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.