Last week saw the announcement of Pokemon Sun and Moon, which I'm sure is very exciting for a lot of people. Personally, I ran out of patience with the main Pokemon games a couple of releases ago - after dozens of games following the same "grab the critters, collect the badges, beat the Elite Four" pattern, the exhortation to "catch 'em all" has worn extremely thin. That's not to say I'm anti-Pokemon or anything, though. I have a lot of affection for the games I did play and the Pokemon I raised, and I'm still interested in what's going on in the wonderful world of Pocket Monsters. To that end, I visited the Official Pokemon Website and you know what? It's got minigames!
That's right, there are about thirty-five Flash browser games that you can play if the idea of playing a proper videogame is a bit too much for you. Are they mostly clones of simple and overly-familiar games with a hastily applied coat of Pokemon-coloured paint? I don't think I really need to answer that. I'm going to play a few of them - not all of them, because while I still like Pokemon I don't think I would after playing thirty-five Flash games - and report back.
I will be skipping this one, however. I don't need to see a weird tree goblin flinging its seed, thank you very much.
First I have to set up a Trainer Account. You get Pokemon Fun-Bux for playing the games, you see, and I don't want them to go to waste.
Here's my attempt to recreate my glorious presence in the Trainer Creator, and I have to say it's a pretty accurate likeness of me... circa 2002. The same shoes and everything, although I was perhaps even paler back then. I'd aim for a more up-to-date recreation of the VGJunk look, but there are no options for greying temples or pot bellies, so I'll have to spend this article looking at myself from a time when I was fresh and full of life.
It was the most prominent game featured on the page, but I would have headed straight for Escape From Gengar's Mansion even if it had been tucked away in a hidden corner of the Pokemon server, my finely-honed spook-senses pulling me towards it. This will come as no surprise to anyone who's ever read VGJunk in October, but ghost-type Pokemon are generally my favourites, (with poison a close second,) so this was a natural starting point for this Pokemon oddysey.
Ghost Pokemon are desperately lonely creatures, and they just want you to stay and be their friend. Alternatively, this is a ploy to trap a human in a place of inescapable, non-Euclidean geometry so they can feed on their captive's life essence. That's one of my favourite things about Pokemon, some of those Pokedex entries can get pretty messed up.
A Gastly appears - always a good start, because Gastly and it's evolutionary line are some of the very best of Pokemon's first generation - and tries to trap you in the house by giving you directions in the form of a big arrow. However, ghost Pokemon are tricksy sorts and pathological liars, so to escape you must follow the opposite direction. That is, when a left-pointing arrow appears, you hit right on the keyboard, and so on. It sounds simple enough, but you have to hit a certain amount of correct answers within the time limit and making one mistake results in a game over. I'm not sure why one wrong answer is a game over, mind you. Is the Gastly trying to direct me to my death? Yeah, let's go with that. He just wants a friend, even though this mansion is already packed with ghosts.
Clear the first stage and you go up against Haunter, the unimaginatively-named haunting Pokemon. It's the same thing but with more correct answers required to pass, and the addition of the random Pumpkaboo. A friendly and helpful ghost that died without without the lingering resentments of its more purple compatriots, the Pumpkaboo tries to help by showing you the correct button to press. Of course, all this does is throw off your concentration and cause you to fail, so maybe that was Pumpkaboo's plan all along.
Finally there's Gengar, looking as always like a ten-year-old bully and a teddy bear died at the exact same moment, causing their souls to fuse together in the afterlife. Look at the bead of sweat trickling down his fat head, Gengar knows that I've cracked the secret to his directions and will soon be escaping the mansion. He seems a little embarrassed about it.
There you go, Escape From Gengar's Mansion is complete, and as a reward you're given a link to download a desktop wallpaper based on the minigame. I am using this wallpaper right now, because I really do like ghost Pokemon, so I guess this was time well spent. I won't upload it here, but you can just about see what it looks like in the screenshot above and if you really want it you can play through Escape From Gengar's Mansion. Don't despair, it only takes about five minutes, although it is one of the more involved games on the Pokemon website so that'll give you an idea of the kind of things we'll be seeing next.
Things like Drifloon's Fill and Float, a game of bubble, balloons and rainbow-coloured potions. Hang on, isn't Drifloon the Pokemon that sometimes kidnaps children? Maybe this is how it gets close to them, blending in with all the other balloons until bam, sorry mom and pop but little Timmy is gone, spirited away to live in the Cloud Kingdom as a slave to his rubbery, soulless abductors.
Oh right, the game. You hold the mouse button down to make a bubble. The longer you hold the button, the bigger the bubble. If the bubble touches a balloon it bursts, so to score points you need to blow and release the biggest bubble you can in the gaps between the balloons. It is precisely as interesting as it sounds. Next!
