Inside Pulse 12

Review: Pokemon Channel (Nintendo Gamecube)

It was the summer of 1996. Still a full year and some change before it came to the States, when it completely changed the face of video gaming, merchandising and with modest still in tact, the world. I’d finished my Freshman year of college and while my ex was visiting relatives, I ended up going to a little island I would find myself spending increasing time with. On this trip I would encounter a small video game for my 4 battery eating old Black and White Game Boy. It was called Pocket Monsters Green. I looked at the box, thought it looked like a good RPG to help me improve my Japanese and picked it up, still unsure why it was in two colours (later to be three in October 1996) and what I was in for.

By the time the plane landed back in America, I was hooked. From Professor Oak giving me my first Pokemon (Charmander!) to encountering my arch rival and the villainous team rocket, to the sheer enjoyment of catching and raising and evolving 100 types of cuddly and bizarre seizure inducing cockfighting beasties, I had fallen in love with the world of what we now call Pokemon. But one little bugger stood out. He looked like my pet rabbit. At least I thought it was a he. It was called a Pikachu and although it wasn’t the most powerful member of my Pokemon Army, he quickly surpassed Charmander and Clefairy to become my favorite. Or at least until I found Cubone, who is in fact my favorite Pokemon. A little Lucard factoid most of you don’t know. His name? PIKACHU. And although I encountered him 15 or so months before the cartoon began playing on syndicated weekday afternoons, I knew I wouldn’t be alone in falling in love with this little electric rodent.

6 years later, Pokemon is still around and still managing to hold onto as one of the most lucrative franchises in the history of entertainment. Is Pokemon as big as it was in 1998-2000? Of course not. But Transformers wasn’t as big in 1990 as it was in 1985 either. Yet it’s still one of the biggest toy and cartoon franchises ever. And here’s the thing. It still has countless fans and makes a lot of money. And Pokemon does the same thing. You may not like to hear it people, but take it from a guy who has spoken to Game Freak and Hasbro. To Nintendo and Takara. History does repeat itself and it’s Pikachu who took up the mantle of Optimus Prime in the late 1990’s. And Peter Cullen would be proud of Ms. Ohtani. You can write in all you want to dispute it. But take a good look at the marketing, the response from kids, and how both lines have a VERY large percentage of over 21 aged fans. Do the research and the math and you’ll find one evolves while the other rolls out.

Now back to the subject on Hand. Pokemon is the ONLY franchise to constantly reinvent itself with every game that comes out. Red and Blue in America gave way to Yellow. Yellow was a complete retelling of the video game using the world of the anime. Yellow gave way to the Trading Card game, to two different pinball games, to Pokemon Snap, and Stadium, Attack and Puzzle League, and Hey You Pikachu! Each game was dramatically different from the RPG. And each was successful in their own way, adding another dimension to Pokemon. Yes, Game Freak, Nintendo, and all the other companies involved ensured from Day 1 that Pokemon would be more than an RPG. Instead it was to be an all encompassing juggernaut. Yes, the series would return to its roots for Silver/Gold/Crystal and Ruby/Sapphire, but each time there would be dramatic changes in the franchise. And each game would be good. Not great and enterprising like the original, but worthy successors nonetheless.

Now it is 2003. And one had to wonder what was left for Pokemon. Where could it possibly go? Some cynical people believed you had done everything you could with Pokemon. You had caught them, raised them, fought with them, took pictures with them, and even talked and befriended one far better than you did a Fish on the Dreamcast. What could possibly be left?

Simple. Build an interactive Pokemon WORLD. And that’s what Pokemon Channel is. Don’t let the name or some idiots who saw a few screenshots of the game lie to you. Pokemon Channel is not about watching TV with your Pokemon. Yes, it’s part of the game. An integral part. But there is so much more than that, that if I hear ANYONE say “Why would you buy a game where you just watch TV’ then I will know that person deserves a big sticker reading, “I’m a idiot who is incapable of thinking for myself.’

So let’s take a look at Pokemon Channel. A strange mix of Incredible Crisis, Hey You Pikachu!, Animal Crossing, and Mario Party. But one thing is for sure: Pokemon has once again managed to stay fresh, original and innovative. Even if some people are going to look like uneducated Jackasses that haven’t even played the game even though they have reviewed it when their reviews are compared to this one. (In other words, go read some of the other ones listed at Game Rankings next to this one, then come back and re-read this.) Pokemon may be “kiddee’ but it sure as hell is still for all ages.

