i started playing a pokemon game somewhat recently, and that reminded me that i have a bunch of pokemon spin-offs that i haven’t played yet. one of the first spin-offs released was pokémon pinball for game boy color, which came out in japan in 1999, more than 3 years after pokemon red and green and about 6 months before pokemon gold and silver.
i found myself more engaged by this game than the actual pokemon game i was playing (more on that to come in the near future). revisiting the original 151 pokemon was fun in itself, and the character design and “gotta catch ’em all” mechanics are as engaging as ever. what made the biggest difference, though, is that unlike my experience with galactic pinball, pokémon pinball is significantly challenging. so much so that at first i thought there was too much luck involved in getting a high score, but after i got used to the ball physics (the pinball is a pokeball and is larger and consequently a bit clunkier than in a typical pinball game) and the two boards, i was able to rack up the points pretty consistently.
unlike galactic pinball, in pokémon pinball you’ll have to really pay attention to the direction, angle, and speed the ball is moving in. the game has a surprising amount of depth due to not only its more-complex physics, but also due to its distinct modes. there are the paths you have to hit to activate “catch” and “evolve” modes, and especially tricky targets to hit to activate “map move” mode whereby you travel to different locales in order to capture the pokemon that reside there, not to mention the bonus stages.
one of the most interesting aspects about the game is the “ball saver” mechanic, which when active will allow you to continue using any ball you lose without any penalties. when the ball saver is active you can take more risks in trying to hit difficult targets, but the time is limited so you’ll have to choose what you want to focus on, whether it be evolving a rare pokemon you’ve captured or trying to activate one of the other bonuses, such as the pikachu kickbacks.
in case it wasn’t already clear from my geeky analysis, i ended up spending way too much time on this game. and i still have the stiff neck from playing hunched over my GBA to prove it. the pokemon trappings are vibrant, colorful, and really enhance the basic pinball game; the bonus stages are fun; the two stages have plenty of variety and feel quite different from each other; and although i still feel like executing a map move is harder than any other part of the game, in general the game does a great job of including goals beyond just shooting for the high score. oh, and it features a built-in rumble pack! what’s not to love? 😉
i ended up collecting just a little more than half of the pokemon before setting pokémon pinball aside, although i liked the game so much that i considered placing it among my list of “favorites of all time”. even though it didn’t quite make the cut, i’m definitely looking forward to revisiting this one in the future. must … catch … ’em … all … … …
abra! kadabra! alakazam! pokémon pinball links!
– official page on the japanese nintendo site
– entry at wikipedia
– entry at pokemon wiki
– craig harris’s review at IGN in which he mentions that the game is built on the kirby’s pinball land engine, which i haven’t played yet. harris preferred that game, but the reviewer at nintendojo.com preferred this one.
– FAQ at gamefaqs detailing the locations of the various pokemon