No collection of low-effort minigames would be complete with a jigsaw puzzle, and here's Pokemon's take with Zorua and Zoroark Puzzle Pack. Can you call something a "pack" if it only contains two things? I suppose there could be different jigsaws unlocked over time or as you reach higher scores, but I doubt it. Instead you get an "Easy" jigsaw, and a "Challenging" one. This is the challenging option, and I could see where a larger jigsaw with some pieces that show nothing but pure white might be difficult, but this is small enough that it's doable by all but the youngest Pokemon Trainers pretty easily. The real challenge of Challenging mode is surviving the soundtrack, a four-second loop of nondescript parpy tunes that would work much better for forcing dissidents to leave occupied embassies than AC/DC does.
My least-favourite gameplay mechanic - the sliding block puzzle - rears its ugly, pointless and boring head in Eevee's Tile Trial, with "trial" being a fairly good descriptor for it. You slide the blocks to make lines of three matching tiles, which then disappear. At the start of the game you can choose between fire, lightning and water, and if you manage to complete more groups of your chosen element than the other two then your Eevee will evolve, for reasons that don't extend beyond "more points" from what I can see. The problem is (aside from the core issue of this being a sliding block puzzle and therefore The Worst) that the tiles you're dealt are random, so even if you care enough to think hard about your moves you might not be able to evolve your Eevee anyway.
Against my better judgement I actually played this one twice just to show you what happens when your Eevee evolves, other than the high-pitched whining sound generated by Darwin rapidly spinning in his grave. You get points and a picture. It wasn't worth it. There's at least one more sliding block puzzle in this minigame collection, too, so it's lucky (or unlucky, depending on your take) that I didn't play those two games first or I would never have written this article.
Classic three (or four, in this case) card monte action in Psyduck's Shuffle Surprise, where you're told to remember a card's location as it's shuffled around. Pick the correct card from the mixed-up deck and win, which is entirely possible because this is a Nintendo product and they're not running a scam on you or anything. It's probably the best computerised version of three card monte I've ever played, and this is solely down to the inclusion of Psyduck's confused face peering in at the bottom of the screen. Does that make me shallow? Probably, but I feel such a kinship with Psyduck's default emotion - bewilderment so intense it's giving him a migraine - that I'll give him a pass on appearing in this barely-there Flash game. I was trying to figure out why they chose Psyduck specifically for this game when he has no bearing at all on the gameplay and any Pokemon could have filled the role, but then I figured it out: Psyduck is using its psychic powers to shuffle the cards through telekinesis, which is why Psyduck is better than Pikachu. Speaking of Pikachu, I was very surprised to see that none of the games are based around Pokemon's rosy-cheeked mascot. There's a Raichu game, but Pikachu is conspicuous by his absence, something I never thought I'd say about any Pokemon product.
This is Gothita's Portrait Panic, and before I get into the game itself, two things: firstly, I know I said I was burned out on Pokemon games but now I've found out there's a goth pokemon I might have to get back into it. As a closet goth, having a Pokemon that probably listens to The Danse Society on my team appeals to me. I'll catch one, name her Bauhaus and assume she spends all her non-battling time shopping for corsets. According to it's Pokedex entry, Gothita "stares intently at everything," presumably judging the world for its inability to see the dark majesty of the grave. Secondly, that duck has no idea what is going on.
Definitely one of the more interesting games on this list, the aim of Gothita's Portrait Panic is to use your catapult to fire paint-balloons at a drawing of a Pokemon with the aim of colouring in the whole picture. Where most of the other games featured here are extremely simple, GPP is one of the few to try and expand on its basic mechanics: for example, you have to hold the button down to fill your balloon, but hold it too long and the balloon will pop, wasting time and paint. The pictures are suspended on boards, and the boards swing about depending on where you hit them, sometimes making things more difficult but also giving you opportunities to use the motion as an advantage. Because the paint-balloons "splash" in a semi-realistic way, if you can land a shot while the board's at an angle the paint will splash further. These kinds of things, plus a bonus mode and rewards for firing small, rapid shots, mean that GPP is the one game of the bunch that I'd recommend you try if you're desperate to play a Pokemon minigame.
Oh look, there's Pikachu now. If you ever wanted to shoot Pikachu in the face with a catapult, here's your chance to get some practise in.
If you didn't see Turtwig's Target Smash and immediately hear a mental voice yelling "Break The Targets!" you're either a liar or you've never played Smash Bros.