Get ready for a passion filled and energetic ride people. The Gaming Industry’s best known Pokemaniac is about to lead you on a journey through POKEMON CHANNEL…

Let’s Review

1. Story

Well, it’s pretty simple. Professor Oak, crazy genius of the Pokemon world, having exhausted other ways of gathering anthropological and zoological data on Pokemon, needs to come up with a new way to keep the paychecks rolling in. And that’s where the TV comes in. Oak decided to study how Humans AND Pokemon watch TV and how it makes them interact.

It sounds lame at first, but from a research standpoint, it makes sense. Well, not it doesn’t. It’s hack scholarship at best in our reality. But this is the reality of Pokemon, where all animals are treated as human beings and where they live and play as one. So there it makes sense.

Your TV arrives via Magnemite postal delivery (although it will be Delibird from here on, unless Pikachu blows up your tv with excitement.) and you can begin watching shows. But what’s this? The arrival of the TV has attracted three wild Pokemon: Torchic, Treeko, and a Pikachu. However when you spot them spying on you, two of the Pokemon run away, while one remains curious enough about the TV and you to stay. Guess which one.

PIKA PIKA PIKACHU! PIKA PIKA PIKACHU! PIKA PIKA PIKACHU!

And yes. From then on, you and Pikachu watch TV together, meet other Pokemon together. Learn to play games, and collect Pokemon trading cards together and play video games together and go on bus trips together and go fishing and kill for Satan together.

Well, not the last one. At least not yet. It could be hidden in the game somewhere. But probably not.

What’s nice is the story is not just about new TV shows be created, playing over a dozen mini games, collecting cards (equivalent of Pokedex entries) and buying stuff from the Shop N Squirtle Network, but it is in fact the story of domesticating a Pikachu from a wild Pokemon to a friend and companion. Although some shows seems to be useless, such as the aerobics channel, watching them teaches Pikachu to do them. Watching the Art show makes it learn to appreciate art. Watching the Mareep channel makes it narcoleptic.

If you’re good enough and watch enough shows and go on enough trips and basically spoil it rotten, it will go from being wild to your very own Pikachu that you can name. As it becomes more comfortable, other wild Pokemon will start to visit. The Treeko and Torchic from the beginning, now come to my house and who knows? Maybe one will eventually stick around as well. Most likely not, but it’s a nice thought.

It’s true. The majority of the game is watching TV. But it’s not a passive thing. Most of the channels are interactive mini games like two different Quiz Shows. Or allow you to use your Smergle paint set that captures an image from TV and then paint it for show on the Art network or for sale. There’s even 5 short Pichu Bros. anime episodes to watch, which is as passive as it gets because they’re simple to watch and enjoy.

Although the story has little depth, that doesn’t make it bad. It’s a simple story of a boy or girl bonding with their pet. Just in an unusual way. It’s really no different than playing animal crossing. Instead of Tom Nook, you have a Squirtle. Instead of villagers, you have random Pokemon. And a LOT of them compared to the villagers in Animal Crossing. According to my binder I’ve encountered about 50 Pokemon. All of whom have given me neat presents.

Yes, the story is light and fluffy, but it is by no means shallow. Give it a try and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Story Rating: 7/10

2. Graphics

To be honest, there is nothing truly amazing about the graphics. It’s just GameCube level 3D Pokemon wandering around and showing emotions and physiology. Sure the graphics are great and it’s nice to see 3D Pokemon in some other form then the old Stadium games, but there’s only so far you can go with Pokemon characters in terms of Graphical improvement. After all, they were originally designed for the Game Boy Black and White.

It really is impressive to see the wide range of emotions in the game that Pikacu can show, from nearly drowning, to giggling, to singing along with its favorite song to even being a very poor loser and shocking you after it loses a game of Tic-Tac-Toe. But the other Pokemon’s range of emotions (save Gengar and a distinct few) are confined to their voice actors.

