REPORTING FROM THE FIELD
I Spelunked as the Sun Set in Unova
I need Drilbur. Drilbur’s a little tar-gray, pink-nosed, mole-like Pokémon with wide, denim-colored stripes of fur wrapped around its body in the accidental shape of a miner’s outfit—oh, and enormous steel claws. Huge attack stats, great speed. It’s a great, stellar little Ground Pokémon. I am in Nimbasa, training my new-caught Solosis (a.k.a. Nartlemank) to be the best it can be, and it’s off to a great, if somewhat uneven start, when it occurs to me: I need Drilbur. I forgot to get it when I had the chance, when I was in the area of the game where it was at. I suppose I was too caught up in raising Tepig (a.k.a. Uh…), Magnemite (a.k.a. Christosphere Orbin a.k.a. Orbinson), and Petilil (a.k.a. Jelridbins, which must be said aloud to be truly felt), or sometimes I get high on adventure and forget to stick to the plan, and I just start playing for “fun” and “nostalgia.” I’ll hop on my bike to make it back to where Drilbur’s at. I don’t have the ability to “Fly” just yet, (crud.), so instead I’ll have to get myself there myself, like get there get there. It will take upwards of five minutes. It’ll hurt.
But it’s a good hurt and you know it. Along the way, the feeling of the quest begins to seep back in, the urgency of the mission at hand, the duty to self. Here’s what the trip to where Drilbur’s at is like. I spray on a repel to get through the desert beneath the highway unbothered on the footpath back to Castelia City, which is a heavily buildinged, many peopled, perfectly round metropolis on the bay that takes probably sixty full seconds—and partway through, my repel wears off—to pedal all the way through, from northern tip to eastern; at which right-most point there lies a gate opening onto Skyarrow Bridge, a colossal, industrial marvel, the traversal of which even at full clip is itself another 30-second long marathon of holding down the down button, but which stands as kind of one of the more elaborate set-pieces showing off this entry’s (Version Black/White’s) birthday cakey graphical update, coming rigged with dynamic, angle-changing camera movement, and fully rendered shipping boats crossing by on whatever unnamed body of water that is down below, and semi-trucks grumbling by on the car-bound sub-level of bridgeroad just beneath me, and a couple of folks idling on the overpass who if you talk to them have nothing to say to you other than just to comment on the bridge (“I’m looking for the exact center point!”), all of this I merrily ignore but know is there as I zip along, ponytail aflail, havin’ a good old time; at Skyarrow’s end stands Pinwheel Forest, a big touristy park stuck in permanent autumn with a wide, paved walkway and these little deviations you can take into the woods should you feel inclined to be so deviated; but I need no deviations, myself, as I know the trees beyond the handrails harbor no hidden Drilburs for me; and I ride out of Pinwheel, into, and through, all 5-seconds of Nacrene City, which with its railroad tracks (no longer in service) and quaint New England aesthetic, fills its role as a blip on the side of the road quite roundly, and also homes the Normal-type Gym, which also doubles as a natural history museum, where earlier in the game there was this attempted heist that I thwarted using a pokemon that I, as it turned out, decided to stop using the moment I got to Nimbasa (Munna for Solosis [Purl for Nartlemank]); back out into the countryside; I roll soundlessly over a quiet yellow footbridge, beneath me a large, mirror-flat expanse of inverted sky, slow-floating clouds disappearing into and out of grass at pond’s edge, and I onto a gravel path that winds picket-fenced through wide fields of high green grass; around a bend, past a daycare center—no wait, backtrack a bit, just a little bit, to where I was supposed to have hung a left instead of a right, alright, and here we are: Wellspring Cave. Point being, it’s a long trip, but not a totally mundane one.
