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Today’s guitar-shredding Pokémon is losing its charm

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Pokémon Black Version 2 and Pokémon White Version 2 are just around the corner. Maybe I don't keep an eye on the right media outlets anymore, but somehow, I've missed out on the hype train for these releases. I thought now might be a good time to get informed, so I headed over to the official Pokémon site to get the company line.

I came away with this.

 

Pokémon has really undergone a scale shift since I was a kid. I suspect that in order to keep the attention of today's youth against competitors offering an “everything is deadly serious” mood, Nintendo had to up the ante. Let's break down what you just experienced:

  • Guitar-shredding “extreme” versions of tunes from the video game soundtrack
  • Wildly apocalyptic public collateral damage that fazes nobody (including flash freezing an entire city block)
  • Every bad guy engaging in nonsensical anime villain monologues
  • More fantastical Tokyo pop fashion than you can shake a stick at
  • An overabundance of ninjas
  • "I'm about to unleash my rage" guy at the 4:10 mark that came just shy of making me do a spit take.

Having absorbed this wildly outlandish spectacle, I'm struggling to extract meaning from it all. Has the target age demographic for Pokémon changed, or is it the same group but requiring higher standards to induce awe?

Pokémon 2Back when I was a kid (he said, suddenly feeling more old and crotchety than he ever thought possible), the stories of Pokémon games centered on becoming something like a cross between a boy scout and a child athlete. Your character traipsed through the wilderness dueling bug catchers, hikers, and swimmers (granted, with a suspicious acceptance for everyday sports gambling) to train for the big tournament with the Elite Four, after which you (presumably) went out for ice cream and came home to a warm bed. At the game world's most sinister point, you climbed a tower that acknowledged that these little critters would die someday, or you took on a whimsical parody of organized crime in Team Rocket.

Now it seems like the hero can't even be asked to walk out the door for anything short of laying waste to the countryside, dueling against famous idol singers, or “unleashing” his “rage.”

Maybe this is just the nature of intellectual properties targeted toward children. Every day, new kids are aging into the Pokémon target demographic (whatever age that might be). They're coming in with more and more jaded criteria for what is and isn't mind blowing. Publisher Nintendo and developer Game Freak are just doing what they have to in order to keep up in a rapidly and constantly evolving (pun intended) entertainment market.

None of this is going to stop me from buying the games this October, mind you. Having grown up watching anime, I still have a soft spot for the ridiculous. And the most recent games in the main series were a joy to play, demonstrating some of the finest iterative polish of any franchise in the industry. But I'll make those purchases with a self-aware chuckle and the understanding that while I'm still playing Pokémon, it's no longer that light-hearted adventure that first delighted me.


Robert Wiesehan is challenging himself to write five books and lose 92 pounds before he turns 30. He shares ideas and motivation twice each week on his video blog.


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