Hangnails are annoying. They don’t really hurt — unless you’re a pro athlete. It’s minor but nagging — tedious stuff. You worry at the nail and the cuticle in your quest to deal with it, and once finished, you don’t feel like you’ve accomplished anything.
Pokémon is my hangnail.
Pokémon’s long been an irritant
Yet I had never played Pokémon until Y. My first encounter with the franchise wasn’t through actually playing the games but my first job as a — believe it or not — sports editor at a community newspaper. I was already 25 at this point, but up until then, I hadn’t had any real exposure to Pokémon other than ads for the show and first movie.
One of my coworkers was an older woman, and her son was obsessed with Pokémon — the card game, the TV series, the movies, and the video games. As a single mother who cared deeply about her children and their interests, she naturally tried to follow his card-collecting as best as she could. I don’t fault that.
But she kept bringing the cards into work so she could organize them in a massive binder for her son, and she kept talk about them in the newsroom. Right. Next. To. My. Desk.
A paper’s newsroom isn’t like many work environments. You stay alert, ready to take a phone call and keeping an ear on the police scanner for crimes and other incidents. So putting on some headphones and blocking out what was at the time my life’s greatest annoyance was not an option.
So every time even the idea of playing Pokémon came up, I just recalled how many hours I spent that year at work picturing her kid’s giant folder of cards serving as the kindling for a weenie roast.
My secret shame: I’m a Monster Rancher guy
Pokémon is geared to children. Nothing’s wrong with that — but when I came across it in my adulthood, the idea of running around as a child in a video game turned me off. (I had similar issues with Chrono Trigger and a host of others at the time as well.)
But one day, at my local game store (back in the “before time” when we had more independent video game shops than chains), I saw a box with a round, one-eyed monster on it. This immediately appealed to my love of Dungeons & Dragons. (The Beholder is among my favorite D&D monsters of all time.)
Yes, I realize that Monster Rancher is every bit as childlike as Pokémon, and as a game, it’s inferior. But I loved its hook — birthing monsters from CDs. I actually spent quite a bit of time putting random music CDs in my PlayStation to see what I could get. I would then fight these creatures, train them, take them exploring, or breed them with others. I eventually checked out every CD I could from my local library system in my pursuit for more monsters. I had a problem.
It’s also the hook that’s missing from Pokémon. You find your monsters by fighting. You don’t do anything else. And when the combat is as basic and straight-forward as in Pokémon, it’s hard to plow through to the point where you’re dealing with Evolutions and other, cooler aspects of these latest games.
My first time
Two weeks ago, I walked alone into a local GameStop. I never walk into GameStops (or saunter, waltz, or anything other verb you wish to use instead of “walk”). As primarily a PC player, I have no need to, and most of the console games I am interested in I get either from Amazon or the PSN and Nintendo online stores.
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So it felt weird walking in and asking the clerk if he had any copies of Pokémon in.
I turned 39 a month ago.
My discomfort increased the first time I played it. It was the next morning on my commute into downtown San Francisco. I ride the train, and its first S.F. stop is in the Financial District, so it draws well-heeled, well-dressed professionals. I happened to be sitting next to one of them.
Normally, I never feel weird about my gaming in public. I play either my PlayStation Vita or Nintendo 3DS during every commute, and even sometimes, I’ll get someone who looks over and digs what I’m playing. But that Monday, I did not.
I could feel the sneer on the man’s face. I heard the “Harumph” that followed, even through my headphones.
“Aren’t you a little old for Pokémon” he said — it was clearly a statement of dismissal, not a question.
At this point, I would normally answer such a challenge with an even greater one, puffing myself up to look even larger than I already am. But instead, I just shrugged my shoulders, said “It’s for work,” and carried on with what I was doing.
It was the first time — maybe ever — I felt weird about playing a game in public. And I don’t even feel weird about playing Atlus games on the train.
My first experience inside Pokémon Y wasn’t much better.
Mother, may I?
The first turnoff was the instruction to take off my pajamas, something your mother tells you to do. Really? While I realize the Pokémon series targets youngsters, even my 3-year-old knows he needs to take off his PJs before leaving the house. And why would anyone want to play a game where they’re told to take off their freakin’ PJs!
I found this condescending — not just to me as an adult but to any player. I know if 8-year-old Jason had been told to take off his PJs in a game, he would’ve been offended by that stupidity.
My rough introduction to Pokémon continued when I learned about the player’s quest — again, why are children Pokémon trainers and traveling the world? — and the first few battles.
Combat is boring. Trainers take out their monsters, pick one of a couple of different strategies, and attack, slugging it out until they either win or lose. The allure of finding new monsters lessened when as I realized that most of the critters’ attacks just plain stink. The animations of throwing out Pokéballs and finishing fights are boring as well, and after a few fights, I was tired of them and wished I could skip them.
Yes, once trainers get into Evolutions, attacks may get more interesting. But why should I have to slug through hours and hours of boring combat to get to that point? Card Hunter, a collectible card game I reviewed in September, has great combat even at low levels because of the way drawing cards brings about a random selection of attacks. Other RPGs have more variety as well — even a low-level character in a Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker game has more options when it comes to fighting.
And I really felt bad when I fought the preschoolers in the first town. My character had essentially become a bully, beating up kids not even old enough for kindergarten.
Kat Bailey, an occasional GamesBeat freelancer, an esteemed colleague, and a Pokémon expert, assures me that X & Y (and the franchise as a whole) gets better once you beat the story. She told me that the story is essentially a tutorial.
Sorry, but I’m not going to play tutorial that’s the size of a game just to reach the meat of that game. The eight hours I spent playing were plenty annoying, thank you.
GamesBeat’s 3DS XL has sat in my work bag for the past week, barely touched. Considering I had played it nearly every day before Pokémon arrived, I feel bad for the wee thing. I just can’t bring myself to pull it out, though — because I’d feel guilty if I weren’t playing Pokémon.
But I just can’t bring myself to play it any further. It’s just too tedious.
And when I have much more interesting collecting games at my hands — Card Hunter and Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft — I’m not going to spend my time playing Pokémon.
At least now that this story is done and I have lost my Pokémon virginity, I feel OK playing my 3DS again.
Pokémon Y, meanwhile, can wait on a shelf until my 3-year-old son is old enough to play it.
The author actually went out and bought this copy of Pokémon Y, thinking he might actually like the game. Now he wants his $40 back.
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