Wellspring’s only entrance and exit is a big craggy hole chomped out of the rockface. Grass stops growing just shy of its threshold, and here scattered about on the dead, tan earth are some stones. Five of them, if we’re counting, each the size of my face. I pedal over them as if they weren’t even there. Into the dark. “WellspringCave.” I enter, and the music changes to something shadowier, maybe even secretive, stark and pizzicato, with a haunted, woodwind-heavy refrain—minor tonalities abounding, of course. The light of the entrance is whitely bright, but bleeds no more than a footstep into the cave. I spray on another repel. Drilbur is in here somewhere, he’ll appear in dustclouds, which spring up occasionally if you walk around uninterrupted for a bit. You have to work up a lot of footsteps to make them appear, sometimes, hence the repel. While ambling randomly about I hunt for hidden items, which are generally always in great abundance in caves, and I wind up finding a couple things in obvious spots (brief little dead ends, nooks, crannies, etc.). I find a PP Up, for instance, which I’ll use, definitely, eventually, when I figure out who needs it, etc. I find TM46, which’ll teach any pokemon the move “Thief,” which does a little damage and has a chance to burgle an item from the opponent, and which I won’t bother teaching to any of my aboveboard team members. Moisture drips from the cave’s ceiling, constantly, causing little upside down fireworks to splish here and there about the floor. There’s murky water pooled deeply across the southern half of the cave, enough to “Surf” around on. When a dust cloud does finally stir up, its right in front of me, and I’m inside of it before I even realize it; and yet it turns out to be a Rock Gem rather than a Drilbur. Farts. I put the Rock Gem, whatever it is, into my items case and spray on another repel and keep at it.
By legitimate surprise, I stumble upon a staircase going down deeper to a basement level that, after deciding to check it out, I find is pitch black. If I had “Flash,” I could light up this basement, but I generally opt not to waste move slots on crap I don’t have to, so instead I just feel around in the dark a bit. I find a wall, another wall, the stairs I came down from, and then accidentally a corridor. Down a ways, some stairs reach even further down into the gloom, and that’s where I get the creeps—yep, the creeps, from my DS, at 5:30 PM on a Monday in St. Louis, MO—and head back up to into the now bright-seeming upstairs dim. I have to put on another repel. By now I must stink of the stuff. I continue to run about.
Drops drip. Cave music plays on loop. At one point I forget and unthinkingly try to apply another Repel, at which the game retorts: “Since a Repel’s effects still linger, you can’t use this now.” Indeed. I continue to run about.
I find a good little lane of floor that spans from wall to wall in which to just sprint back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, back and—oops, my thumb slips and I go wandering sideways for a second, but immediately get right back on course—through a few more repels. Another dustcloud surprise, this time a Grass Gem. They keep appearing right at my feet, like traps! Is this what they’re supposed to do? If it happens again, I’ll assume it is. At one point, I look into my items case and read what it is these Gem things do. Turns out they’re one-time use, and what they do is boost the power of moves that match the gem’s type, Rock moves or Grass moves in my case. Presumably they break for good, after being used? Or maybe they’re recyclable? I don’t know, whatever. Right after that, two things happen at the very same time: a dust cloud appears (several steps away this time), and a repel wears off. I have to spray on another repel, right? But then it occurs to me, that maybe the repels are why I’m only finding gems instead of Drilburs. I leave the Repel off and brave the few long, dark, perilous, potentially Woobat-filled steps to the cloud, unprotected. No Woobat swoops upon me. No Roggenrola jumps out at me. I make it to the cloud, to what turns out to be, to my growing disappointment, an Electric Gem.
Drilbur, come on. Don’t you want to join me on the adventure of a lifetime? I can, and will, make you so much better than you could ever be on your own. I will bring you to the Elite Four, and together we will smash down the door to the champion’s room and embarrass whatever is put in our way. You and me and five other awesome Pokémon, whom I’m sure you’ll grow to love, and who I’m sure will love you, too, eventually. Comrades in arms, you’ll be. Boy, the music in the cave gets kind of irritating after awhile.
To its credit, though, it takes until like the 300 da capo for me to begin to feel this way. At which point, I turn the music down, clickety-clickety, on the side of my DS. Oops, shit, I run into a Roggenrola. How did I forget a Repel? Sigh. My Solosis is out front and it’s holding a Smoke Ball, which enables it to run away unhindered every time, and which it uses promptly. I spray on my third-to-last repel. I have 300 steps’ worth of repel left. Come on, Drilbur. Alas, I drain all three in just a couple minutes. While I walk around, I look at the wall of the cave. There’s a recess in the wall that’s kind of got my eye for some reason. It's poorly rendered, unrealistic-looking. Possibly man-made. Anyway, when my last Repel wears off I run straight into a Woobat. It flaps about dumbly for a moment while I hesitate over the Run button. I do Run, and exit the cave—no, I run into another Woobat, one that’s a whole three levels higher than the previous one, but still no creature I care to own, and so I flee once more. This time, I make it outside.
