Saturday, September 25, 2010
Thursday, September 16, 2010
It all leads up to Saturday. Pokémon Black and White are released this Saturday, but you already know that. You’ve followed the news each week, and even if you haven’t, you probably noticed the countdown ticking down ever closer on the Bulbapedia front page. The games won’t be released stateside until next Spring, but the information floodgates will be opened. We’ll see every single new Pokémon, we’ll know all of the new features, we’ll know the new moves. Forums everywhere will ignite with discussions, praises, and arguments about Generation V. Flame wars like we’ve never seen could be waiting to erupt and burn this side of the internet to the ground.
Some of us will take to our Japanese DSs to play the games straight out of the gate. Another group (myself included), will bore so deep into internet articles on new features we’ll be trapped in a Bulbapedia mine collapse and have to eat our fellow man to survive. Chances are we’ll know everything there is to know about the games before we rip the plastic off of the package. That brings up a question on my end: the information volcano is about to erupt, so what does that mean for a column boasting being about “Outlook and speculation”?
The imminent Japanese release of Black and White may invalidate the purpose of this column now, but that doesn’t put speculation to rest. Black and White are the beginning, not the end. I’ll bet a year’s worth of my college tuition they won’t be the only main series games ofGeneration V. Even if the speculated Ruby and Sapphire remakes never materialize, a Third Version seems as inevitable as death and taxes. Then there is the future of the fandom and the metagame. We have no idea how these games are going to affect how we view the franchise as a whole. Even after we see every new Pokémon and their move sets, we can only guess the effects they’ll have on the competitive battling community until the fights themselves begin.
This is the great thing about this franchise: it has, like the titular monsters, evolved over the years. Notice I said franchise, not just the games. It’s a constant, never ending cycle of change. The experience of being a Pokémon fan is more than playing the games. The experience comes from playing with others, taking part in fan communities, making your own thoughts and theories about it all. I’ve spent the last two months speculating about the games through this column, but I know that I can’t even begin to try to predict what the Pokémon experience as a whole will be like with the advent of Generation V. That’s the beauty of it. The excitement and payoff comes from the journey, not the destination.So this is my farewell to this column. Originally I had planned to keep going until around the American release of Black and White, but sophomore film classes are dictating other uses of my time, so I’ve decided to end coinciding with the Japanese release date. It’s been a great experience writing for Bulbanews these past few months. I’ve loved reading the feedback, and I even am thankful for my detractors in the discussion threads each week. So I would like to take this opportunity to thank Bulbanews for hosting my column, and thank the readers, for, you know, reading.
I’m not done yet though. I thought I wouldn’t end on such a somber note, so there’s one more article coming from me for this column. Stay tuned next week for the biggest flamewar inducer of them all: Top Ten Lists. YeOldeJacob and I will rank the top and bottom ten Generation V Pokémon after we’ve seen them all. Until then, farewell!
Looking Forward can also be read on Bulbanews.
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
This week I’m paying tribute to parts of the Pokémon games that many never play. That’s right; I’m talking about the side competitions:Pokémon Contests, Pokéathlon, and the newly revealed Pokémon Musical. Many will object to the first sentence of this article, they have their fans, and even the anime pays tribute to them in spectacular fashion. At the same time though, how many players only bothered withPokéblocks and Poffin long enough to max out Feebas’s beauty stat and never touch a Dry-flavored Berry again?
We were first introduced to a new challenge aside from the Pokémon League and Pokédex completion in Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire with the arrival of Pokémon Contests. This was notable because it was the first challenge in the game that didn’t involve your Pokémon committing acts of brutality against each other, and instead, focused on preening your monsters to give the best showing possible. New stat systems were introduced solely for contests, and now every move your Pokémon could learn also had a performance use as well as an in-battle use. It was a fresh idea, and deep enough to warrant diverting some time from raising monsters for war to raising them for performance. My Wailord was the most beautiful Pokémon in Hoenn, and I remain proud of that.
