In it’s relatively short history Nintendo’s Pocket Monster franchise has spawned a whole host of spin-offs, from the hardcore Pokemon Stadium and Card Battle games, to the innovative Pokemon Snap and the just plain bonkers “Hey You, Pikachu!” on the Nintendo 64. This last title was actually more of a virtual pet than a game in any meaningful sense of the word. It allowed you to talk to and interact with Pikachu via a plug-in microphone, and it is this central concept of befriending and bonding with Pikachu that lies at the heart of this latest Pokemon title.
Welcome to Pokemon Channel. You have been chosen by Professor Oak and the other boffins at Pokemon Broadcasting to be the test audience for a new channel showing TV programmes aimed at both humans and pokemon. On day one a team of Magnemite fly in and deposit your new TV in your bedroom and your first show is part one of a special Anime called “Pichu Bros in Party Panic”. After that finishes you are joined by a wild Pikachu who will be your companion and soon your best friend in your Pokemon Channel journey.
The overall aim of the game is extremely simple. Over the course of six days you must watch the new programmes that are broadcast on Pokemon Channel. These include such delights as the Pokemon News Channel, The Shop N’ Squirtle Shopping Channel and the Exercise Channel. Each programme is presented by a different pokemon and their speech is subtitled so humans can understand as well. You also get the next part of the Pichu Bros Cartoon to enjoy each day.
Once you have filed your reports on the new shows, you and Pikachu can go outside the house and take the bus to three different locations (Viridian Forest, Cobalt Cove and Snowfall Mountain). At each location you can meet up and talk with various pokemon drawn from all three Gameboy Pokemon games, who will vary depending upon the time of day and the weather. Upon answering a quiz they give you, you will receive a “Nice Card” of which there are 101 to collect. You can also take screen shots of the TV shows and colour them in and play mini-games on the Pokemon Pocket.
Although the new shows are transmitted automatically, on the fifth day you must search around for the final part of “Pichu Bros in Party Panic”. After you find it, you get to watch the whole thing in one go at Camp Starlight, then the game is over. You can keep playing to collect all the cards and items from the shopping channel as well as different language versions of the Pichu Cartoon, but for all intents and purposes the game is over in six days (less if you use your Game Cube internal clock to jump forwards).
You view the action from a first person perspective, using a hand pointer to select items and to interact with the scenery as well as calling and petting your Pikachu friend. The graphics are bright and solid if rather plain and the sounds are pretty much restricted to easy listening style background music and the voices of the various pokemon (which are identical to their cartoon voices).
Sounds dreadful doesn’t it?
Indeed this piece of software has been heartily dismissed by most gaming publications, ripe as it is for “funny” bashing reviews. To be honest there isn’t much here for the pokemon sceptic to enjoy I agree. But I have to confess that I don’t just like pokemon, I lurve it. I lurve it like I lurve the ladies, and I actually spent a week or so enjoying this game immensely.
You see for those of us who play pokemon obsessively (especially those of us who found it back in 1998/9), most of us will have to admit that deep down we wish that the pokemon were real. Now although Pikachu wouldn’t be my first choice of pokemon to own (I’d take Furret over any others) I actually enjoyed watching the bond between me and Pikachu grow over the week. From being twitchy and nervous and angry, it was rather lovely to see Pikachu become affectionate and loving, even as we tussled over what channels we wanted to watch.
There is also a lot of quite dry and sly humour buried in the game. Watch the Pokemon News Channel and the long-time fan will appreciate the many in-jokes contained within it. Chansey’s fortune channel and the Art Appreciation channel are nothing short of surreal and the Quiz Channels are a blast to play along with. Even the monochrome mini-games provide a great deal of fun. Wandering about the different areas to trying to meet all the pokemon that are out and about is another game in itself and in general the whole feel is one of relaxation and mellowness. Maybe its because I was having a particularly fraught month, but I found my evenings in the brightly coloured world of Pokemon Channel to be just the antidote to the ills of real life.
You don’t buy any of this do you?
Well fine. But this game is still a MUST buy or at least rental for any serious player of the GBA pokemon games (in the UK at least). For included on that little round disc is a free rare pokemon – the steel/psychic Jirachi – which you can upload to your Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire games via the link cable. Now considering that back in 2001 I spent more money than a sensible person should travelling halfway across Britain to get to an official Nintendo Event to upload the rare Mew pokemon, getting it for £19.99 or less is actually a bargain!
Pokemon Channel is NOT a game (which why the rating given is virtually meaningless). It’s an interactive Pokemon Experience. It’s fun for very young kids who may love the pokemon characters but be unable to cope with the complex rpg mechanics of the GBA titles. For older fans it’s a relaxing mixture of sly parody and wish fulfilment. Plus its dirt cheap and comes with a really good freebie. What more could you ask for, huh? Huh???