Review / Test:
He's a video game hero and he's yellow. It's not Pac-Man, because he's also so terribly cute that all girls, no matter their age, wish they could have one at home. Boys probably wish they could have one too, not to seduce girls, but to electrocute their rivals. I guess I'd better stop this silly little game of guessing now, because you all knew from the beginning I was talking about Pikachu. After all, what can you expect from a game which is entirely dedicated to the electric mouse ?
That's right, Pokemon Channel is all about Pikachu and his friends, or close relatives, such as the most excellent Pichu who, as a matter of fact, stars with his brother in his own Pokemon cartoon, available inside this game ! There had already been an attempt of the sort, a Pikachu-oriented software, for the previous Nintendo console, it was Hey You, Pikachu ! on Nintendo 64 which introduced and pretty much terminated, the use of a microphone device.
The GameCube has a microphone too, but it came much after Pokemon Channel, with Mario Party 6, so this game is not compatible with it. Instead, because communicating with your Pikachu is still one of the basic behind this title, you use a point and click interface with extremely simple commands. I have hardly played Hey You, Pikachu ! I just gave it a short try during a gaming exhibition, so I couldn't say if Pokemon Channel is something of a remake, of a sequel, or a totally different game altogether.
One thing is sure, because of its extremely simplified interface, it is a game aimed at very young kids. Not that it always succeeds in that way, but at least one has to keep in mind that it's definitely not just another entertainment from Nintendo for the whole family or harcore gamers. I guess there's no risk for this misconception though, people pretty much targeted the game as a kiddy game, rightfully for once, and the sales I feel were quite disastrous.
A deserved fate ? Well, the game fan may say yes but the person kind at heart says no. The game begins in our virtual hero's bedroom, that's yours, because the adventure is seen through your eyes. You just received a TV from Professor Oak for testing purposes, this TV will broadcast a new channel made by and for the Pokemon. Not long after you installed the TV, a wild Pikachu comes to peep into your house and even enter your bedroom. The beginning of a long frienship, well, not exactly if measured only in gameplay time.
With Pikachu, you will be free to visit places around your house and watch TV. "Free", "visit" and "watch TV", now if feels I'm talking like a promotional pamphlet. The game is far from giving you that much freedom of visiting places, neither do you have much choice in what you watch. There are quite many programmes actually to unlock, but all of them are very short, boring and useless, more than any of the worst mini-games in Mario Party.
As for moving, you cannot see your home except your own bedroom and the garden. Other areas include the plains, the sea shore, snowy mountains and the forest. Areas are tiny, two screens at best, with a few futile things to check. Point and click adventures can be real fun, remember the Kemco trilogy Shadowgate, Deja-Vu, and Uninvited on NES ? Maybe not, but it was a great deal of fun, you could actually do many things. Here, on the contrary, there are so few possibilities, that it takes just a couple of clicks to find everything there is to find in one area. After that, all you have to do is waste time doing the same things over and over, at different times of the day, because something might change or some Pokemon might appear.
The only exception is your bedroom, which is the less boring places of all. If I was cynical, I'd say this game is teaching kids to become geeks: outdoors sucks, stay in. The way interaction with TV is depicted is also quite dramatic. Being addicted to TV like Pikachu is, or like you are encouraged to become, seems a very positive thing, as ordering tons of useless Pokemon goods from TV shops is. Pikachu, the ambassador of super-capitalism and self-promotion ?
Nah, maybe not, that was just too cynical. Let's say it was one clumsy move from Nintendo. A very important part of the game is to develop a relation with Pikachu. Unfortunately, because everything in it is so limited, there's nothing much you can to do with Pikachu except move your hand-cursor on him and press the button to tap his head. Good boy. However, even despite these limitations, there's a lot Pikachu himself can do and express. This, is the most interesting part of the game and was a material for a possibly interesting title. Nintendo could have developed a very exciting adventure game in first-person view with the player accompanied by an intelligent Pikachu, reacting in a lot of different ways. Instead, they did not make a single effort besides this rather lively Pikachu.
