What Ever Happened to Pokémon Pinball?
I’ve gone on record in the past expressing my desire for one of my favourite Pokémon spin-offs, Pokémon Snap, to receive a new entry in the series. But my purpose with this article is to propose a sequel to another criminally overlooked game that is crying out for an evolution; Pokémon Pinball.
Anyone not familiar with the spin-off may simply assume that Nintendo took a Pinball game, slapped the Pokémon brand on it and sold it to the legions of Pokémon fans desperate to throw their money at the nearest Pikachu branded item they see. But such a view would be a terrible misconception, and anyone who has played either game from the Pinball series will know that far more thought and attention went into it than one may first consider. True, the game was simply Pinball. Yes, it relied on its ties to the Pokemon franchise to shift copies. However, the depth and ingenuity in the game has kept me playing for years. Not a feat that many spin off titles can claim to have achieved with me.
For a pinball game, you play as you usually would, racking up a high score and trying to hold on to your balls…by which I mean not losing one of your pinballs. Just like the main series of games and the catchy nineties song that accompanied the Anime, the goal of Pokémon Pinball is to “catch ’em all” So, every once in a while, when a certain criteria is met, the opportunity to catch one of the little critters arises, and by flipping your Pokéball Pinball, your goal is to hit the Pokémon a certain number of times, therefore “catching” the Monster. Once they are successfully concealed in their Pokéball, they will be added to your PokéDex which is accessible from the start menu. And this is where the real appeal of Pokémon Pinball lies; your Dex has spaces for all 151 Generation One Pokemon. And catching ’em all is no easy achievement!
Starting the game, you are presented with the choice of the red board or the blue board. Both have different layouts, making the game less repetitive, but like the board’s namesakes, Blue and Red have unique Pokémon available, meaning that completing your Dex will mean excelling in both stages. Now, I always preferred and was more skilled on the red board, but mastering the blue board was something I would have to do in order to catch all of it’s unique Pokémon and fill out my Dex. For example, if you started on the Red board you could begin in Pallet and have the opportunity to catch Pokémon usually found there like the starters Bulbasaur, Charmander and Squirtle. Moving to a new location to catch new Pokémon is achieved by once again meeting certain goals that enable “Map Move Mode”. Players could also evolve their monsters through “Evolution Mode” or even enter a series of special stages featuring the likes of Gengar and Meowth, which would have to be completed numerous times before having the ability to catch the real rarities, the elusive legendaries Mew and Mewtwo, an achievement I still can’t claim to have done. Couple the addictive gameplay in with catchy 8-bit Pokémon tunes (including a nice chiptune rendition of the Japanese anime intro) and you have have Pokémon Pinball.
The game was a success, and in 2003, was followed by a sequel; Pokémon Pinball: Ruby & Sapphire, focusing this time on the Pokémon and locations from Generation Three’s Hoenn Region. Unfortunately, Generation Two’s Gold & Silver were overlooked which surely everyone can agree was a far better generation of monsters. That aside, the follow up added a few new features such as an “Egg Mode” which allows you to hatch PokéEggs and a Pokémon Mart where players can spend their hard earned coins on in-game upgrades and power ups. One of the most notable features is the ability to play through the Game Boy Player, therefore utilising the Gamecube Controller’s Rumble feature and bypassing the need for a bulky battery sapping cartridge as with the original. All in all PP: R&S was very similar to it’s predecessor, with a few graphical tweaks and with your Kanto Spearows replaced with Hoenn Taillows and Seels making way for Spheals, and so on.
Ten years and three generations later we’re yet to see a third instalment in the Pokémon Pinball series. There was no PP: Diamond and Pearl, PP: Black and White and it’s highly unlikely that we’ll see a PP: X and Y. Nintendo even experimented with other Pinball spin-offs in the past with the likes of Mario Pinball Land and the immensely enjoyable Kirby’s Pinball Land giving their other franchises the arcade machine treatment. But it’s been a number of years since Nintendo gave us another Pinball experience. The Nintendo 3DS seems like the perfect home for a potential third Pokémon Pinball instalment. 2005’s Metroid Prime Pinball for the Nintendo DS demonstrates perfectly that the system’s dual screens would lend themselves much better to a Pinball based game than lone screen of the Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance did. The title could even be developed as a download title, meaning it need not be a full fleshed out retail game.
So why has Nintendo avoided a third Pokémon Pinball game? PP:R&S sold significantly less than PP’s 5.3 million global sales, bringing in just over 1.5 million sales. Perhaps Nintendo feel that another Pinball game will lack the kind of heavyweight sales that games in the series usually deliver. But surely there will come a time when fans tire of the Ranger or Mystery Dungeons games, which between them have seen 12 releases and have frequently failed to bring in sales any higher than PP:R&S. Although both have their own charms and style, surely it’s time to give the Pinball franchise another shot. With there definitely being no shortage of Pokemon or regions to use, Pokémon Pinball could receive new life and be bumped back up in popularity.
All this begs the question: “will we ever see another Pokémon Pinball title?”. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely. Maybe in this modern age of gaming, people just aren’t interested in playing the humble game of pinball, and if that’s the case I for one will be sorely disappointed. But should Nintendo ever announce a third Pokémon Pinball title, I’ll be first in line at the store, with my cape and pointy hat, ready to become a Pokémon Pinball Wizard once again.