Night? Night. Everything is slightly darker bluer than usual, the trees, the grass, the picket fences. I bike back to Nacrene, back around that big beautiful pond, to buy more Repels, what should be a quick trip. And is. The Pokémon Center’s doors slide open for me with that brief little square-wave sound they make. The salesman at the counter tells me hello, “Welcome! May I help you?” I select, “Buy,” and purchase 7,000 gold’s worth of Repels (which turns out to be twenty, even). Despite this monster transaction he’s just handled, the cashier maintains a perfectly professional, seemngly preprogrammed manner. “Is there anything else I may do for you?” I select, “No thanks!” He tells me to come again and I am gone. On the way out the door I hesitate to consider maybe selling the Gems I racked up back in Wellspring Cave; but no. If they’re recyclable, I could see them being useful. We’ll see. I run along the Nacrene City train tracks back through the gate leading to the path along the pond, the footbridge, the picket fences, and finally that big bite-mark in the cliff side, Wellspring Cave. Another Repel, sphsssst. It takes a few moments, just running around aimlessly in the dark—I’ve turned the volume back up, so there’s that damn loop again—when all of a sudden: another dust cloud, up on a ledge. I hurry up to it.
DRILBUR ♀. How you doing there, lil lady? I’m Mr. Burger. I’m here to change your goddamn life. Solosis, GO.
Solosis is essentially a lima bean (but with a face) suspended in a bubble of green jell-o. Psychic type. Naturally excruciatingly slow. Mine has a nature that makes it even slower, but this is a deliberate choice on my part, and one made with good reason. I bred it to know the move Trick Room from birth, which, you see, “distorts the battlefield” such that the fastest Pokémon suddenly move the slowest, while the slowest Pokémon become the fastest! I happen to have one of the very slowest Pokemon in the entire Nat’l Dex. Its speed being its only naturally low stat, Solosis is otherwise monstrously predisposed to battle. It’s a little silly-looking in its current form, true, but its final form, Reuniclus, looks sweet. Like a sort of gelatinous, cactus, piñata thing, with two big muscly arms. You’ll see. My Solosis will be a hero, someday. Right now, though, it’s at Level 21, while this Drilbur is only Lv. 11, so hmm. I don’t want to murder it by accident. Ah, here we go: Hidden Power, which for Solosis is a Fire-type move, I think, and which shouldn’t hurt the little rodent too badly. Drilbur uses Scratch—note she’s zounds faster than the Solosis 10 levels older than her—and chips away five HP. Solosis, meanwhile, misses. So again with the Hidden Power. Oh crap, what’s this it’s saying: it doesn’t even effect the Drilbur? I missed that the first time. I guess that means that Solosis’s Hidden Power is Electric-type? I think? Farts. I switch to Jelridbins, who is a deceptively cute little Petilil who knows Sleep Powder (which guess what that does) and Stun Spore (which causes Paralysis). I paralyze Drilbur. Then I attempt to put him to sleep, too. This proves challenging. The game doesn’t seem to want to let me inflict two status conditions at once. But it’s not saying this explicitly. It just keeps saying “It failed,” and that Drilbur, like, “avoided the attack.” Fine. Petilil at Lv. 23 is way too strong to actually attack Drilbur, especially having the Grass v. Ground Type advantage, so I switch to Tepig. Tepig is Fire, and shouldn’t be able to hurt Drilbur too badly. I take a risk and do Flame Charge. God, I hope this doesn’t kill the little bugger. It totally does. SHIT. Okay, fine. Damaging it isn’t going to work. I need to just use a Quick Ball. Or a Dusk Ball. Just as soon as I scrounge up another Drilbur.
Outside, in the real world, in St. Louis, it’s suddenly dark. It’s 6:30 PM. I’ve been at this for maybe a little too long. I need to go grocery shopping, and have something cooking before Miriam gets home. Before that, I need to shower. Alright. Playtime’s over. Good game, Drilbur. I guess your incredible future can wait. For now.
(Satisfying screenshots courtesy of hookedgamers.com, gamesradar.com, bulbagarden.net and walkthru.pokemon.com)