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Look what's going to suck next.
06.09.06 / 12:45AM / Joe

Because we all knew they were doing it, here's the first look at Pokemon Battle Revolution, the first Pokemon game for the Wii (link via Kotaku via YouTube).

Before you get too excited, note that there's a gigantic Wailord floating above the stadium battlefield. That's right, yet again we have to see water-based pokemon suddenly defy gravity for the duration of the battle.

Is it possible for Nintendo to learn anything from the previous boring, awful N64/GameCube Pokemon games? Because that footage shows to me that they haven't figured out why the console game sales are a mere fraction of the total sales of the "core" GB/GBA Pokemon sales. And it doesn't bother them that sales are falling for the mighty franchise. With every new console release, more people bail. Isn't anybody saying "Man, we really ought to try to get the console game numbers up there with the GBA game numbers"? Anybody?

(Although I am pleased that the trainer designs seem to be emulating Pokemon artist Ken Sugimori's understated, classy anime style... rather than aping the Digimon so-hip-it-hurts look of Colosseum and XD.)

I know, it's great that Pikachu's attack actually makes physical contact with the Deoxys. In Stadium / Stadium 2 / Colosseum / XD, no pokemon ever touched another pokemon. The closest you got was the laser beam-style attacks, because the beam could actually whack an opponent.

So a lot of Pokemon fans are thrilled with this development, which just shows the sorry state of expectations we all have for this game.

I posit this: a jumping tackle attack is the absolute easiest thing they could have done to fake us out. Look at what actually happens in the clip. The camera is behind Pikachu as he runs across the field, which is nice (remember, we had simple running animations before, just restricted to a forward camera view so the runner was never actually shown reaching the target.) Pikachu jumps and plants his feet into Deoxys chest, and a white impact flare appears.

We didn't see a Machamp picking up an enemy and throwing him across the stadium. We didn't see a Victreebel using a Wrap attack, encasing the opponent with his vines. We didn't see a Jynx waddle over and romantically lean in for a Lovely Kiss.

We saw the world's simplest attack, performed by pokemon of roughly the same size scale, and covered with a flashy lighting effect. What does it look like if Pikachu tries to paw-kick a giant flying Rayquaza? Or a long, skinny Onyx? Or even that ridiculous floating Wailord?

I think we're being visually fooled here, and that Pokemon Battle Revolution will be more of the same coma-inducing garbage that murdered the previous "major" Pokemon console titles.

The sales charts are the writing on the wall for the franchise. Even on the portable side, we're getting tired of looking at the same old thing. If you think I'm excited about this Pokemon Pearl/Diamond screenshot - the next core Pokemon game, on the DS - you're quite wrong. Once again, 2D sprites are facing off over a barely-there background. Aside from tinier pixels and increased color depth, there's nothing that differentiates this shot from a Pokemon Red battle shot on the original Game Boy, ten years ago.

I'm not saying we lose the classic turn-based action. I'm not saying we lose the complicated, math-geek attack system. I'm not saying we go for an uber-realistic 3D graphic style.

I'm saying the games need to start looking better-than-last-gen, and that they need to start feeling like actual battles. These characters perform like trained wrestlers in the cartoon, why can't they do the same in the games? Is there no way to preserve the gameplay basics but provide a more compelling and interactive presentation? The franchise desparately needs a fun transfusion, because Nintendo cannot continue to bank on little kids who buy the games no matter what. They're growing up and dropping out.

Here's what we need:

1. Real audio
No more obnoxious transister radio sound effects posing as pokemon voice work. Every damn pokemon has appeared in the TV show with a genuine, distinct voice. Get those sounds in the game.

2. No more hovering
It is obvious nonsense to have swimming characters float in mid-air. Fish cannot hover. Just have the stadium floor part and reveal a pool whenever a water-based fighter is used. Or ban the damn things from "dry" arenas. You almost never see the cartoon leads pull out a water type in a non-aqua stadium anyway.

But beyond that, the flying types should not be animated in a perpetual hover either. If you field an Articuno, it should stand on the damn ground between attacks, not be stuck flapping its wings like an impossibly slow helicopter. Note that this does not apply to creatures that can logically hover in place, like most of the bug types.

3. Counter moves
It's time we expand the battle system to include user-triggered counter moves. If your Forretress is about to get smacked by an incoming Double Slap, you should be able to call out an Iron Defense move to temporarily defend from the attack. It is entirely possible to add instant counter moves without destroying the core turn-based system. The days of one guy just blindly standing there while he gets face-bludgeoned should be behind us.

