Too Much of a Good Thing? | Gaming | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Too Much of a Good Thing?

Game On


Published May 9, 2007 at 4:00 p.m.

Do we really need more Pokémon games?

The arrival of two new portable titles, "Pokémon Diamond" and "Pokémon Pearl," pushes the list of Pokémon games to more than 30.

Add to that a dozen movies, television series, comic books, live shows and, of course, collectible trading cards, and you have a pop-culture wellspring with no signs of running dry.

Strangely, what keeps the Pokémon juggernaut waddling along has little to do with innovation, since the series has remained oddly loyal to its simple game play and graphics. Rather, Pokémon remains popular because it creeps. Just as McDonald's didn't sell billions and billions of burgers by updating its formula every year, so Pokémon has mastered the art of cranking out predictable and pleasurable gaming products.

When the series launched in the U.S. in 1998, Nintendo was already predicting a hit. Given its strong sales and wild popularity back in Japan, Pokémon's North American arrival was expected to cause a hysteria comparable to The Beatles' invasion. On schedule, "Pokémon Red" and "Blue" became smash hits for the Game Boy, and kids across the U.S. followed the marketing advice "Gotta Catch 'Em All!" Sales of the games and the trading cards became a financial windfall for Nintendo and transformed weirdly cute video-game monsters that live in red and white balls into international icons.

The "Diamond" and "Pearl" games do right by the franchise with little tweaks and flourishes that make the games more enjoyable without taking away their lo-fi charm.

As in every other Pokémon adventure, players set out to wander a flat world filled with wild Pokémon and competitive Pokémon trainers. Clobbering feral Pokémon gives you the chance to capture and tame them. Winning sanctioned rounds earns badges and more changes to add to your pocket-monster stable.

A few extra pixels here and a splash of color there, and you have a makeover on the cheap. This may seem like developer penny-pinching, but really it's all about maintaining the integrity of the simple wonders that are Pokémon.

The same simplicity comes through in the silly story, the bubbly dialogue and the friendly, turn-based combat. Nine years later, Pokémon still don't die, instead fainting when they lose a battle. Talented Pokémon trainers strive to earn badges with the eagerness of an Eagle Scout.

So why labor through another 40-hour adventure, carbon-copied from the dozens that have come before? Because all these years later, we still get a collector's kick out of accumulating, even if all we're getting are cute virtual creatures.

Who's It For: If you've made it this far as a Pokéfanatic, there's no turning back. Featuring all the classic play plus brand-new Pokémon to collect, "Pokémon Diamond" and "Pokémon Pearl" were designed to appeal to the fans.

If You Like This, Try That: While it's not one of the main Pokémon role-playing titles, "Pokémon Pinball" remains one of the more enjoyable games sporting the brand.

Best Part: With more than 400 different Pokémon scattered across the various games, catching them all could turn into a life's work. Fortunately, you can migrate previous catches from old Game Boy Advance games to "Pokémon Diamond" and "Pokémon Pearl." But beware - once a Pokémon moves from an old game, he's gone from that title forever.