(Finally) playing Pokémon

Despite growing up firmly in the Pokémon era, I had only played Pokémon Snap, Pokémon: Magikarp Jump, Pokémon Go, and a handful of games on the Pokémon Mini console. That is to say, I have never played a main-series Pokémon game until now, with Shield. I know I’ve been writing about video games a lot lately, and I really should do some maths or something instead. But, I’m an exhausted person in an exhausting world, and video games are giving me a lot of joy. I also know that I’m not particularly qualified to write a review on a game which I have nearly no background with; this isn’t intended to be a review. It’s just been a very interesting experience breaking into a well-known, well-loved franchise 23 years and eight generations late.

To get the end of the story out of the way, I am really enjoying Pokémon Shield, and I intend to go back and play through previous generations of Pokémon games. I can tell that I am nearing the end of Shield, and my sole complain would really be the length of the game. Not in an ‘I paid $60 for this!!!’ sort of way, just… I’m having a good time, I want more. Part of why I’m having a good time is that there’s an obvious formula that works here; the franchise is successful for a reason. The narrative is present but not so deep that it demands undivided attention.The collection element is engaging, and even without the ‘gotta catch ‘em all’ mindset, it means there’s always something new to find. The RPG system itself is interesting to me as well, with every possible move having a cost, that cost system not replenishing over time, and no ability to skip a turn. On the surface it feels like it should be unforgiving, but it works and forces decision-making over just brute-forcing every battle with one well-designed monster.

My appreciation goes beyond the gameplay, however, since Pokémon is such a cultural powerhouse. Simply due to the sort of cultural world I inhabit, Pokémon fan art1 crosses my path a lot. And I’ve always enjoyed it! The little monsters are cute, and folks who want to reinterpret them generally gravitate toward the cutest of the cute. But now it feels personal: I can go out and find this creature, or if I already have, I know how it operates. I realize this is not a novel concept; obviously one will have a greater appreciation for art that they relate to beyond its surface level. But it’s interesting to me how much that appreciation has shifted for me, despite already having absorbed a fair amount of franchise knowledge simply by its cultural saturation.

Part of the reason, I suppose, that I never got into the franchise is because it has always been centered around Nintendo’s mobile consoles. I never owned mobile consoles2 until much later in life – my first was a DS Lite. What I didn’t realize was that this meant that from the beginning of the series, this focus on mobile meant there was a multiplayer aspect. If you truly wanted to ‘catch ‘em all’, you had to link up and trade with a friend who had the other version. A dear friend of mine (who has been very helpful in getting me up to speed on the basics) has Sword, and while we haven’t traded monsters, we have been sharing our finds with one another. It’s cute, and it’s clear that this culture of sharing has been baked in to the series from the beginning. I had no concept of this before; I deeply appreciate it now.

I guess that’s about all I have to say. I firmly believe that Pokémon Shield is a good game. It could be the worst game in the series, for all I know; that wouldn’t really matter. It has been a thing to share with friends, a thing to connect me to a community, and it has me convinced that I should go back and play the older games. To me, that’s good enough.

  1. Honestly, fan art for a lot of media franchises that I’m clueless about often crosses my path. It’s nice, regardless of what it is or whether I care about it ­ someone cares about it a great deal, and that pretty much always shows. ↩︎
  2. Okay, I had a Game.com, but… I think we can all agree that doesn’t count. ↩︎