The TV shows look good as well, and it’s nice to see the Meowth Party footage from way way back at the beginning of the Gamecube finally surface as party of this game (remember how impressed we all were by it?) and the cartoon footage is basically done by the same people who have always done the Pokemon cartoon.

In all, it’s good graphics, but nothing that wows me.

Graphics Rating: 7/10

3. Sound

Every character has their proper voice actor. For all intents and purposes, you might as well be playing a cartoon. Even Jesse and James puts in a vocal appearance on Pokemon Channel. Seriously, when it comes to voice acting, it’s amazing how the cast and crew of Pokemon can illicit such a wide range of emotions and convey a Pokemon’s personality by just a few scant syllables. Good for them!

The music is quite good as well. I’m always impressed by the 1920’s style theme they gave to the Pichu Bros. anime. It’s cute, catchy, and adorable, like all the opening themes they have ever used for a Pokecartoon.

The music for the TV shows is appropriate as well. Besides having a few classic Pokemon songs included in the game, songs like Smergle’s Art Show fit it perfectly, with an air of haughtiness and snobbery around it, to the high impact workout music used for Smoochum’s Aerobics show.

Good choices all around. Although it’s not a soundtrack I’d ever buy, I’d be hard placed to come up with better music for the game in any way.

Sound Rating: 9/10

4. Control

It’s all done via point and click. And before I even remotely here some of you groan, remember some of the best games were point and click. Dracula: Resurrection. Secret of Monkey Island. The original SSI D&D games. All used point and click interaction. It streamlines the game and ensures nothing can really go wrong at all control wise.

It’s a very smart idea for two reasons. The first is that in fact, all ages can play. Even three year olds can master Point and Click. The second is that Pokemon Channel is all about exploration and discovery. And the Mouse method of interaction is the best way to do it.

Yes, it’s nice to have a game that you can have absolutely no bones with in terms of control.

Control Rating: 10/10

5. Replayability

The game never ends folks. The more times you go to a location, the more Pokemon and activities will be revealed to you. The more you pet Pikachu, the more it will love you. With about 2 dozen mini games, the entire Pokemon race at your fingertips, and a lot of great ways to just mindlessly enjoy a game for anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour, you will be able to play this game in the same sense you played Animal Crossing. No end, just varying degrees of how into you get.

And thanks to the simple but addicting joys of the Pokemon Mini being part of this game, you’re going to be able to see how much fun a one button push game can be.

Replayability Rating: 7/10

6. Balance

Kind of an odd topic to discuss, considering the nature of the game. Afterall, There’s no great challenges, no enemies to destroy, it’s all just simple good natured fun. The quiz questions range in difficulty from questions even a person without Pokexposure could get due to the magic of common sense, to even questions I got wrong the first time. But that’s the nature of the game. It’s only as difficult as you let it become.

Considering it’s all mini games, no one should have a real problem at all getting used to how the game is played or having fun with it. It’s all a matter of letting go and taking a return back to simplicity.

Balance Rating: 10/10

7. Originality

It’s the first real attempt at making a truly interactive Pokemon world. Hey Pikachu was a precursor, and a good attempt, but Pokemon Channel takes things much further and gives you tons of activities to do just in case you get sick of the electric bunny thing. It takes aspects from all sorts of games that have been considered fresh and original, but most of all FUN, and gave them a new Pokeslant. I also enjoyed seeing the Pokemon mini games, which are some of the neatest and addicting games I have ever played released as little bonuses for Pokemon Channel. And they’re all new to those of you who have never gone to the Pokemon Centers in Osaka, NYC, and Tokyo. You’ll be amazed at how Atari 2600 like they are, but still how much fun they can be.

It’s nice to see Ambrella, Game Freak, and Nintendo taking Pokemon further and further down the eventual path it is heading. Now I just want to see the end result I know will be here when the Gamecube’s eventual usurper comes around.

The future is coming, and it’s going to be Pokeriffic!

Originality Rating: 8/10

8. Addictiveness.

You will become addicted people. Oh yes. You can attempt to fight it, but you will be. Sure, you’re probably thinking. “I’m an overly macho hillbilly who refuses to let himself be entertained by anything that doesn’t involve killing a man in cold blood, bitch slapping a hooker, or saving the world from alien invaders. I need gore, sex, and the ability to temporarily forget I am one ugly bastard who will never gain the social skills necessary to properly interact with humanity on a level above that of Anti-Social Hermit. But then you haven’t sat down with Pokemon Channel yet.

