Talking Movies [PokéMonth]: Pokémon 3: The Movie: Spell of the Unown

Upon the release of Pokémon: Blue Version and Pokémon: Red Version (Game Freak, 1996), a new craze swept through playgrounds across the world. An entire generation grew up either playing Pokémon, watching the anime, playing the trading card game, and watching the feature-length movies as clever marketing and a co-ordinated release and multimedia strategy saw Nintendo’s newest franchise become not just a successful videogame franchise but a massively lucrative and popular multimedia powerhouse that endures to this day. Accordingly, February 27th is now internationally recognised as “National Pokémon Day”, which I expanded to an entire month of Pokémon this February.

Released: 8 July 2000
Director: Kunihiko Yuyama
Distributor: Toho
Budget: $3 to 16 million
Stars: Veronica Taylor, Eric Stuart, Rachael Lillis, Amy Birnbaum, Dan Green, and Ikue Ōtani

The Plot:
Professor Spencer Hale (Green) is transported to a chaotic dimension by the mysterious Unown (Various), leaving his young daughter, Molly (Birnbaum), devastated and alone. Her grief causes the Unown’s power to rage out of control, manifesting an illusionary Entei (Green) and transforming her home into a crystal-like palace. When Entei kidnaps Ash Ketchum’s (Taylor) mother, Delia (ibid) to appease Molly’s wish for a mother, Ash and friends must brave the danger to break the Unown’s unruly spell.

The Background:
Pokémon (Nintendo/Creatures/Game Freak, 1995 to present) was an absolute phenomenon when it came over from Japan: it swept through playgrounds as kids played the videogames, collected the trading cards, and were mesmerised by the still-ongoing anime series (1997 to present). This fantastic marketing strategy was all it took for the aptly-titled Pokémon: The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back (Yuyama, 1998) to become a box office success and kick-started a whole series of feature films designed to expand upon the anime and promote both the newest Pokémon videogames and showcase the franchise’s most powerful and elusive beasts. Although it earned less than the blockbuster first movie, Pokémon the Movie 2000: The Power of One (Yuyama, 1999) still made over $130 million against a $30 million budget and Pokémon was arguably at its peak thanks to the anticipation around the newest games in the series. The third feature-film was afforded a much smaller budget than its predecessors and was the first Pokémon movie to premier in IMAX cinemas. Unfortunately, the film’s $68.5 million box office meant that it was the least successful of the first three Pokémon movies and it was met with largely negative critical reviews; however, it has amassed something of a cult following and is regarded by some to be one of the best Pokémon movies.

The Review:
Pokémon 3: The Movie opens in the beautiful town of Greenfield, a lush and verdant town in the Johto region that is knowing for is sweeping hills, windmills, and fields of flowers. It’s also home to the Spencer Hale and his daughter, Molly, who live in a luxurious mansion that overlooks the entire town. Every evening, Spencer reads to his inquisitive and loving young daughter from a picture book that imagines what some Legendary Pokémon look like; although she’s particularly taken with Entei, she also highlights the mysterious Unown, a group of interdimensional, Psychic-type Pokémon who have long been the subject of Spencer’s extensive research. However, while Spencer and Molly have a very close, loving relationship, it’s clear that there’s a void in the lives and their household due to the disappearance of the Spencer matriarch, who mysteriously vanished one day while helping Spencer with his research, leaving Molly without a mother and Spencer to carry the burden of guilt.

Molly is devastated when her father disappears, and overjoyed when he “returns” as Entei.

Spencer has doubled down on his research; aided by his assistant, Schuyler (Ted Lewis), Spencer has been conducting an in-depth investigation into a site of ruins where the stone walls are covered in carvings that resemble the Unown. Unfortunately, after discovering a chest full of small stone tablets engraved with the different alphabetical shapes of the Unown, Spencer is also whisked away to the cosmic void of the Unown Dimension, a swirling place of mystery while the Unown constantly rotate around and sing their names. Schuyler is left dumbfounded at Spencer’s sudden disappearance, and Molly is left absolutely heart-broken and alone; with both of her parents gone, she’s left only with the Unown puzzle pieces and the heartfelt wish to have her father returned to her. Her tearful plea summons the Unown and, while she is delighted that they’ve come to “play with [her]”, their true intention is slightly more malicious as they apparently feed off of her grief-stricken wishes in order to become stronger. Fuelled by her dreams of a crystalline home, the Unown transform the mansion a piece at a time until it represents pictures from Spencer’s book, and their power is so great that they’re able to answer her desire for the return of her father by conjuring an illusion of Entei, whom Molly believes is her father’s spirit returned to her.

