Retraux-Review: Hey Pikachu, Whatcha Watchin'?
One of the first reviews I ever did for Giant Bomb... and I use the term 'review' incredibly loosely, here... was for a little game called Pokemon Channel. At the time, I was so pent up with aggression and angst that I went and wrote the review in a very sloppy version of the 'angry critic' format that many of you internet young'uns are used to, similar to the Angry Video Game Nerd or the Nostalgia Critic. My naive, 12-year-old self found it hilarious... my current 17-year-old (at the time of this writing) self doesn't. At all.
Unsurprisingly, someone called me out on it (not going to point fingers here), and being the OCD person that I am, I decided that a rewrite was in order. Is my opinion of the game any different? Well, not a whole lot, but I think this time around some actual thought and decent criticisms should suffice for the obnoxious swears I spewed around in my last attempt.
Anyways, enough with all that. This is a review, not an autobiography. Here's my second attempt at reviewing Pokemon Channel.
As is tradition with my recent reviews, I'm going to be using the "Good/Bad" layout for this piece. First, the premise.
Pokemon Channel is the spiritual successor to Hey You, Pikachu!, a game that was released on the Nintendo 64. In contrast to the frantic turn-based strategy of the mainstream, handheld Pokemon titles, Hey You, Pikachu! was made to get even younger kids invested in the Pokemon universe by being a 'Pikachu pet simulator,' where you and your very own electric mouse would embark on multiple journeys that spanned the various locales of the Kanto region. The main draw of the game is that it came with its own microphone, which allowed you to communicate with Pikachu and give him specific commands or affections to which he would respond. In theory, this would allow for a wider range of tasks and fun games to play with your very own pet Pokemon. In practice, however, the voice commands were often hardly functional, as Pikachu would often misinterpret what the player said or completely block it out because it was preoccupied with something else. In short, for the times where the microphone system worked, the game was immensely charming and cute from start to finish. For the times it didn't, it was basically like talking to a kid with ADD. On a roller coaster.
Regardless, the game's cuteness factor sold it plenty enough to garner a sequel, which is what we're looking into now. This time around, the core gameplay is centered not around a gimmicky peripheral but instead watching television with Pikachu, with a few sidequests such as Nice Card collection added in to give the game a bit more depth. Does Pokemon Channel manage to beat its predecessor in every way, or has the fun fizzled out?
Good: Depending on who you ask, Pokemon Channel might not be anywhere as saccharine and cutesy as Hey You, Pikachu!, but I'd be damned if it isn't at least close. They really pulled out all the stops with Pikachu's animations, here; whether he's tired, elated, enraged, or flabbergasted, Pikachu's emotions are vivid and very enjoyable to trigger. Whether you leave him alone or push him towards certain objects into the environment, it always warms my heart to see how Pikachu reacts to his surroundings.
Speaking of objects, this game sure does have quite a bit of stuff to play around with. Go fishing! Help out with the news broadcast! Goof around in the snow! Even play some Game Boy-esque minigames! Whether its taking a trip to Cobalt Coast or chillin' out and watching Pichu Bros. at home, you are practically never in a shortage of activities to carry out with Pikachu, and that's a very good thing as far as simulation games come.
One huge improvement over the previous game is the removal of the gimmicky, awkward microphone controls. If you want Pikachu to go somewhere or do something, all you have to do is point at the object and hit A. It's much more streamlined and less fundamentally broken than the microphone... but it's still not without its faults. See the Bad section for more on that.
The main draw of the game, the television, also has a nice selection of bonus games, comical shows and its own animated mini-series based around the Pichu Bros. in which they try to get invited to Meowth's big party. Pichu Bros. in Party Panic! pretty much matches your typical Pokemon-movie bonus feature in terms of quality, but it can be rather charming and funny on its own, and the other channels are great fun to watch, too, particularly the new channel hosted by Psyduck, who often has trouble staying awake on set. Pikachu also reacts to practically everything that is shown on TV, and I can't help but burst with laughter when Pikachu starts freaking out during the tense moments in Pichu Bros. or gets fed up with Slowpoke the Weatherman when he drags the show out for too long. This game has a very keen sense of humor, and I give it bonus points for that.
But wait! Don't be alarmed! Just because it isn't a mainstream Pokemon game doesn't mean you can't catch 'em all! ...it's in a weird format, sure, but still! Anyways, this format is the Nice Card system. Practically every Pokemon that can be thought of up until the Johto region can be encountered in-game, and you can obtain Nice Cards from them by answering trivia questions correctly. Again, it's entirely trivial, but the Pokemon themselves are modeled very nicely, and it does add a bit more depth to the game.
Bad: Sadly, just as the first one does, Pokemon Channel has its faults, and most of them lie within what you as the player are capable of doing. Despite being a simulation game, you aren't given a whole lot of freedom to do what you want to do until quite a ways into the game. Not a lot of channels are unlocked at the start of the game, and the doorways to the outside world are restricted until you watch each TV show at least once and save your progress, for some arbitrary reason. Pikachu, having been pretty much pulled straight out of the wild and into your home, doesn't listen to many of your commands, which makes getting him to interact with his surroundings under your command a bigger chore. In short, it's a largely progression-based simulation game, with the definition of 'progression' as being like a skill tree, of sorts. To access the good stuff, you mainly have to dump your time into the less exciting activities, first. This all wouldn't be so bad...
...if the game had kept the pace of Hey You, Pikachu!, but this time around, perhaps to make the game seem more 'realistic,' the game progresses on a 'day-by-day' basis. I'm not talking about 'in-game days' like HYP, I'm talking about full-scale, real-time, 24-hour days. The game is intended to be completed in (IIRC) 6 real-time days, and if you don't feel like cheating and setting the GameCube's clock ahead a day after doing every activity that day can throw at you, the game's pace instantly grinds to a halt. This is one thing HYP got right that Pokemon Channel didn't. In HYP, when you completed the activity for the day, the game automatically progressed to the next in-game day and saved your progress. This means that you could virtually keep going and keep discovering new things to do with Pikachu, but with Pokemon Channel, you either have to resort to cheating or endure long periods of waiting to uncover more things to do to keep the game feeling fresh.
There's also the slightly-confusing problem of directing Pikachu around. For some reason, even though the wonky voice commands are no longer part of the game's mechanics, I still have a bit of trouble getting Pikachu to notice things sometimes. At the beginning, it's slightly justified, as Pikachu had just met you and hasn't fully enveloped you as its master, but even later on in the game there will be times where Pikachu will run around like a maniac or focus all of his attention to what's going on on the TV, which makes doing other activities practically impossible without upsetting him to the point of ruining the moment.
But honestly, the main drawback of Pokemon Channel is that if you're not enticed or engrossed by Pikachu being cute and doing cute things, this game will bore the hell out of you. That's really the whole kit and caboodle right there. You can purchase dolls, wallpaper, and 20-second minigames from the in-game shop, play painstakingly-easy quiz and trivia games and look at the colorful environments and exotic Pokemon otherwise, but if you take Pikachu being adorable out of the equation the game is practically lifeless.
Overall: Well, let me put it this way; if you like dogs/cats/other cute critters a lot, and you like Pokemon, then Pokemon Channel will be a good experience for you, even if it isn't quite as cute (in my humble opinion) as Hey You, Pikachu!. I enjoyed both games, but only really because I have a soft spot for Pokemon and pets.
I apologize for its shorter length, but I hope this review makes up for the abominable review I decided to throw up last time.
Final Score: 3/5