I know, it’s acceptable for an adult to carry a pedometer. It’s some kind of exercise thing, right? Perfectly acceptable. Responsible, even. What probably isn’t respectable or responsible is that for the duration of the game, I carried my Pokewalker everywhere I went so that my team didn’t miss out on all the tasty, tasty experience that I could get while *not* playing. The basic gist of the Pokewalker is that you load whichever of your minions you like into the thing and toss it into your pocket while you go about your daily life. As in the game, your pal follows you around the “overworld,” and gains experience based on how many steps you take. When you return it to the game proper, you can also obtain items and extra captured Pokemon to use in your adventure. I assume that Nintendo, in its infinite marketing genius, saw a twofold bonus in adding the Pokewalker to these games; firstly, they can point to it as a “fitness” feature–look, we’re encouraging kids to spend time away from the game every once in a while! (Given that it is exceptionally easy to cheat the device into registering many more steps than were actually taken, this is probably a bust….not that I ever did this. Well, actually, I did spend some time attaching one to a ceiling fan, but that was for a friend.) Second, and most important, they can jack the price up five American dollars from its already comparatively pricey thirty-five. Smart, Reggie. Very smart. If the feature is fun, though, I’m willing to shell out, and although it may not have been the most adult thing I’ve ever done, damned if it didn’t make increasing my friendship level with Eevee that much easier.
2. Adorableness– I think this is why I could never be a truly effective Pokemon trainer: instead of choosing my team by strengths and weaknesses, or by their battle stats, or overall badassery, I tend, instead, to choose them by who’s the cutest. I mean, really, there aren’t that many un-cute Pokemon, but if my team doesn’t make me say “awwwwwwwwwwww” every time I open my DS, I’m doing it wrong. I will admit that I revised this policy at least a little bit throughout the course of the game, but it was still a struggle to not immediately go for whoever had the biggest eyes… and even more so to let many of them evolve when the weaker form was just so gosh-darned adorable. In case you’re curious, my team at the end of the game was composed of Typhlosion, Onix, Umbreon, Lugia, Noctowl, and Gyarados (who was shiny! And red!). I also carried Swinub around for a while, purely for the awwwwwwww factor.
3. Intricacy– I know this is kind of a weird thing to be touting in a game that, on the surface, at least, is aimed at kids. I want you to do something, though, if you haven’t already. Pick one of the links I listed above for my team members and open it. Do you understand everything there? Neither do I! Anyone can play Pokemon, true, but if you really want to get into it, there’s a ton–and I do mean a TON–of content, stats, and minutae surrounding each and every character. Skimming just one of these entries seems daunting enough, but just think: there are 493 Pokemon altogether, and they each have just as detailed a background. If I was told I had to learn all of this stuff by heart, I’d curl up and cry, but kids thrive on this! Ten years from now they’ll be crying about organic chemistry exams, but right now they can tell you exactly how to evolve a Pokemon at what time of day and with what friendship level holding what item to get a desired result. In the tall grass. With the revolver. Sorry, got sidetracked.
4. Catching Them All– Being the completionist weirdo that I am, I really thought that this would be more of an issue for me than it ended up being. Did I really think I would be able to catch all of the Pokemanz? Of course not. I don’t have *that* kind of patience, even for rounding up adorable death-dealing critters. Call me an underachiever, though, but I didn’t really go hunting for more Pokemon than I found throughout the normal course of the game. Now, when I saw one that I didn’t have, I generally made it a point to catch at least one, but I didn’t go through a whole lot of extra trouble to get the species I didn’t just come across naturally. To some folks, though, this is quite the process, and they’ll go to great lengths to make certain that they have all of the Pokemon possible, through special events, breeding, trading, and just plain ol’ evolution. Children (and some adults!) take this so seriously that they’ll burst into tears if they can’t get the special distribution character of their dreams… believe me, I’ve seen it happen, and it’s ugly.
5. Marketing Genius– I touched on this earlier, but I really think that it’s important to note how goddamn brilliant the idea of Pokemon actually is. The games by themselves are lucrative enough, but then consider, if you will, that many gamers like to have the guidebook, particularly when they contain detailed instructions on catching ‘em all–and for the latest installments alone, there are THREE different versions to be had! In a proper quest for completion, one would also need to get both versions of the game (in this case, HeartGold and SoulSilver), even though the differences in the actual gameplay are minimal, simply to ensure that all the characters exclusive to one or the other would be available. In order to have a complete set of the current-generation games with guides, then, you’re looking at close to $150, or more than two brand-new 360 or PS3 games. Then, there are the toys, the books and manga, the TV show and associated movies… really, the list just goes on and on. It boggles my mind, for sure. All of this from a bunch of little cartoon monsters? I was surprised too… but if you haven’t tried it, it’s actually worth a shot. Take it from a former hater; this is actually some pretty good stuff.
Next time I’ll be getting all growed-up again with Mass Effect 2! (Yes, finally.)