Spinoffs are a fickle thing. Sometimes, they lead to some extraordinary franchises, like the Mario Kart series, or the Mario Tennis/Golf series. Sometimes, they lead to unfortunate nightmares riddled with so much pain and suffering. I felt like I got a deal paying $3 for my used copy of SEGA Superstars Tennis, but after playing, I wanted to go to an orphanage and tell all the residents Santa’s bringing coal, rocks, and St. Nick’s very own used cock socks this year. When a developer takes one of their golden franchises and slaps its name and glory onto a genre nothing like the one that made the original IP famous, it can either be a superb edition into an IP’s library that makes tons and tons of cash, or a cheap cash-in destined for disaster…that still makes tons and tons of cash. Pokémon Pinball is a wonderful example of the former.
Pokémon Pinball was the first official spinoff of the original trio of Pokémon titles, beating out Pokémon Snap by a mere two days in the States. The game took the tried and true arcade classic, and added the sadly forgotten phrase “Gotta Catch Them All” effect to the process. In addition to the basic goal of racking up the highest score, players set off to collect all the original 150 Pokémon. This fusion of the addictive qualities of getting a high score and the innovative ideas of the original RPGs set up a true classic on the Game Boy Color.
All the fundamentals of pinball are in effect. Two flippers, three balls, point multipliers, buttons, lights, ramps, ball savers, and the unbridled rage and two hours of my life blocked out of my mind by said rage I get when my ball drops out the second the ball saver runs out. Everything just gets that Pokémon twist. The game’s two tables (named for the original two games; Red and Blue), have assorted Pokémon littered around them. Polywag, Slowpoke, Sheldder, Psyduck and other classic ‘mons populate the Blue table. Ditto, Digglet, Staryu, Voltorb, and friends are all over the Red table. Pikachu finds a home on both tables as the ball kickback helper, once a power gauge fills by spinning a spinner located on the tables. The game oozes monsters out of every pore, and returning to this title after years of not even thinking about the Red and Blue will give you many of those “Oh, yeah! That’s what a Geodude was!” moments.
The best innovation to this Pinball title was the process of capturing the 150 Pokémon. By completing certain tasks in the two levels, players can enter the two side modes of the game. “Catch ‘em! Mode”, and “Evolution Mode”. In “Catch ‘em”, players have to hit the three Shellder or Voltorb, depending on the table, on the top of the board, to flip six panels on the bottom half of the board. When all six panels are flipped, the Pokémon is revealed. By slamming your Poke ball into the Pokémon four times, that Pokémon is captured, and will appear on your in-game Pokedex. “Evolution” begins by selecting one of the Pokémon you’re already caught in “Catch ‘Em” earlier in the same game. Then, player must hit designated targets on the table. Three of the targets will reveal evolution stones or EXP points, depending on the Pokémon for you to collect. The others give a time penalty. After collecting all three Stones/Points, entering a slot in the middle of the table will evolve your Pokémon of choice, and reap a huge point bonus.
Completing your Pokedex is a huge task to undertake—even more so than the RPGs themselves. I’ve owned and played the game for nearly ten years now, and I only have about 42 of the little buggers. The criteria for the Pokémon to appear depend on the table being played on, and the area in Kanto you’re currently in, which changes after you complete certain criteria. And to get to the later areas, Indigo Plateau and Victory Road and such, you’re going to be playing for a while. The replay value is terrific, and the thirst for high scores is always unquenched.
Pokémon Pinball featured a rather interesting first for the Game Boy Color. Wedged on top of the game pack was an ugly looking hump with the word “RUMBLE” plastered onto the back. Pinball was the first game to feature a battery operated Rumble Pak on the Game Boy Color, which required one AAA battery to work. The impact was truly…insignificant. Seriously, I had to go and play the game just now to see if the rumble worked as often as it did. I do feel a slight jolt with every bump of the ball, but the only time you really feel it is when Pikachu jolts the ball back onto the table. It’s not that it’s an unwelcome addition, but was it really necessary to give such a beautiful game such an ugly hunchback? It drove me insane as a little kid; until he had PP, ten-year-old Zach Rich could stack his games and show his pride in having such a high stack of soon-to-be classics. Then this game showed up and made him want to go Dr. Steinman on it. Ugly, ugly, ugly.
The game was a vivid display of what the Game Boy Color was capable of. Colors were bright and dynamic. The game had smooth curves, and moved so fluently and nice; it was absolutely a crowning graphical achievement for the short-lived GBC. The music was nothing too shabby either; there wasn’t much diversity in the short selection of songs, but they were catchy, and bearable during long marathon sessions on your way to Grandmother’s house.
If Game Boy titles are ever put up for download on the Wii or DSi, this game better be one of the first available. Hell, IGN Nintendo agrees with me on this. It’s too good. It’s the addictiveness of pinball and Pokémon in one amazing package. So what if it’s a little malformed on the outside? Think of it like that one chubby girl your mom forced you to go on a fingerquotes “date” with when you were 14. She’s not much on the outside, but that charm, beauty and glory that’s inside is what makes hanging out with her worthwhile. This is a game that lead the way for so many wonderful and successful spinoffs to the Pokémon franchise—beautiful classics like Pokémon Channel, Pokémon BOX, Pokémon Dash, My Pokémon Ranch, Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness, Pokémon Battle Revolution, and most importantly; Hey You, Pikachu.
Such a legacy.