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The Tao of Pikachu

Gearoid Reidy | 5 Dec 2006 11:04
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Most Western game companies can't design a single cute character on which to base a game - and although they hardly try much anymore, Pokémon was released in the heyday of second-rate scribbles like Crash Bandicoot, Spyro and Gex.

Pokémon, in contrast, had 150; and one of them was Pikachu, a Hello Kitty for a new generation, the kind of iconic character that will probably still linger in the media 50 years from now when the Game Boy is not even a memory. Pikachu's rise to stardom was never part of the plan - that was a work of genius by the creators of the anime - and goes to show just how much care each part of the game was given.

Just as in the later Nintendogs, it is the sense of loyalty and friendship engendered in these fuzzy, pixelated creatures that makes people love the game. As sappy as it sounds, I can still remember the names I gave to first generation Pokémon, although I played it almost eight years ago. I still recall the sense of entirely irrational but very real pride I felt from watching my cleverly named Bulbasaur, Sauron, grow into a fearsome Venasaur.

And that's not even to mention the carefully-crafted combat system, the revolution of trading between players that became a key feature of the DS and the influence it had in making RPGs one of the mainstays of Western gaming.

In terms of innovation, influence, soul and sheer old-fashioned playability, those little red, green and blue Pokémon carts had far more than the vast majority of today's multi-million dollar blockbusters.

Straw Dogs
Above all, it's the connection to our heartstrings, that sense of freedom and the feeling of adventure that makes Pokémon a cut above its rivals; and for all its cash-ins, a truly deserved success.

So put aside your snobbish maturity, your that's-for-kids attitude and your image fears. Pokémon is a series that ranks at the very top of what this industry can do in terms of influence, design and sheer fun. It is a game that you owe yourself to play and a franchise that deserves your respect.

As for Nintendo, with every spin-off from Pokémon Colosseum to the recent Pokémon XD failing to capture the heart and charm of the original, perhaps a different quote from Lao Tzu might be more appropriate:

"One must know when to stop. Knowing when to stop averts trouble."

The first step of Gearoid Reidy's thousand-mile journey began in Japan and continues into China. It is irregularly chronicled at www.gearoidreidy.com.

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