By dankempster 49 Comments
A lot of complaints have been directed towards the Pokémon games, notably since the release of Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire all the way back in 2003. Those games were set to mark a new chapter in the Pokémon franchise - coming to a brand new handheld in the form of the GameBoy Advance, I think a lot of people were expecting some serious upgrades to the Pokémon formula to go with the hardware shift. The team at Game Freak had already proven themselves capable of innovating and updating the formula with Pokémon Gold and Silver three years previously - the second generation of games introduced Pokémon breeding, the day/night cycle, a more involving narrative, and one hundred brand new critters to catch and train. It's no surprise that Ruby and Sapphire were considered minor disappointments on their release. Not only did they fail to bring innovation to any aspect of the series' gameplay, battle system or narrative structure, but it actually took a step backwards by removing the day/night cycle and reducing the scope of the game (back down from the sixteen badges of Gold and Silver to the now-standard eight). Since then, Game Freak have attempted to appease players with wave upon wave of new Pokémon, but the core criticisms remain unaddressed - the Pokémon franchise is stuck in a rut, and stubbornly refuses to try and get out of it.
By complete coincidence, the last few days have seen my flat turn into a hub of Pokémon-based activity. I've just picked up a long-neglected copy of Pokémon Emerald - I've yet to beat a third-generation Pokémon game, and now that my essays are over and done with, I'm whiling away a lot of my free time with it. Sure, it's a lot of fun, but as a seasoned Pokémon player, I can't help but feel an ever-present sense of 'been-there-done-that' while I play. The formula is over-familiar, the battle system feels dated, and I'm not warming towards any of the brand new Pokémon. As I plod on through Emerald, my girlfriend is also playing a Pokémon game - Pokémon Platinum on the DS, specifically. She's never played a Pokémon game in her life and you know what? She's absolutely loving it. The flow of the narrative is unpredictable and exciting because she's never embarked on a Gym Badge Challenge before. The battle system is tough but rewarding, because she doesn't know the advantages and weaknesses of every type by heart. The new fourth-generation Pokémon are simply cute, because she has no allegiance to the original 151. It's a totally new experience for her, and she's enjoying every single second of it.
Watching my girlfriend playing Pokémon Platinum reminds me of my first experiences with the Pokémon franchise. Much like most of you here on Giant Bomb, I first dipped my toes into the waters of Pokémon with the first-generation titles - Red and Blue. I remember getting my GameBoy Pocket with a copy of Pokémon Blue for Christmas, after constantly pestering my parents for it because everyone else in school was obsessed with the games at that point. As a nine-year-old, it was an incredibly deep and involving experience for me. I got completely swept up in the flow of the narrative, eager to win those Indigo League badges and put an end to Team Rocket's nefarious schemes. I spent hours exploring uncharted areas, catching new Pokémon and training them up into formidable fighters. I remember catching the fabled Zapdos before any of my friends - to this date, it remains one of my proudest gaming achievements. I even remember schoolmates turning up on my doorstep with their copy of the game and a link-cable so we could trade version-exclusives. Pokémon Blue stole hours of my childhood, but I wouldn't want a single second of that time back.
Here in the UK, there's a popular TV programme called Skins. I don't watch it personally, but I've heard a lot about it. The programme is a drama that focuses on groups of teenagers and young adults, and is aimed at that demographic. Every couple of series, the cast of the show is completely purged and the writers start over. New actors are brought on, and completely new stories are created around them. While the name of the show remains the same, it might as well be called something completely different. The mindset of the writers, as I understand it, is that new series aren't meant to appease old fans. They're meant to attract a new audience and allow them to adopt the new characters and scenarios for themselves. Ask somebody who watched Skins three years ago what it meant to them, and you'll get a completely different answer to the one you'll get if you ask somebody who's watching it right now. Watching my girlfriend having so much fun with Pokémon Platinum is making me think that perhaps Game Freak are attempting to do the same thing with Pokémon - each new generation is not meant to keep us old fans happy, but to attract new fans to the Pokémon experience and present them with something totally new and fresh.
So, to Pokémon veterans, I say this - Pokémon Black and White are not for you. When Pokémon Chalk and Cheese versions are released on the 3DS in late 2014 (yep, I'm calling it), with no drastic gameplay innovations to speak of, they will not be for you either. Pokémon is not for you anymore. It's provided you with your own experience, whether that was Red/Blue, Gold/Silver, Ruby/Sapphire, or even Diamond/Pearl. You've had your Pokémon adventure. You've got favourite species and types, you've mastered the intricacies of the battle system, you've foiled evil schemes and made a name for yourself already. Now it's the turn of a new generation of players to get lost in their own Pokémon adventure. It's their turn to fall in love with a brand new cast of critters. It's their turn to experience the highs and lows of being a rookie Pokémon trainer, just starting out on the road to becoming Pokémon League Champion. Hold on to your fond memories, and give them a chance to craft their own.
Currently playing - Pokémon Emerald (GBA)