Dear Pokémon, Is It Too Late?

Image by Flickr user h-bomb
Image by Flickr user h-bomb

You’ve seen TwitchPlaysPokémon, yes? It’s become such a thing (phenomenon? mess?) on the Internet that’s it’s hard to escape; but, if you’ve no idea what I’m talking about, then click the link and check it out. Pokémon Crystal is currently streaming, but prior to just a few days ago, it was streaming an emulated version of the original Pokémon Red (1996, Gameboy) in which users “played” the game by inputting commands via keyboard prompts. TPP is a social experiment of sorts to see just how much of a Pokémon game a “crowd” can play. After 16 days, the crowd beat Pokémon Red. It was a pretty amazing feat that was eloquently summed up in this post from At The Buzzer. I couldn’t even begin to describe what I saw during the few times I tuned into TPP, because as much as I get the experiment, I don’t get Pokémon.

See, I’ve never played a Pokémon game. Not a single one. I’m not going to go into details about my tenuous relationship with the series (as I already detailed it on my own blog), but suffice to reiterate: I’ve never played a Pokémon game. So when watching TwitchPlaysPokémon, I get the basic concept of what’s going on, but the gameplay, characters’ powers, the special terms, the memes, those I don’t get. My knowledge of the Pokéverse probably goes as far as Pikachu’s Volt Tackle (see, I’m not a complete doofus), and I’ll be honest, watching TPP makes me…kind of…sort of…in some very roundabout way…want to…try…one of the games. But that’s a big IDON’TKNOWMAYBEORNOT. And where would I even begin?

I don’t think I’m alone in saying that plenty of major game franchises have passed me by over the years. And there’s something very intimidating about even the mere thought of jumping into a beloved series. Think about it. Last week some of us here at UWG covered our favorite levels in Mario games. If you had never, ever played a Mario game, those posts might read like a foreign language. It’s the same with me and Pokémon. To my ears and eyes, discussions about it make little sense. So if I wanted to take a swim in the vast Pokémon waters, should I start at the shoreline or take a boat out to the ocean? If I was to recommend a Mario game to a new player, I’d go with either Super Mario 3 or Super Mario World, as I find either of those much more enjoyable and accessible than the original. It’d be the same with Final Fantasy, or maybe even Zelda. (Though I’m probably not the best source of knowledge on either as I started in each series’ middle with FFVII and Ocarina of Time, respectively.)

Unlike films (or even some TV shows), not many game series come to mind that absolutely need to be played in release order. Even series with distinct and obvious sequels and prequels like Uncharted, Fable, Dragon Age, and the Batman Arkham games, don’t require players to play any particular order. Having knowledge of previous games may aid in understand an overarching story (of there is one like with Mass Effect), but past events are sometimes summed up in opening sequences, or just completely ignored.

But Pokémon…Pokémon to me feels different. It’s a nearly 20-year-old cultural trend that’s surpassed video games. It’s an indelible part of those who have taken in and accepted it as fact from the beginning, and starting a Pokémon game feels like I’d be knocking on a large, vault-like door, where one is greeted with a gruff voice that says only “password!” Not knowing it, I’d simply turn away sheepishly. At this late stage in my gaming career, I think it simply might be too late for me and Pokémon. But if I, or any non-Pokémon-er, were to gather up enough courage to go out and get a Pokémon game, any game, any system, I ask of the fans, which one should I get? Is it best to simply begin at the beginning, or is there another game in the series that you feel might be better for a complete novice?

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Are there any significant game series that you feel are beyond your grasp, or that just haven’t captured your interest (and maybe never will) despite accolades dispelled upon then by friends/family/the media?

15 Comments Add yours

  1. khinjarsi says:

    I have to honestly suggest Gold and Silver, or their remakes HeartGold and SoulSilver. Pick one, it’s not a major deal which. The Gold and Silver games improved enough on Red and Blue, but won’t throw a thousand new Pokemon and items and everything else. It’s a nice balance between new and old, especially the remakes.

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    1. cary says:

      Ages ago, I used to work with kids, and I’ll never forget one young boy who once regaled me with the joys of Pokemon Gold. He couldn’t have been more excited, and I couldn’t have been more confused! Thanks for the suggestion. 🙂

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  2. Hatm0nster says:

    I grew up with Pokemon, the first 3 generations to be specific (Red/Blue,Gold/Silver,Ruby/Sapphire). I loved them all (Ruby especially) but I find it difficult to recommend them to newcomers as they haven’t aged very well and you’re only getting half the experience when you can’t trade and battle with people. Honestly, if you have a 3DS (or were thinking of getting one) I recommend Pokemon X/Y.

