At 21 years old I decided it was time to play Pokemon again. I don’t know what happened, I woke up one morning and had the urge to bust out my dusty DS Lite and raise an awesome team of Pokemon.
As a child I used to be a Pokemaniac, I had all the games, the cards the stickers and the books. I used to search the Internet for hours looking for the latest Pokemon news, tying up my parents phone line because we had a dial up connection and annoying my unhappy father. I even used to go on Japanese websites hoping to find out what the starter Pokemon were going to be in the not yet released Pokemon Silver. As I got older though my interest in the franchise slowly dwindled but I’ve always retained a soft spot for anything to do with Pikachu.
I’ve played almost every generation of Pokemon games, Red, Silver and Sapphire. I purchased Diamond when it came out a few years ago but never really got into it, not sure why, perhaps at the time I was just all Pokemon-ed out. However it has been a long time since I’ve played a Pokemon game, I hardly remember the general mechanics of the series. I also wasn’t sure what to expect, I’ve played a lot of games since Sapphire and I’m considerably older. The question is will a Pokemon game still have the ability to hold my attention?
When I sat down and thought about it I assumed I wouldn’t be able to get into it again. These days my attention span when it comes to gaming is pretty short, If it doesn’t keep me interested I don’t continue playing for very long. I was pleasantly surprised to see what Nintendo did with Soul Silver, the Pokemon game I decided to use as my re-introduction to the franchise. I especially liked the fact that Gamefreak brought back the day/night system and time sensitive events. That was one of my favorite features in Pokemon Silver, I loved having different Pokemon appear at specific times of the day. This was something Sapphire was really lacking, I don’t remember if Diamond has this feature included but regardless it was great to see it back in the franchise.
As always I decided to start off with a grass Pokemon, Chikorita. I’ve always been a big fan of bug and grass Pokemon, I’m not really sure why. It was really strange how everything was slowly coming back to me, I totally remembered the town you start in almost down to the individual location of houses and non-player characters. Back in the day I’d never train a proper team, I’d always just use whatever starter Pokemon I picked at the beginning of the game and build it up. Eventually I’d capture and add higher level Pokemon to my team once the game got harder but I never raised a team from the begining. I remember playing Pokemon Red and not understanding why I needed to capture more Pokemon to add to my team, I thought you only needed one to go through the entire game. This time I was going to play the game the way the Poke-gods intended.
I’ve seen the series evolve over the years but the basic game play has remained the same as far as I can tell. This is something I knocked the Halo franchise for doing in an editorial I wrote last week because I felt like the entire series was getting very stale and needed a drastic change. With Pokemon I feel like the developers really can’t really alter much. It’s almost like the Pokemon formula is so specific that if anything were to be changed about it then it wouldn’t be Pokemon anymore. I remember back when Sapphire first came out reviewers were complaining that the graphics hadn’t received much of an upgrade. At the time I totally agreed but now when I look back at screen shots of older Pokemon games I really start to see a dramatic difference between titles. I’m still waiting for the day when Nintendo finally makes a 3D online Pokemon game.
I captured a Rattata, originally my idea was to only capture Pokemon from the original 150 and make my team truly classic. However I quickly realized that if I wanted to progress in the game that really wasn’t an option and captured a Ledyba. I also began to level up the Togepi that hatched from the egg I was given early on in the game. It didn’t occur to me to create a balanced team, It seemed all I had was grass and bug Pokemon and I didn’t think there was anything wrong with this at all. I went on to even capture an Oddish, my favorite Pokemon, making my team even more unbalanced.
Training my Pokemon is surprisingly still satisfying, watching those numbers climb after every battle still is really appealing and addictive. Early on I thought Pokemon Soul Silver was going to be ridiculously easy, I was destroying every wild Pokemon and trainer I was running into. The first gym leader, Falkner, didn’t stand a chance against my awesome team that wasn’t even the same level as his Pokemon. I was truly on my way to becoming a Pokemon master.
I was around five hours into the game when I made it to the second gym leader, I spent some time leveling up my Pokemon and fighting random trainers just to make sure that I was ready for the next gym. This is when I remembered how much fun Pokemon games can actually be. I made it to the second gym leader, Bugsy (great name by the way) and got my ass handed to me. I was shocked.
His Scyther absolutely destroyed me, he use this move called U-turn. He’d command his Scyther to attack and it would KO whatever Pokemon I had out in one hit, then run back to his little Pokeball. It didn’t matter that most of my Pokemon were almost four levels ahead of his. Even if I was able to get his Scyther’s health down, which rarely happened my first few tries, his trainer would just use a super potion or a berry. I found my self swearing at my DS for hours. This gym leader and his team of, “assholes,” and his, “cheap motherfucking ass bullshit tactics,” were totally getting the best of me.
This is when I started to take the game more seriously. I’m not sure if Gamefreak ramped up the difficulty for this remake but this particular battle definitely seemed much harder than I remembered it was when I was 11. I started devising specific strategies to destroy this evil Cyther, no more would I be his bitch and get continuously pwned by U-turn. Defeating it became the entire point of my existence. I found my self sitting in my history class, history of the third Reich, looking at slides depicting German atrocities committed during World War 2 and thinking of how I could destroy this stupid Pokemon.
I probably tried fighting Bugsy 15 times or so before I finally took him down. When I finally watched Cyther’s health reach zero I felt this immense sense of accomplishment, this is a feeling I don’t often experience with games lately. This gym leader was truly challenging and it felt like I actually accomplished something.
So far I’m really impressed with Soul Silver, I love the fact that it’s a remake and that I remember a lot of the areas from Silver. It really appeals to my nostalgic side. The 3D-ish graphics impressed me and so do the battle animations and sprites. The Pokemon formula remains timeless and entertaining.
When I got that VHS tape in the mail roughly 10 years ago from Nintendo explaining what this new Pokemon phenomenon was I had no idea I’d still be playing it at 21 - Pokemon really is still fun no matter how old you are.