4. Trainer reactions
Look, if the in-game trainer characters are just going to stand on the sidelines in a Street Fighter bobbing loop, take them out. They should be as animated as their pokemon, reacting to all the takedowns and washouts. They should provide visual cues that you're fielding a mis-matched type. They should be seen comforting a fighter who has taken a ton of damage. They should pace nervously when you're on the ropes.

And as you climb up the tournament ladder, I want people in the stands too.

5. No jump cuts
Watching a battle in Pokemon Colosseum was eye-clawingly terrible. These are full-fledged mega-sporting events in the Pokemon Universe, yet the repetitous, amateur camera work turned them into snoozefests. The big issue was the limited character interactions that required jump cuts between every shot to preserve that total separation. You even got a jump between animations on the same character, like when a pokemon gets knocked out.

That Wii movie shows some impressive movement towards this direction. My fingers are crossed that it wasn't just a cinematized demo version of the real thing.

6. RPG, not MMORPG
There's been a call for a Pokemon MMORPG for years now. Fans are rabid for it. Every new Pokemon game gets grilled in the forums over any hope of being an MMORPG. Well, I'm here to tell you that A) Nintendo will never do it. And B) It's not what you really want anyway.

There's a difference between an MMORPG and an RPG with online multiplayer. Gang, we want the latter. This intensely detailed Pokemon MMORPG fandream wastes a lot of time talking about how people will be able to build their own cities and stores on a persistent, undiscovered continent. Complete crap. No one is going to buy a Pokemon MMORPG and then go run a bike shop. Jesus.

No, the MMORPG style is decidedly NOT the way to go. Despite that guy's rose-colored view, you do not want your Pokemon experience at the mercy of other players in an always-on environment. This setting is not World of Warcraft. It makes no sense as an MMORPG. To have a gameworld where every single player is an awesome pokemon trainer (because NO ONE is going to opt for the "Poke Ball Manufacturer" character class) is completely at odds with the very concept of the GBA games: that trainers are few and far between, akin to professional athletes. It'd be like Star Wars with nothing but Jedi.

We need the bulk of the gameplay to be single-player or small-party-multiplayer, because it has to keep YOU as the focus... the eager young up-and-comer with a dream of being the Champion. We want Nintendo to be in control of the Gyms, or else we're at the whim of a nation of assholes.

As I proposed over three years ago, the way to do it is to limit the online portion. After you beat all eight Gyms, then you travel down Victory Road to the online arena. Once inside, you're online and matched up with other players looking to battle. If you win enough games over the course of a weekend, you advance up the ranks and could potentially win the championship... but here's where it gets fun for everybody: that championship was created just for you. So it's not like only the best jerks out there can monopolize the ranks every week; the game takes care of everybody individually.

Sure, you can brag about how many weekly championships you've won, track friendships with online players, exchange email and items and trade through the Pokemon Center PC system, and meet up with other players on Victory Road for exhibition matches. But everybody has a shot at getting the title, which would be how you "beat" Pokemon Online.

And aside from all that, we want an offline RPG saga that is just as detailed as the best of the GB/GBA games. Real time. Weather cycles. Swarming patterns. Breeding. Berry harvesting. Minigames. TV/radio updates. Fetch quests. Hidden locations. Contests. Game parlor. Secret bases. Not just walking from town to town looking for the next plot point fight.

We need to get away from the MMORPG pipe dream and convince Nintendo to give us the best of both worlds. We need to stop mindlessly buying console Pokemon games that are nothing but overdrawn battle sequences that value surface over substance. (My god, the GameCube ones even dropped the N64 minigame mode!) We need Pearl/Diamond to lift us above the half-assed cash-in of LeafGreen/FireRed. And we need a "big brother" - a console edition - that we can be proud of.

There are reasons why the original Pokemon trilogy surpassed expectations, leapt global borders, and crossed into every possible age group. Because the games were deep and engrossing and accessible. Because the characters were memorable and customizable and intriguing. Because there was so much to do, we couldn't believe this was only a handheld game.

Yes, Pokemon has been whored out and commercialized as kiddie crack. ("Gotta Catch 'Em All!") I don't mind the Snaps and Puzzle Leagues and Trozeis and Channels... all the franchise sub-games that extend the IP's market worth (some more so than others). But for Nintendo to continue the success of the brand, the portable games and the console games need to be BIG. And GOOD. They can still maintain the quality of the core games. And as fans, we should push them in the right direction.

 

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