Flash forward to Generation IV, we had Pokémon Diamond and Pearl expand upon the Contests with Super Contests, but also had something else in Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver: Pokéathlons. This competition was unlike anything else before it. The mini-games were fast paced and frantic, certainly a stand out in a franchise based around turn-based menu battles. Like Contests before it, Pokéathlons are also a great time waster, and shallow as the minigames are, it is hard not to feel the urge to clear all of the ranks and cover your Pokéathletes in medals.Now it seems Pokémon Black and White is heading in the direction of Contests again with Pokémon Musical. Dressing up your monsters returns from Diamond and Pearl’s Super Contests, but the move exhibition rounds have been eliminated in favor of a musical performance round, not unlike rhythm games, where you control your Pokémon as they perform preset bits of music, as well as downloadable tunes from the Global Link. I’ll take this opportunity to state something: Game Freak, unless it has put this in there and not yet revealed it, is missing out on a major opportunity by not allowing custom Pokémon Musical sound tracks from say, a player’s SD card. Admit it, it would be awesome. I would play Pokémon Musical to death if I could do it to the sounds of Flyleaf.
One thing about the distractions, however, is they seem to elicit a collective “meh” from most players. Some may find them less engaging than the core battle mechanics, while others may never even touch them through their playthroughs. The argument arises, why should Game Freak devote time and resources to such diversions if that is the case? My retort to them would be this: the same generation that Pokémon Contests were introduced, the data structure for the Pokémon files was completely renovated and redone. Super Contests didn’t stop advances like the Physical/Special split in Generation IV either. The core mechanics of it all still surge forward at a great pace, even if we have these things on the side.
It boils down to this: they can be fun sidequests, and as long as some players enjoy them and the main game mechanics don’t suffer in the process, by all means play around with ideas such as this. Diversity in games always enriches the experience when done right. And really, if you don’t like the idea of Pokémon Musical, there will be plenty else in Black and White to keep you entertained.
Looking Forward can also be read on BulbaNews.
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
One commenter on last week's article complained I don't talk enough about what Generation V is doing right enough. To those who would agree with this sentiment, this week's column is for you. I was inspired to drop the piece I'd been working on, and give a glowing praise to Game Freak for their excellent steps forward in an area the games have stumbled in so far: Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection.
Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection has been one of Nintendo's biggest pushes with the Nintendo DS. Two of the most successful series to take it on have been Mario Kart DS and, of course, Pokémon. But the waters have been rough. When Pokémon Diamond and Pearl first came out of the gate, we finally had online battles and trades, even at the expense of Nintendo's unwieldy Friend Code system. The other inclusion at the start was the Global Trade Station. Excellent as it was to be able to search for any Pokémon you wanted (although you must have seen the Pokémon in your game already), it hit a stale patch when everyone demanded a Dialga or a Palkia for a Bibarel or a Honchkrow. Later advancements such as Wi-Fi Plaza and games followed, although none particularly stood out. Game Freak has really explored the potential of Wi-Fi with the forthcoming fifth generation though. Existing features like the GTS have been upgraded, now with features such as random battles against other players.More interesting is the recently revealed Global Link, which allows players to upload their save files to the internet to access extra features and effects on the game. The Pokémon Dream World allows players to obtain Pokémon not in the Isshu Pokédex, as well as Pokémon with abilities not normally held. Downloadable content is also accessible through the Global Link, although the only confirmed DLC features so far are new C-Gear features and songs for Pokémon Musical, although I have to give Game Freak the benefit of the doubt and think there will be more possibilities revealed.
Another feature I'd like to give passing praise to, even if it doesn't fit in with the rest because it is local wireless instead of Nintendo WFC, is the High Link. Players can interact with each other in the Isshu region, as well as engage in competitive or cooperative missions. This is another great step in the right direction for multiplayer action in the series, as players can finally interact with each other outside the confines of the Union and Wi-Fi Rooms.
I can only praise Game Freak for every advance they make in Wi-Fi and wireless features in the games. My only complaint is that they have been slow to leak out. I am of the opinion that multiplayer needs to be focused on more in the games. Series creator Satoshi Tajiri has said before one of his original concepts for Pokémon was a mental image of monsters and insects crawling along a link cable between two Game Boys. In fact, one of the original reasons for multiple versions with different Pokémon available on each (aside from breeding an immortal cash cow) was encouraging trade between players.
This brings the games forward, but at the same time, goes along to fulfilling a goal that has existed since the very beginning. Many a fan has clamored for a Pokémon massive multiplayer game, and Black and White's advances in Wi-Fi and wireless bring those dreams closer to reality. Pokémon was imagined as a social experience, and that thought is being implemented very well in the fifth generation. I'll see you online, my friends.
Looking Forward can also be read on BulbaNews.