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Pokémon Mini: very small and cute.

Pokémon Mini is very small. It is about the same size as an old school stopwatch, tamagotchi, or newborn kitten. It is in fact the smallest cartridge based system ever. This makes it very cute. Cute like a Jigglypuff on an Electabuzz (thems some Pokémons humor there). Sickeningly cute. The cartridges are like tiny little peppermint candies and the system itself like a disembodied kitty head. Not really in form or function but in cuteness. There were around a dozen games ever made for the tiny, cute system and most of them were never released in the US. Pokémon Mini was in fact only sold stateside at the Pokémon Center in New York City or from their online store. To reinforce the system’s comeliness, the system was sold in the following selection of adorable colors: Smoochum Purple, Whooper Blue, and Chikorita Green. The color names are so adorable, I want to lick the system just thinking about it! Maybe not the Chikorita Green system. Chikorita sounds vaguely like a skin disease to me.

My Pokémon Mini is Whooper Blue. A Whooper is Pokémon number 194. I can find no additional information about the Whooper. There is a picture but he does not quite match the Pokémon Mini’s color. For some reason I find this mysterious.

I only have one game for Pokémon Mini, called ‘Pokémon Mini Pokémon Party Mini’, so says the cartridge with the cheerful picture of Pikachu on it. The cartridge is the size of a large postage stamp and yet manages to fit the word “Pokémon” on it four times and “Nintendo” three. The unit itself has another 2 instances of the words Nintendo and Pokémon so you won’t forget for a second that this is Nintendo’s Pokémon Mini. This is all before powering it on.

Once powered on the system chimes in a friendly sort of way then reminds you several more times that it is a Nintendo product that involves Pokémon and is in fact mini. There is no mention that the system is a choking hazard. I am concerned.

Pokémon Party Mini consists of a rather slim selection of offerings: Pikachu’s Rocket Start, Slowking’s Judge, Chansey’s Dribble, Bellossom’s Dance, Hitmonchan’s Boxing, Sneesel’s Fake Out, Battlefield, and Celebi’s Clock. Several of these are multiplayer only which can be played against others using the built in IR on the top of the unit. Celebi’s Clock is in fact not even a game but is instead a clock and stopwatch application. I suppose this could be useful for practicing your sprints, cooking eggs, and all your other timing things needs. If you are ever in Seattle and want to go a round of Battlefield with your Pokémon Mini I will totally pwn you. Seriously. I’m like a Pokémon master.

Each game has a handy “how to play” section. Pikachu’s Rocket Start patiently explains that “when you feel a rumble press the button quickly to win”. Sounds easy enough. Round one starts me out against Rattata. The Pokémon Mini rumbles commandingly in my palm and I jam on the itty bitty blue buttons. Barely a second elapses before I see a screen that says “You Lose!” with a picture of a listlessly depressed emo Pikachu. The only thing that would complete the picture would be razor blades and a half drunk bottle of gin. I try another few times repeatedly losing to the Rattata bastard before successfully making it to round two which is against a Pokemon called Eevee. I am unfamiliar with Eevee and, after the shame and humiliation of being beaten by a creature whose name is a palindrome, decide to try my skill elsewhere.

I watch the instructions for Bellossom’s Dance which also involves waiting for the unit to rumble. When it rumbles, two of the Bellossom on screen will move and when it rumbles again you must mimic their dance moves with a third player controlled Bellossom. The twist is that in addition to using the + pad, if they jump you must shake the unit. This looks suspiciously like a girl game and I decide to move on to something manly like Chansey’s Dribble.

Turns out Chansey’s Dribble is a soccer game which involves simply kicking a soccer ball down an empty field to a goal area. The game does not tell me if I have won or lost but rather takes me to a results screen. Chansey is shown all smiles regardless of how poorly I do. I decide to test the theory and set the game down and discover that the game will in fact play itself. Chansey manages to finish in 54.341 seconds without my help and seems very proud of himself. I decide that Chansey must have been dropped on his head a few times on the way out of the egg. Strangely there is something compelling about the game and I find myself playing several times trying to shave fractions of a second off my time.

It’s starting to get genuinely late and I have decided that I really want to wrap up this blog entry because I have been in serious crunch time at work and specifically picked the Pokémon Mini because it would be quick and easy to write about. I had played it for a bit when I first got it and thought it was cute but did not pay it much mind. The weird thing is that even though the games are super simple they are quite fun and innovative. The system itself seems like a prototype for both the gameplay style of the Wario World influenced mini game collections and the use of the system is almost proto-Wii. The boxing game has you shake the system to punch and the judging game has you press buttons to repeatedly judge if a tennis ball is in or out of bounds. How does Nintendo do it? They take inferior technology and stupidly simple game design and manage to make it fun. Maybe the nearly vomit inducing adorableness of the Pokémon license is what does it for me? Maybe it is some nostalgic masochism for the chime of a videogame-cum-wristwatch? I don’t know.

Whatever the case, people have actually gone to the trouble to hack the system so that they can design their own games for it. Emulators have been made for it. Other people have actually given the system more than a passing glance. It seem like the appeal should be strictly limited to die hard Pokémon fans and obsessive collectors of cheap plastic toys. There is something more here, like some sort of kiss of kitsch and a flimsy earnestness that makes it something more. Maybe it’s just that it is small and cute.

2 comments:

  1. I think the thing about the Pokemon Mini is that it's really so well engineered and so well built that it seems obvious to me that it was not originally intended as a quicky piece of Pokemon spin-off... I think it was probably meant as a "Game Boy Mini" through its development; Nintendo probably killed the project and then hunted around for something to do with the world's smallest usable handheld video game system, and decided a Pokemon system would sell, sell, sell... ;) For all its shortcomings in the software department, the hardware was pretty cool - it's too bad they didn't push it in another direction... Mario Mini anyone?

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  2. Pokemon Mini Tetris is like $100, but its the Best Tetris game ever made.

    you collect pokemon by making Tetris's at certain times. and it features alternate blocks version. but the thing i like most is that you can flip the pieces opposite by shaking the System.

    a portable system that features motion sensor, tilt sensor, rumble, wireless link, real time clock, and runs for 2 years on 1 AAA battery!!! this was the best system ever made.

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