Another of the Pokemon website's more enjoyable games, and as someone who's never played Angry Birds I assume this is what Angry Birds is like except, no-one is ever angry in the twinkling technicolour world of Pokemon. They ought to have called it Happy Turtles, really. Turtwig moves up and down on an elevator, waiting to throw energy balls at the targets. Hold the mouse button to charge up your shot - the longer you hold, the flatter the trajectory - and try to hit as many targets as possible with each throw. Things are made more complicated by obstructive blocks and special coloured targets that disappear quickly if you don't smash them. This one's a pleasant enough time-waster, particularly if you like seeing cartoon turtles vomiting up molten plasma energy.
This is especially true when you finish the stage and Turtwig suddenly remembers Goku is living in his tonsils.
Maractus's Blooming Blossoms is a colour-matching game where you aim is to rotate the circles to make circles containing only one colour, and it works just as well as any other colour-matching game although in this game - as well as a few others - there is a tendency for the playfield to become obscured by the various effects and messages that pop up as you play. It's hard to plan your next move when there a big grey dialogue box covering everything, you know? It's nothing special as a game, but Maractus's Blooming Blossoms does have one thing going for it: a decent soundtrack. Most of the other games have music ranging from "blander than an unmarked manila envelope" to "the blasphemous chimes of Satan's alarm clock," MBB's salsa tune sounds like the kind of music a sentient cactus creature would make, if it had opposable thumbs and external ears.
If I was trying to describe Munchlax's Berry Bonanza succinctly, I'd say "floppy Puyo Puyo." You drop berries into the arena one at a time, and if three or more of them touch they disappear. Beyond that, MBB diverges from the usual in a couple of ways. For starters, the berries don't conform to a grid like, say, Tetris pieces, and will obey physics to an extent as they roll around, bounce off each other and eventually settle into place. The other unusual feature is that any group of three or more you create won't immediately disappear. Instead you have to stop dropping berries and wait a while, and after five seconds or so any completed groups will disappear. This makes MBB feel surprisingly different to other falling-tile puzzlers than it first appears, allowing you create huge piles of fruit before allowing the whole thing to collapse in on itself. It's a more sedate approach to the genre, then, and one that I reckon could make for a fairly compelling game with some tweaking.
I suppose it makes sense that a game starring Munchlax would be a slow, deliberate affair regarding the consumption of food, even if most of those berries look rather unappetizing. You've got spiked red hell-chunks, lumpy purple ones that are clearly poisonous, cartoon bombs disguised as berries, the Spotted Arse-Fruit and those things on the left that look like the unholy union of grapes and corn. That's the world of Pokemon, where getting your five-a-day will almost certainly result in an agonising death.
More berries and more knock-offs of classic puzzle games with Tepig's Tasty Treat Toaster, which is Puzzle Bobble. Puzzle Bobble with a picture of a cartoon pig nearby is still just Puzzle Bobble, you know? It's not even a great version of Puzzle Bobble, my enjoyment hampered by some inaccurate ball physics and the game's steadfast refusal to give me any bloody yellow berries.
It's Jumpluff's Sky-High Glide! Help Jumpfluff get wherever the hell he's going - the shops, a high-powered business meeting, alcoholics anonymous - by flapping him through the air, using air currents to speed him along and collecting extra spores for added lift. Watch out for trees and evil winds that will push you backwards! Wonder why you're still playing bad Flash games! Marvel at the fact Jumpluff has precisely zero frames of animation and floats across the screen like a cardboard cut-out!
For the final game, I went back to where I started and indulged by affection for ghost Pokemon with Gastly's Hidden Haunt, although frankly I wish I hadn't bothered. As I slowly moved cursor through the exact same background for stage after tedious stage, I couldn't help but think that this was an ironic punishment for my slightly shameful admission that I like spook-themed hidden object games. The focus of the game is light cleaning duties, as you search the house for cobwebs to eliminate. There's some interesting stuff done with hiding cobwebs between the layers of parallax scrolling, but because the background location never changes you soon learn where all the hiding spots are, making it one of the few games here that gets easier the more you play it.
There you go, I found Gastly. Now we can all return to our homes and play better, more interesting videogames. Before I sign off, however, because I've played so many games on the Pokemon website I've managed to amass 150 Trainer Points, which can be spent on items of clothing for your avatar. Let's see what all those points can buy me at the store, shall we?
With my 150 coins, I could afford a grand total of two measly items: the ugliest piece of clothing available, because nothing screams "class" like brown and gold spandex, and a Gengar hat. I'm happy enough with the Gengar hat. If I was going to choose a Pokemon to decapitate and skin in order to use its hide as a hat, Gengar would be near the top of my list.
So, those are some of the games available at pokemon.com. If you are responsible for a small child who likes Pokemon - although I don't think there are many of those left, what with all the sexting and knife crime they have nowadays - then these games might keep them occupied long enough for you to get twenty minutes of merciful rest. Otherwise, I would stick to trying to catch 'em all in the relaxingly predictable and unchanging world of the proper Pokemon games.