    They’ve addressed so many of the frustrations of the old games, that this X/Y (and believe me it’s a shock to be saying this) is probably the best one they’ve done. Training Pokemon has never been so smooth, the amount of level-grinding has been severely-cut, there’s an interesting plot, greater variety of play, and even the metagame is easier to get into. Better yet, it’s not overwhelming. Everything is introduced a piece at a time, and delving further into one thing or another is left entirely up to you. Also, multiplayer battling/trading has never been so accessible! It’s the best part of the experience and now that there’s internet access it’s that much easier to enjoy it. (Still nothing beats battling/trading with friends, if you get it convince a friend to get it too!)

    As for series I never got into: I’ve always wanted to get into the “Tales of” series of JRPGs, but have never been able to work up the enthusiasm. I’ve gone so far as to start “Tales of Symphonia” but it failed to capture my attention after an hour or so of playing it. I want to like it, but I haven’t been able to so far.

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    1. cary says:

      I read a bunch of reviews of Pokemon X/Y (they couldn’t be escaped when the game came out), and I’ll admit that they peaked my interest some. But here’s a silly question — do they make up a new set of Pokemon for each new game? Like, I’m vaguely familiar with the original 151 characters — are any of them in X/Y? Just curious.

      When I had my DS I picked up a super cheap copy of Tales of Phantasia, but it was pretty confusing to play. I sold the cartridge back for pennies and never looked again at any of the games.

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      1. Hatm0nster says:

        Yeah, they add more Pokemon with each game, but not all of them are found in each game. I think there’s around 700+ now, which may sound overwhelming but unless you really want to collect them all (which isn’t even a real objective in the game) then that number really doesn’t end up meaning much.

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  3. Cynenway says:

    I played one of each wave of the Pokémon games until Black and White came out. I decided to wash my hands clean of the series then. At one point, I had Pokémon Red (although it started working when my younger brother threw it in the aquarium), Gold, Ruby, Leafgreen, Pearl, and Heartgold. But by the next wave I had decided I did not need yet another game when they really didn’t differ very much.

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    1. cary says:

      Yeah, I can certainly imagine that a series like this would be in danger of becoming stale after awhile. But the games keep getting made and attracting attention. If I were to ever play one Pokemon game, I don’t know that I’d be interested in playing a second one, but who knows? I guess there’s something to be said for enjoying the comforts of familiarity.

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  4. simpleek says:

    I came into gaming a little late as you know. I don’t have the advantage of playing the much classic Pokemon games, but I did watch the anime for a while when it was widely popular. That still makes it part of my childhood in a way. Still, I jumped into the newer generations of Pokemon and I still enjoy it. I think picking up any of the current Pokemon games is still an option for you. What I like about the series is you can just pick up whatever game you like without having to reference any of the older games like Red/Blue. It’s still the same game mechanics where you collect all the Pokemon you want, train them, and lead your character to each Pokemon Gym to get your gym badges.

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    1. cary says:

      That’s good to know, because I do think that if I were to get into a Pokemon game today, it would be one of the newer games. Sometimes there’s something to be said for starting at the beginning of a beloved franchise, but as I’m seeing from the comments, that doesn’t seem to be the case here. And that could certainly explain some of Pokemon’s staying power! The fact that players don’t have to know everything about Pokemon probably helps bring in lots of new people with each new game.

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  5. nidge91 says:

    I think Pokemon is going through a mini resurgence at the moment, Netflix added the original series to it’s catalogue and after watching the first couple of episodes just for nostalgia’s sake, i’ve ended getting back into it, i’ve even started playing my old Pokemon Blue again!

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    1. cary says:

      I think you’re right! I’ve definitely seen a uptick Pokemon interest recently. It helps that X/Y has found a good bit of success, so I’m sure its creators are doing everything they can to capitalize on that.

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  6. nidge91 says:

    I’ve never played anything later than the Blue/Yellow/Red era, mainly because i didn’t know all the Pokemon as well, but i do think i need to give it more of a go!

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  7. cary says:

    Reblogged this on Recollections of Play and commented:

    Before I get into the meat of this reblog, I’d like to thank everyone who voted in the poll from last Monday’s Pokemon post. While I’m looking forward to getting started with LeafGreen, I’m leaving the poll open for one more week. Which starter should I pick? Whicjh one would YOU choose? Leave your vote, and majority rules!
    So, with Pokemon continually on the brain, I’m sharing here a post on the topic that I wrote last month for United We Game. In it, I explore a little further my feelings about the series and broach the notion of actually playing one of the games after so many years of passing them up (for no good reason, really). While Pokemon wasn’t part of my gaming history, it was for a sizable population of today’s gamers. For a look into one such past, I highly recommend “How Pokemon Made Me A Gamer” from the The Duck of Indeed.

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