In honor of the release of PokePark 2: Wonders Beyond for Wii this week, I thought I’d talk about my favorite non-RPG Pokemon games. Usually when a new main Pokemon RPG comes out, like Black or White (kind of weird that the next games are sequels to those), everyone gets all excited. And when a Pokemon game comes out that’s not an RPG, a lot of people say they wished for another Pokemon RPG. But I think I like the non-RPG Pokemon games a little better. Here’s why:
The reasons why I’m not into the Pokemon RPGs as much isn’t entirely the game series’ fault. You see, back when I was writing for The Dallas Morning News, I was in charge of reviewing and covering all the Pokemon games and events. So I think I probably kind of OD’ed on Pokemon there and got tired of it. But hey, I did make a lot of money and I like to say that Pokemon helped pay my way through college!
The problem is the Pokemon RPGs are kind of all the same. But in a way, I can’t blame the makers for doing that. Why? Well, first of all, the Pokemon RPG games still work well, so why try and change or fix what isn’t broken? Second, Pokemon games are geared towards kids. Kids grow up, but a new generation of kids takes their place. So while older kids can play a new Pokemon RPG and say it’s the same, a younger kid can start a Pokemon game and it would be a new experience for him or her. It’s why I think cartoons like Scooby Doo and Power Rangers have lasted so long. They may be all the same, but a new generation of kids keeps enjoying them.
Of course, with all that said, I would like it if the next Pokemon RPG did change things up a bit. Since the battles are the meat of the gameplay, why not change those since they’ve been the same since the original games. Make ALL the battles be 2 on 2 or 3 on 3. Or change them up entirely and make the fights be more action based, like a Tales game. Or maybe come up with a new way to catch Pokemon. For instance, the Pokemon Coliseum games on the GameCube did this by letting you steal Pokemon back from the bad guys!
So that’s why I’m glad they make other non-RPG Pokemon games from time to time, just to mix things up and make things different. Plus, young kids may love the cute Pokemon critters, but the RPGs may be a little too advanced for them. So it’s good that Nintendo makes other kinds of Pokemon games for the little kids to get into.
Stay Away From These, Though!
With that in mind, before I start my list of my top five favorite non-RPG Pokemon games, I wanted to warn you all of some Pokemon games to stay away from. First is Hey You, Pikachu! It was a N64 game that came with a headset microphone, and you used it to talk with Pikachu and gave him simple commands. Now, I don’t use too much voice recognition software now, so I don’t know how good it is. But I bet you can imagine that back in the late 90’s, voice recognition wasn’t as good as it is now. Telling Pikachu what to do in this game was a chore and NEVER worked right. Both me and my little brothers got so frustrated with this one that we quit after a short while and never came back to it. One of the few Pokemon games I gave a bad review to when I was at the newspaper.
The next horrible non-RPG Pokemon game is Pokemon Dash. It was an early DS title, and you can tell that even Nintendo was having trouble with what to make of the DS when first starting out. Dash was an overhead racing game where you consistently flicked the stylus to make Pikachu run faster. Needless to say, this got old after about two laps. Luckily I only got this game after it went way down in price (like 10 bucks), so I don’t feel too cheated.
The last game I wanted to warn you all about isn’t necessarily a bad game. It’s just not for everyone. It’s the games in the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon series. In Japan, the Mystery Dungeon games are a series of super difficult dungeon crawlers. Some use original characters, but others use heroes from other popular video games, like Dragon Quest (Torneko and Yangus), Final Fantasy (Chocobo), or The Tower of Druaga (which actually came to the US, surprisingly). Well Pokemon got on the Mystery Dungeon bandwagon, too. Like I said, these games aren’t necessarily bad, but they are designed to kick your butt every step of the way, which isn’t always fun. Granted, the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon games are more forgiving than the others, but even kids who love the Pokemon RPGs may get frustrated with these.
Cary’s Top Five Favorite Non-RPG Pokemon Games! (finally?)
Now, before I get started, I wanted to admit that my list isn’t fully comprehensive. I haven’t played ALL the non-RPG Pokemon games out there. Some I haven’t tried are only ‘app’ like games such as My Pokemon Ranch on WiiWare or Pokemon Box on GameCube. Another one I haven’t played but I think I might like is Pokemon Rumble Blast. I never tried the WiiWare version, but I’ve been thinking of picking up the 3DS one. I’m going on vacation to visit relatives in Alabama in a couple of weeks, and a new game for the trip would relieve some of the boredom during the slower down times on my visit. Anyone played it? Is it worth getting?
There is a new Pokemon crossover game that was just announced in Japan called Pokemon + Nobunga’s Ambition. That’s got to be the weirdest combination ever. Usually, every Pokemon game comes to the US, but I don’t know if this one will. Normally I don’t have any interest in playing one of those Nobunga’s Ambition strategy history games, but if you put Pokemon in it, I’ll HAVE to try it! Then it’ll be the first Nobunga’s Ambition games I’ll ever play! If it comes to the US, that is!
One last thing, the PokePark games didn’t make the list, but they’re still fun little 3-D adventures. I’ll definitely be picking up the sequel this week. It may not be the best game in the world, but they are still cute and fun, if you like that sort of thing (like I do). I’ve been kind of off and on down in the dumps in the past month or so, so a happy cheerful game such is that will probably help cheer me up a bit.
