Ah, it seems like only yesterday I was desperately trying to take down Brock’s bloody Onix with the starting Pikachu. Pokemon as a series has been around for almost two decades now, and has made enough money to buy its own country and have every living creature there forced into a small red and white ball.
I was playing Pokemon since the beginning, I remember owning both Blue and Yellow as a child and frowning my way through them, as my eyesight deteriorated in direct proportion to my social standing. I’ve owned at least one game from every generation, but as I picked up my copy of Alpha Sapphire last year, I realised it was it was more out of a sense of tradition than any desire to play the thing. In fact, looking back, I started to realise I haven’t really enjoyed the games since I played Platinum back on the first Nintendo DS.
Some might say that this due to me having finally grown up, and might be what little cultural urge I have, rapidly attempting to drag me into my twenties with everyone else, but I’m not so sure. You see, the thing about children’s games that doesn’t apply to children’s television, is that one can still appreciate the mechanics of a game whilst ignoring the context of it. Or, to give an example, chess is still chess, even if all the pieces have animé haircuts.
So with that in mind, here are my Six top tips for Game Freak, or Nintendo, or The Pokemon Company or The Illuminati or whoever the hell owns the franchise now. Your games were good, there’s no denying that, especially Platinum, Emerald, and the real shining star that was Crystal. Here’s how you bring them up to date and make them truly great.
1. WHY NOT MULTIPLE DIFFICULTY SETTINGS?
OK, so the original Pokemon games were designed for snotty, idiot children, and you know what? I get that. Nobody really expected the franchise to explode the way it did and develop the adult following that it has now. But that audience existed for one reason – not to play against the NPCs in your game, but to play against the much greater challenge of each other.
See, Pokemon has always been fairly easy at best, and an absolute cakewalk at worst. As long as you had the type advantage, you could be five levels beneath your opponent and still wipe the floor with them. In fact, the older games had a few more teeth, sometimes throwing enemies with tricky tactics at you, forcing you to think on your feet. I’m thinking of that damn Muk and its minimize power, and I know you are too.
But Pokemon, bizarrely, has only gotten easier as it progresses. X and Y practically threw a whole kaleidoscope of variously powered pokemon at you from the get-go, meaning that within ten minutes you had every type you needed, and the game might as well bend over and ask for it gentle. I breezed through the whole thing whilst barely paying attention, and when the stupid gimmick that was “Mega-Evolution” reared its ugly head, I just became annoyed. It’s a mechanic where the most impressive pokemon in the game can get a sudden and cost-free power-up, like they’re auditioning to be a villain in Dragonball.
The game could’ve just played itself for the rest of the story, because whatever useless tactics I took to, I always ended up winning. And that’s not good enough. People sometimes approach the game with self-inflicted rules or handicaps, such as refusing to use the starter pokemon or releasing any that faint during the game, but it’s a failure of the games that the players have to impose these restrictions just to give it life again.
So you know what, Pokemon? Have your toothless, safe, babies-first turn-based strategy game. That’s cool. But have an option for those who want to play against a game with some actual challenge to it. Make enemies tougher, good pokemon rarer, make AI that know how to use a tactic more complex than “use potion when hurt.” Whatever it takes, I’m ready for it. Or, more appropriately, I hope I’m not.
2. LET US ACTUALLY CATCH EM’ ALL
Seven hundred of the little animé bastards? Piss off, Pokemon. No, seriously, why on earth would anybody without severe brain damage want to catch them all these days? In the first generation, OK, I could understand that. There’s a hundred and fifty-one, which is manageable, and they’ve all had a fair deal of thought go into them. The legendary pokemon number only five, making them special, and whilst hiding Mew away from those who don’t live in Japan or a Toys R’ Us is a dick move, we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and attribute that to teething problems.
But over four times that many? It’s just not worth the effort, even for the most rabidly obsessive completionist. On top of which, none of the games ever hold more than half of them at once, meaning you have to fiddle about with other, older games to transfer them over. Ugh.
But the real nail in the coffin is that collecting them just becomes boring, especially as it’s often hard to do until you’ve completed the main story. Everybody with any sense of fun loses patience before they’ve hit the mid-point, and because the only two things in the game with any value are pokemon themselves, and master balls which have no purpose but to catch the damn things, there’s nothing that the game can reward you with. It always seemed like an enormous anticlimax. You’ve caught them all! You’ve really done it! One hundred percent completion, hell yes! So here’s a primary school certificate and a juice box, now sit down and wait for the next batch of sprites to be released.
So being a collector is pretty much a wash. But not to worry, this is a problem with an answer, and it ties in to my next point.
3. BRING BACK MULTIPLE REGIONS IN ONE GAME
As mentioned earlier, I still think of the second generation, Gold, Silver and Crystal, as being the apex of the series and a classic example of how to do a game sequel properly. Rather than just splash about in the remnants of the old game, Gen II brought in a new region with less linearity and an interesting mix of aesthetics, put in a rival who was less of an irritant and more of an actual adversary, added new mechanics to balance the game properly and even had an underlying narrative about the schism between tradition and modernity. It took the original concept and improved it on every level, just as a good sequel does.
But as I was dusting myself down after having beaten the Elite Four, and considering another playthrough, imagine my surprise! The old region of Kanto was back, fully available for exploration, and yet having changed dynamically since the last game over the canonical three-year gap. This was a delightful bonus that ended, of course, in the greatest challenge that the series has ever offered – the original protagonist, Red, waiting for the hero to show up and take the Sisyphean task of beating them and becoming a true master.
The series has occasionally indulged in variations on this idea, such as the island cluster at the end of the Gen I remakes, but they never had the same sort of stakes that the original had. Therefore, I invite you to imagine Pokemon Rainbow (or whatever the hell they’d call it), the game with every region featured, containing every pokemon from the series. Every single one, legendaries, the ones you had to download, all of them. Make one enormous saga of a story to keep them all interesting and relevant, raise the level cap to accommodate for a longer game, and let us really go at it with the combined nostalgia and lust for power that the game would bring. Some might say that it would be in Nintendo’s interest to stagger out this content like they do now, but I think this would make for the best final product, and let’s be honest – do you really think it wouldn’t sell eighty-billion copies? Pokemon makes more money than the Catholic church already, and a massive game like this would probably make so much cash that Japan would collapse under its weight.
THE LAST THREE PEARLS OF WISDOM WILL BE RELEASED TOMORROW