Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Countdown to Black and White -- The Pokemon Retrospective

After four years, two rereleases, and an announcement of a new handheld, it’s finally happened. A new Pokémon game has ascended from on high to claim the hearts and minds of America’s youth, and the wallets and credit cards of their parents. Forgoing the precious metal naming scheme of the previous two installments, Pokémon Black and White have been released, promising new ‘mons to collect (the total count is now 649), new cities and countryside to explore, and new Gym Badges to earn. Dear readers, I’m effing excited.

I’ve long been a fan of the Pokémon series, with my fandom running 12 years strong now. It’s combination of strong play mechanics and nostalgic charm has made the franchise my title of choice when gaming on the go.

I’ve said for a while (and will continue to say until I croak-émon) that Pokémon is the perfect portable game. Quite a big statement to make, but hear me out. Pokémon’s pace is slow and methodical, making it easy to continue playing after being interrupted (say, when you to need to hastily stow the Game Boy in order to avoid being caught with it). In the portable space, the ability to quickly pick up and put down your game is a lifesaver. Moreover, Pokémon lets players save the game anywhere, meaning that I can fire up the game, play it for ten minutes, and turn it off without worry that I’m wasting my time or spinning my wheels.

Pokémon also strikes the perfect balance of easy to learn and hard to master. Everyone knows how rock-paper-scissors works, and those same mechanics carry over to the Pokémon series; one type is generally weak against some other type, and part of the strategy is deciding which Pokémon types to build your team with. Hardcore trainers can cut their teeth on building the best team ever, while neophytes and children can learn the simple mechanics.

Lastly is the trading aspect, and this is where Pokémon goes from being a regular RPG to being something truly special. Pokémon’s biggest appeal is its community features. Back when I was in 6th grade, there was a whole group of kids who would meet at recess with their Game Boys and respective copies of Pokémon. Kids who had one version would trade for the creatures that were in the other (and vice versa), and everyone wanted to battle. Without the ability to interact with others, Pokémon may well have fallen by the wayside.

The icing on the cake is that Pokémon, from a marketing standpoint, is absolutely brilliant. With two separate versions available to purchase, kids will get their friends to buy the one they don’t have. Then they play with their friends, and the franchise spreads. Hell, its slogan is a bloody CALL TO ACTION. If the game itself wasn’t so fun, I’d say this franchise was borderline evil.

My history with Pokémon is long and involved, and I aim to further it with Pokémon Black and White. I’ll need a bit of time, though, to dive in and formulate my opinions. Therefore, while you folks wait with bated breath for me to tell you whether or not Black and White is the best thing since sliced Pokébread, I’ll be doing a daily recourse of my experiences with this franchise, counting down (or up?) to next Wednesday, when I’ll give my weekly report card. It will be far from all-encompassing (I’ve missed a few games), but you’ll be able to walk the path of an original Pokémaniac (you should be so lucky). For those not interested, well, there’s still Our Feature Presentation and Blu-Balled to fall back on.

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