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Saturday, April 2, 2011

Pokemon Black

Pokémon Black: Why it still infects the world with Poké-fever 15 years later

For the uninitiated, the gaming industry tracks the sales of their product through internal numbers, like the amount that they ship, and through the NPD, the National Product Diary.  Major game sites like IGN and Gamespot buy the rights to see these numbers and, with permission, can disclose some of those numbers.  Last year, with the release of Soul Silver and Heart Gold which were remakes of the Game Boy Color games Silver and Gold respectively, the Pokémon games sold a combined 1.78 million copies in HALF a month (they released March 14, 2010).  The upcoming NPD numbers for this March will expect to see Nintendo’s heavy hitters, Pokémon Black and White, top the charts for the umpteenth time. 

The Pokémon series have always been chart topers and are among the best selling games of all time. But I don’t have to tell you that.  Somewhere you have your Red or Blue version lying around. You once touted you caught the elusive MissingNo to your schoolmates.  You’ve trained your Pokémon to beat the Elite Four half a dozen times on several different games.  We all have.  And with the release of Black and White, some of us have shaken off the rust and began anew something so familiar.  Yes, in this new Pokémon game, the same formula persists: beat eight gym leaders, fight the Elite Four and the Champion and capture a legendary Pokémon with the Master Ball (teh spoilarz!).  It’s been the same main game in this regard for the past 15 years since the release of Red and Green in Japan in 1996.  Yet we continue (or at least I do…) to buy them, even though the new one promises a new set of paint.  Why?  Why do we continue to fall into Poké-fever? Why do we buy, essentially, the same game again and again with different Pokémon?

In the 15 years Pokémon has been around as a franchise, the tried and true formula has worked and continues to work each and every iteration of Pokémon.  The Pokémon games have a very simple premise at first glance.  At its most basic level, Pokémon is the ultimate game of Rock-Paper-Scissors.  Fire beats grass, grass beats water, water beats fire, which also beats ground and rock, ground beats rock but is weak to grass. You could go on.  But this simple game mechanic belies the complexity hard core players look at: effort value training, Pokémon natures that affect stats, egg bred moves, etc.  Pokémon encompasses the idea of having simple yet deep game play, which is why they have so much staying power.  Instead of trying to teach a player hundreds of complex mechanics, Pokémon gives you Rock-Paper-Scissors to the extreme and lets you run with it.  This is why they can be enjoyed by so many ranging from those who go to tournaments spending weeks perfecting the right party, to the casual fan who hasn’t played a Pokémon game in years to see what the new one is like.  Both sides of the spectrum and everyone in-between can feel at home playing these games.  Pokémon can be as causal or hardcore as you make it to be.

Trading, capturing, and battling Pokémon has such an addictive quality. There’s something so intrinsically alluring in the Pokémon games that makes you want to catch and train the best team.  Its 15 year lifespan isn’t due to the ravenous fan boys or the simplicity of the general market to gobble up sequels (although, they do have a tendency to do that…).  This idea sells short the brilliance the Pokémon games have exhibited over the years.  Sequel-itis doesn’t last for 15 years.  Rather, the novel concept behind Pokémon which isn’t seen by many games today is what gives Pokémon its place in gamers’ hearts: the simple, yet deep game play mechanics.  This is not to say we as gamers should be complacent in this, the fifth generation of Pokémon.  No sir.  If we are not careful, Pokémon could fall the way of the Dynasty Warrior games, and no one wants that.  Buy the game if you want to recapture the magic of the Pokémon games.  If you feel you aren’t getting your money’s worth and still feel like you’re paying for the same damn game since Red and Blue version, tell the developers what you think.  You’d be surprised at what they listen to.  As for me, I’ve got an eighth gym leader to battle, 30 hours logged on my game clock, and enjoying every minute of it.

-Paul Nguyen (Silver Fox 92)

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