Pikachu has different reactions to the programmes in particular, it's nice to see at least one of you is appreciating the TV, because for the player's part, entertainment is short-lived: Shop'N Quirtle (boring), the non interactive Pokemon News Flash (very boring), Quiz Wobbuffet (way too easy and very boring), Smoochum Shape-Up, non interactive, hence boring although it's quite fun to watch I confess, Smoochum's other programme, the Ranking, is a bit less bad than the rest as well, Slowpoke's Weather Broadcast (very boring), Fortune Channel (very boring), Mareep Farm (serves its purpose well), the Art Show, which of course is boring, and so is the failed coloring program. Shame for Nintendo to come up with something like this when 10 years ago they made Mario Paint !
The collecting process is not particularly enjoyable either; oddly enough, it's quite hard, I've been playing the game for some time and quite many items are still missing although I feel I've spent way too much time in the same areas finding nothing more. Rewards are poor, all you get is new decorations for your bedroom, new useless TV sets, cards and the like. The most rewarding is to get your hands on an emulated Pokemon-Mini, there are 9 games to find and as far as I can tell, they are well hidden. The games themselves are extremely short and simplistic, it's not even match for a Game & Watch although the purpose is the same: high-scoring.
Pokemon Channel is a boring game, it's sometimes excruciantingly boring, so slow-paced you may ask if the makers are not trying to waste every possible second before you lose temper. And how can they expect you to have fun just by endlessly collecting Pokemon cards ? Pokemon Channel also has a few qualities, small but not completely insignificant. For instance, the TV programmes are generally well designed, it's not much but might be worth something if you care about presentation. The tunes are fine too, although repetitive. My personal favorite idea in this game is the fact they included the Japanese version of the Pichu Bros. cartoon. Possibly the best thing Nintendo dared to do in a loooong while. But the one thing that makes a crucial difference is Pikachu. Pikachu is here in the game, he's lively, he's cuddly, and you'll never have a better chance to feel him being real than you have in this game. There was an opportunity for Nintendo to make something out of this, out of Pikachu's presence, pity is they failed and instead of a game made a soulless byproduct aimed at toddlers.
Samurai Nintendo thinks this game is suitable for everyone (kids over 7, teens and adults)
Official story and features:
"Players get to make great friends with Pikachu. Pokémon Channel is a highly innovative and diverse game that has enough substance to keep even the most avid Poké-maniac entertained for hours and hours. In Pokémon Channel, the Pokémon television station has lost segments of their most popular show. Players must find and collect the clips and return them to the station. To aid them in their quest, players call upon the help of Pikachu. Once all the pieces are collected, the show will be restored and ready for broadcast. Everyone can enjoy watching TV with Pikachu and find other ways to play with him. They can communicate with Pikachu by providing advice, or take him to a grassy field or forest and get to know other Pokémon."
Story from Nintendo press release
"- Explore and interact with many unique Pokémon-themed channels!
- Decorate your room with cool stuff you buy on the Shop 'N Squirtle channel!
- Be creative with Smeargle Paint! Freeze any TV scene as an outline, then paint with a wide variety of colors and patterns. Afterward, tune in to Smeargle's Art Study and have Smeargle critique your masterpiece!
- Enhance your Smeargle Paint experience by scanning the included Pokémon Channel-e cards! (Requires Nintendo e-Reader, Game Boy Advance system and Nintendo GameCube Game Boy Advance Cable, sold separately.)
- Turn off your TV and have fun in your yard, or grab a bus and explore beaches, mountains and woods. You'll meet many wild Pokémon and have great adventures!
- Play virtual versions of Pokémon mini -- the handheld minigames that offer quick, fun Pokémon action!
- Collect Nice Cards from wild Pokémon. Some of these cards even have the Pokémon's cry!"
Features from Nintendo site