You like minigames? You got it here. You like interacting with all sorts of things? You got it here. You like Pikachu? You know you do. EVERYONE likes Pikachu. Well, he’s here in spades. You like Anime? You got it here. You like collecting things? It’s Pokemon. Of course that’s going to be here. You like a game that is easy to get into and have fun with? It’s only 29.99 people! Pick it up and have fun with this sucker!

And if you need more proof. Take a look at Alex Williams. For an entire week the 411 crew knew that the second Pokemon Channel came out, I was a lost cause. No Retrograding. No reviews. No nothing. Not even my Pneumonia was going to keep me from living, eating, and breathing Pokemon Channel.

But then Alex Williams bought it. And I came home to IM’s left on my computer when I’d be out saying things like, “Pikachu sings along with the TV!” and other expressions of jubilation.

Yes video game fans, you will become one with Pokemon Channel. Maybe not for long. Maybe only for a few minutes a day. But it will happen!

Addictiveness Rating: 7/10

9. Appeal Factor

Although this game should appeal to a good cross section of gamers, the reality is that it won’t. Too many people will be caught up in the big Pokemon label to take it seriously. It’s a sad state of gamers today that there is this label of “Kiddee’ games. And it only came into play with the influx of casual gamers brought about by the Playstation when gaming officially became style over substance and these new uneducated and basically retarded gamers came into being spouting that anything cute must be stupid and lame instead of possibly enjoyable and fun. And because of that assonine thinking, a lot of really great games are overlooked because most gamers want boobs and guns. More’s the pity. But thankfully, some companies, and more important, a good portion of gamers, are smart enough to ignore that type of thinking and can see a good game for what it is: A good game.

So although a majority of gamers won’t touch the thing because of an E rating, a Pokemon name on the game, and the fact nothing at all dies in the game, I know YOU will go out and give it a try, right?

Appeal Factor: 6/10

10. Miscellaneous

It’s released at less than 30 bones. It’s got nigh unlimted replay value if you’re the type of person who wants a quick and simple game to play a little bit of each day. It’s cute, and fun, and a game that doesn’t cause you to swear profanity at the top of your lungs or blame the joystick for your miserable performance or any of that other annoying immature stuff that seems to go with the majority of video games nowadays.

Pokemon Channel is simply easy fun. There is no great reward in playing it. No massive FMV you receive for beating the game. No epic love subplot or super evil monster that needs to be defeated to avenge all of humanity or some other OTT thing video games are filled with nowadays. It’s about you and your best friend living and having fun together. The same simple concepts that made The Sims and Animal Crossing so popular. Except this time it’s with Pikachu, Torchic, and the rest of the Pokemon gang. Go give it a try. It’s true it may not be your cup of tea, nor will it be the greatest game you’ve ever played. But it’s different. And a good time waster. It’s not going to be the game that you will prize over all when it comes to your GCN collection, but it is a game without any true problem. No bugs or glitches. No insane difficulty or a game that’s far too easy. This is a game that doesn’t try to be anything more than a party game for one person, or anything greater in the scheme of things than a diversion. And good for it. That’s something a lot of us have lost sight of. That a game is just a game is just a game. And I learned that I’ve really missed that.

Miscellaneous Rating: 9/10

Short Attention Span Summary
Pokemon Channel has no flaws in it all. None. I know I’m the biggest Pokemaniac in the public eye right now, and that this means my review can easily be dismissed as biased. But in truth, I far preferred this game to Ruby/Sapphire, Attack, or the TCG on the GB. Pokemon Channel is a great little diversion. It’s not something that forces you to get a massive high score, or to play for a few hours until you finally reach a save point, or where you have to hit three opponents in a row with a Shinyu Hadouken in order to unlock a hidden character and so on. It’s just good simple fun. And in that respect, Pokemon Channel succeeds where a lot of games this generation have failed miserably. Because Pokemon Channel focused not on graphics or sound or being hardcore. It simply focused on being fun and let the rest of the game revolve around that. Good for you Ambrella. Good for you.

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