I’m surprised that more people don’t hate Game Freak and Nintendo. Perhaps it’s because I come from the PC Gaming community where people are pretty outspoken, unlike the Nintendo community which tends to either love everything their overlords produce or suffer from a kind of retro elitism, stupidly insisting that games haven’t been good for decades. They do a lot of dastardly things to make money with Pokémon. Aside from all the side products, the show, the card game, this, they use devilishly cheeky tactics when it comes to their most significant product line, the video games.
Every time they release a new generation they release two versions of the game, not drastically different, each at full price. They then release the game AGAIN, with some okay-ish changes. This was even worse with Black and White where, rather than releasing the expected ‘Pokémon Grey’, they released two ‘new’ games. To ‘catch ’em all’, as they insist you must do, you must not only buy all the games but also buy another console so you can trade (or trade with friends, but it’s such a tedious affair anyway you’d be hard-pushed to find someone willing to do it with you). Some of the Pokémon can only be acquired during special Pokémon events but at least now these are handed out via Wi-fi rather than at paid-for conventions.
The biggest kick in the teeth though, and something for which Nintendo should commit Seppuku*, is that there is hardly any reward for doing the thing that is supposedly the ultimate goal of the games! A drab certificate, an extra chance to catch ‘shinies’, it’s all highly underwhelming.
The Pokémon games started with a great idea and it’s still a good one, an RPG where any of the enemies you encounter can be a potential tool you can use yourself in combat. This means that the games have effectively hundreds of playable characters, so to speak. I love that, and I love the variety. What I hate is how little they deviate from the formula of the original. You’re a child, there’s a Professor (always named after a tree), they give you a ‘Pokédex’, you go off to beat eight gym-leaders and the ‘Elite-four’, beating up a gang of baddies along the way.
Sometimes the writers seem to be on the verge of looking at important themes but then suddenly dismiss it. In Ruby and Sapphire the baddies are terrorists with a cause rather than simple criminals. Though, admittedly, their causes are stupid; they either want to drain the oceans so there’s more space for land Pokémon or flood the land for sea Pokémon. Whilst I was playing Black and White I was actually impressed with where the plot seemed to be going. Team Plasma (what’s up with these names?) wanted to free Pokémon from their owners so that they would no longer be forced to fight for people’s entertainment. They were animal rights activists really, and they would be right. Animals shouldn’t be forced to fight each other, were it not for the stupid ways the writers get away from accusations that they promote blood sport. In this world the Pokémon apparently enjoy fighting, and develop a bond with the trainers that beat them nearly to unconsciousness and imprisoned them in tiny containers. Sounds like Stockholm Syndrome to me. Also, the people of Unova get out of having to admit that they’re cruel to their pets when it’s revealed that Team Plasma are actually run by the corrupt Ghetsis, who planned to trick people into releasing their Pokémon so that they would be unprotected when he used his own to take over the world. This means that, even if they wanted to, people couldn’t release their tools without dooming the world. It’s kind of like how it would be difficult for the West to undergo nuclear disarmament without putting ourselves in massive danger from North Korea’s own weapons.
There’s no use denying it, despite all the apparent love the animals have for their trainers Pokémon is still set in a world where children force animals to beat each other unconscious. PETA caught on to this recently and released ‘Pokémon Black and Blue’, a free flash game that cleverly mimics the series and looks at the same things I just talked about. It was met with overwhelming hostility by members of the Pokémon fan community, despite the fact that they’ve appeared entirely conscious of the more sinister side of it before. Despite the other things PETA have done, such as their controversial advertising techniques and that ludicrous attack on the Super Meat Boy series, I don’t disapprove of this. Gamefreak wouldn’t look so bad if they’d just ignored the fact that the games had a potentially hazardous message. I wouldn’t have minded if they hadn’t made it look like they were really going to address the issue in Black and White and then escaped responsibility in such a stupid way.
Of course, Pokémon was never about clever themes, it was never even really about the story, at least not for the players. The writing in the games is pretty awful and the way in which the developers force it on you every time is one of the games’ biggest flaws, they constantly tell you how to open your bag or to put the one you want to send out first at the front of the party. Despite the fact that the first half of every game seems like a tutorial designed for a child new to the series they do a pretty bad job of explaining some of their more complex systems. I have to look online to check type match-ups (one of the games’ best systems) all the time. While the games never tire of telling you that water puts out fire it was a long time before I found out that Bug moves are effective against Dark Pokémon. What’s up with that?
I like the type-effectiveness system, it makes designing your party a fun balancing act. It could use a lot of refining though, quite a few types aren’t very good. The Bug type sucks, both offensively and defensively. Grass, despite being the type of a starter Pokémon every time, is pretty bad too, not having the offensive versatility to balance out their many weaknesses. Problems like these mean that lots of cool Pokémon are rubbish. You might look awesome, Smugleaf (Snivy), but you’re just a plain, old Grass type, so you suck compared to your compatriots. The moves and items that alter the stats of Pokémon also need a reworking. The amount by which they increase or decrease your stats is so insignificant and most fights are so short that they’re never useful**. Why lower the defense of your enemy and do a bit more damage later when you could do a bit less damage twice? Despite their apparent simplicity the games have a number of complex hidden systems that they don’t explain to the player. I had to look online to find out how natures work, what ‘EV’s are and that you can cross-breed Pokémon to get better moves (all a massive waste of time seeing how poorly organised and faffy Pokémon PVP is). They seem to think their games have some kind of fantastic end-game like an MMO. They don’t.
All my complaints are probably in vain. I say that the series needs a massive shake-up to be great again but I’m wrong, at least where everyone else seems to be concerned. The games get very positive reviews and sell billions, there are even plenty of people who buy both versions Nintendo release and the third game. They’ve also released remakes of older games (which, to their credit, are actually quite good and have more effort put into them than Platinum and Black and White 2) which sell very well.
Pokémon is like Call of Duty. The developers don’t need to innovate because they can just keep releasing the same game again and again with incremental changes and people will buy it. Despite all the irritation and longing for something better they can cause me I’ll still play them too, a slave to the system, forever being told how to run. You got me, Nintendo, you rich gits.
To see a discussion between Will and myself about this topic click here.
*Is that racist? Equating their country of origin with a violent part of their historic culture? Perhaps it is, still, it sounded more poetic than just saying they should kill themselves.
**Except for Screech, which ‘lowers the opponent’s defense significantly’. This is the only one that has enough of an effect to be considered useful.