OK, now finally for the list. These games are in order of preference, with the number one game at the end being my all-time favorite. So let’s begin:
5. Pokemon Ranger (DS)
This was a neat little action adventure game with some puzzle solving, too. In this game you are a Pokemon Ranger, not a trainer. You enlist the help of Pokemon to help you rescue people and protect nature. The way you ‘capture’ Pokemon in this one is pretty neat. You have to draw three circles around them with the stylus before they’ll join your team. But some Pokemon will move around and shoot projectiles to cause you to have to start the circles over again. But once you catch a Pokemon, they’ll be on your team for a while and can help you bypass obstacles or use their skills to catch other Pokemon. For instance, you might need a fire Pokemon to burn down a fallen log so you can progress, or you can use a critter to stun an ornery Pokemon to make it easier to catch them. But you don’t get to keep the monsters forever. After you use a skill from one of them a few times, you’ll set them free.
Even though I really liked this game, I didn’t play it all the way through. Not sure why, though. Can’t remember if it got too hard or I got distracted by another game and never went back. But because of this, I never played the sequels to Pokemon Ranger, so I don’t know how much they’ve improved since the first one. But I still thought this was a clever spin on the Pokemon formula. If I remember correctly, I think it was even developed by HAL, makers of Kirby.
4. Pokemon Puzzle League (N64)
Yeah it’s basically the same as the other games that Nintendo calls Puzzle League. Or Panel de Pon, or Tetris Attack. But I think the Pokemon version is the best one. While the DS Puzzle League is good, it feels kind of generic. The characters on the N64 make it feel like all those super cool 32-bit puzzlers the PlayStation had. And the Pokemon version had some neat modes, like one where you cleared blocks in a 3-D cylinder shape. I don’t remember the DS Puzzle League game having that. There was another Poke-puzzler game on the DS called Pokemon Trozei, but I didn’t get into it as much. Which is strange because it played a lot like Yoshi’s Cookie, and I loved that game. Man, Yoshi’s Cookie would be a great DS game, don’t you think?
3. Pokemon Snap (N64)
This was such a clever idea for the time. You had to take pictures of as many Pokemon as you could while riding a self-moving cart. You could use items to lure Pokemon out or stun them to get a better shot. It was such a neat idea for the time that I think it would’ve made a great arcade game. I also thought the game was educational, too, as it taught basics of photography. You were judged on your pictures by how close the object was, if it was facing forward, and how centered it was. Back then, you could take your N64 memory card to participating Blockbuster stores, and put them in a special booth and print off stickers of the pictures you took in the game! A couple of years ago I saw one of those booths for sale at a used game trade show! I wonder how useless it was. Anyway, I’m kind of surprised they never made a Wii sequel to Snap. I would think the remote controls would be perfect for that kind of game. Oh well, maybe on the Wii U. And guess what? HAL made this one, too.
2. Pokemon Pinball (GBC and GBA)
I love pinball, so this was a natural. The one on the GBC was made by HAL, but the GBA one was made by Intelligent Systems I think. But it was clearly inspired by HAL’s earlier efforts, so I’ll give them the credit. HAL is actually no stranger to pinball, and made other awesome video tables like Revenge of the Gator and Kirby’s Pinball Land. What was neat about these games is how they implemented travelling and capturing Pokemon from the main RPGs. The GBA version did this especially well. I think it’s about due time for a Pokemon Pinball sequel, too. Wouldn’t that be awesome on the 3DS?
1. Pokemon Channel (GameCube)
I think most would disagree with my choice for number one favorite non-RPG Pokemon game, but this one is totally bonkers I can’t help but love it. I think it was meant to be a pseudo-sequel to Hey You, Pikachu, but thankfully without the voice recognition gimmicks. In this game, your job was to watch TV channels with Pikachu. Yes, really. Professor Oak designed a special TV with programs designed for Pokemon viewing, and it was up to you and Pikachu to test them! Most of the TV shows were interactive, and included a quiz show and other games. The TV channels reminded me of kids’ activity centers you could get on the PC a long time ago. You could earn money by winning these games and could spend winnings at the shopping channel to buy more furniture to decorate your room with. So it was a bit like Animal Crossing, too.
There were also places you could go to with Pikachu, so you weren’t sitting on your butt watching TV all day. These areas outside the house let you talk with other Pokemon and earn trading cards. You could also unlock digital versions of “Pokemon Mini” games. The Pokemon Mini games were little handheld devices like Game & Watch that had simple Pokemon related challenges on them, and Pokemon Channel let you play them all. So it was like a game collection, too! The main goal in Pokemon Channel was to unlock parts to make a whole episode of a Pokemon carton exclusive to the game. It was called Meowth’s Party and was actually kind of cute. The finale had a 3-D scene with Meowth and his band rocking out, and it was interactive, too. This section was actually a tech demo that Nintendo showed before the GameCube was even released. So basically, Pokemon Channel was built around a four year old tech demo! That’s what makes Pokemon Channel so crazy to me, yet it was such an addictive game that I couldn’t help but love it. I think that a Wii sequel would’ve been perfect, what with the remote control and all. But I guess it wasn’t meant to be.
So that’s my top five favorite non-RPG Pokemon games. This week I’ll be picking up PokePark 2, so we’ll see how good that one is. At least it’ll let me play as other Pokemon besides Pikachu, like that neat fire piggy guy from the last games. In the comments section, let me know what YOUR favorite non-RPG Pokemon games are. And what is your favorite Pokemon critter? Come on, admit it, even if you don’t like Pokemon at all, you have a favorite one. Mine’s Snorlax in case you were wondering. –Cary