Award Won: Most Improved Franchise in 2003
Pokemon’s peak both critically and casually, came in 2000-1 with the release of Pokemon Gold/Silver/Crystal. It’s still considered to be the best single game in the series, the third season of the cartoon was in full effect and the series was going nuts left and right with the Trading card game (both from WotC and the GBA version), Pokemon Puzzle League and Challenge, Hey You, Pikachu, two different Pokemon Stadiums, and so much more.
Then came 2002. For several reasons, the Pokemon Phenomenon hit a big dip. Reasons included the rise of the macho style gamer who needs boobs and bombs to find anything worthy in a game. Hamtaro and Yu-Gi-Oh were fresh and new on the cartoon scene, and most of all, there were no new Pokemon games released in that year. It was the darkest year on the Pokemon front.
Then 2003 hit and everything old was new again. Although I found Ruby and Sapphire to be tedious and blah, the Pokemon contests, and the teaching of braile was highly innovative and popular with a lot of gamers. Pokemon Pinball remains arguably the best pinball game for a handheld system and one of the ten best games ever released for the GBA. Whether you like Pokemon or not, this game was slick. Finally, there was Pokemon Channel, which critics hated, but managed to attract new Pokemaniacs like you wouldn’t believe.
When a franchise manages to take a dive with all the critics and the wanky fanboys saying “See? Kiddie games suxx! GTA RULZ!” and then come back to levels equal to its original hype? That’s damn impressive. It’s also something no series has ever been able to do before. Pokemon keeps trucking along as the most popular game franchise in the history of the industry and it shows no signs of stopping.
I admit that while not the Pokemaniac that Alex is, I do respect Pokemon as a video game franchise. The games are fun, and much deeper than your average “hardcore” gamer thinks it is. Furthermore, a lot of the spin-off titles are good in their own right; my favourite puzzle game of all time is the Panel de Pon spinoff Pokemon Puzzle League.
However, around the beginning of this decade, Pokemon sacrificed it’s quality as a game franchise in order to pursue it’s calling as a marketer’s dream. Cartoons, movies, lunch boxes, you name it; I wouldn’t be surprised if someone showed me a Pokemon Condom that glowed yellow and had a sound chip that said “Pika!” whenever the user has an orgasm. 2001 and 2002 were the low-lights in the history of the franchise, as Pokehaters started to see, in their eyes, the beginning of the end of the “fad”.
But much like the Phoenix, as well as the entire video game industry back in 1985, Pokemon came back with a vengance. Pokemaniacs, furries, and Shawn Michaels wanna-bes rejoyced the world over.
Two new games came out – Ruby and Sapphire – and while they didn’t necessarilly reinvent the wheel, that’s not always what’s warranted. See, game companies and uninformed gamers are always looking for games to blow them away year after year without quite knowing how they should go about that. Game Freak has it right with Pokemon; they had the system set in 1996, and other than minor tweaks, major changes are never necessary. Ruby and Sapphire just tweaked things just enough to keep the games interesting for old timers, and good enough for newbies. Furthermore, two other games came out: a new version of Pokemon Pinball for GBA (a top notch pinball game; I wish Metroid Pinball learned something) and Pokemon Channel, which was good for what it was: fanservice fodder. It wasn’t terribly entertaining, but it was an original concept, and it was certainly better than Hey You! Pikachu!
2003 was a rennaisance year for the often beleagured Pokemon franchise, but the strange thing is that it might not even be the best year for it in terms of improvement: that might be the current year we’re in. 2004 and 2005 were possibly the worst years in the franchise; Red and Green were remakes, Colosseum sucked, Dash was worse, and Trozei was mediocre. But so far, in just the past month and a half, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon has come out to positive reviews from fans (who, in this case at least, smartly pay little attention to mainstream sites), and Pokemon Ranger is due out soon. Pokemon is back. Again. Just like it was when it was the most improved franchise of 2003.
Mmmm. I have to tell everyone how much I love writing with you guys. Pokemon Channel was simply the most awful game I’ve played in a long time (unless you’re 5 and love repetative apperances by the Pichu Brothers). Still, it’s really tough to find fault with some of the other games that were released. Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire although a step back from Gold/Silver were still solid games. Pokemon Pinball Ruby and Sapphire remains one of the absolute best video pinball games ever, if not the very best. The fact remains that Pokemon ascended fad status in this year (even though the ratings for the cartoon show dropped) and entered into institution status. This is the year Pokemon proved it wasn’t destined to be another Crash Bandicoot. Instead, it would become a video game series on par in popularity with Shitty Game Series but with the marketing machine known as Nintendo backing it with a series of high quality spin offs and “core” games.
2006 looks like it could be another most improved franchise year (this time for real as oppsoed to all the other times when we really didn’t mean it). Pokemon Ranger looks good and Pokemon Mystery Dungeon is good. I also liked Trozei quite a bit more then most people, so yeah. As of right now, Pokemon has my vote for most improved franchise of 2006.