Ash risks everything to rescue his mother, who is captured and brainwashed to be Molly’s “Mama”.

Quite coincidentally, Ash, Pikachu (Ōtani), and former gym leaders Misty (Lillis) and Brock (Stuart) just happen to be passing by and run across a trainer native to the area, Lisa (Lisa Ortiz). After Brock strikes out with her (with one of the film’s most amusing lines, “I’m Brock, from Pewter City! And I want to be your boyfriend!”) and Ash is able to beat her in a surprisingly evenly matched Pokémon battle during the film’s opening credits, Lisa guides them to Greenfield so that they can rest up at the Pokémon Center and take in the town’s much-lauded beauty. Suffice it to say that Ash is unimpressed, and the group is horrified, to find that the once stunning landscape has been almost completely overtaken with the Unown’s bizarre crystalline wasteland. Even perennial bothers Jessie (Lillis), James (Stuart), and wise-cracking Meowth (Maddie Blaustein) of Team Rocket are stunned to find Greenfield in such a state, and it’s not long before a news crew (Kathy Pilon and Roger Kay) arrive to try and restore order and report on the strange events. Back in Pallet Town, Delia Ketchum, Ash’s mother, sees the news report and is distraught at the continued suffering of her old friend, Spencer Hale, and she and Professor Samuel Oak (Stuart Zagnit) resolve to travel to Greenfield to get to the bottom of the what’s happening, and to check on Molly. While others are alarmed by the startling transformation of Greenfield, Molly revels in her crystal palace; she delights in playing with her “Papa” and seeing her wishes literally spring to life before her eyes, but her longing for her mother remains. Seeing Delia on the news broadcast reminds her not only of her own mother, but also of the times when Delia and Ash would visit her and her family in years past, and she wishes for Entei to bring her a “Mama” to complete their little family. This adds an interesting personal wrinkle to the film’s plot that has been absent from the previous two films as Entei boldly introduces itself to our heroes by subduing and kidnapping Delia right before Ash’s eyes and holding her captive in Molly’s crystalline palace. Ash is horrified when his mother is kidnapped, and immediately leads his friends on a rescue mission to get her back, literally putting his life at risk to brave the crystal wasteland and scale the tower and reach her.

Entei is the Unown’s avatar and determined to do whatever it takes to protect Molly, regardless of the morality.

Although Entei’s powers are formidable enough to render Delia a mindless drone who fully believes that she’s Molly’s “Mama”, its spell is broken when Delia sees Ash in danger, but she’s smart enough to quickly realise what’s been going on and to play along with the deception in order to try and reach Molly. Delia recognises that Molly has been very alone for a long time, even before Spencer went missing, and sympathises with her pain, but cannot condone Entei’s enabling and the disruptive influence of the Unown. It’s important to note for Poké-enthusiasts out there that the Entei seen is this film is not the Legendary Pokémon whom it resembles. Rather than being a reincarnated Pokémon known for its blazing Fire-type attacks, Entei is a creation of the Unown and more akin to a Psychic-type Pokémon. At the time, I considered this an odd decision as it kind of wastes the natural characterisation of this creature as one of a trio of Legendary Pokémon, but it actually goes a long way to supporting the deeper themes of the film surrounding grief and a child’s desire for love and affection. Born from Molly’s memories of her father, her love for him, and her idolisation of his strength and loyalty, Entei is granted incredibly powers by the Unown that are contrary to those it has in the games; it can teleport, control the minds of others, create crystalline structures at will, and spit out a powerful aura blast in addition to its durability and strength being theoretically inexhaustible. It is as strong and as capable as Molly wishes it to be, and as long as she believes in it, it can accomplish almost any feat, regardless of whether that action is morally right or wrong. A constant companion and guardian to Molly, Entei fully accepts her belief that it is her beloved “Papa” and goes to any lengths to keep her happy and to protect her, even battling against its out of control masters.

The Unown’s power is virtually limitless, and directly fuelled by Molly’s innermost desires.

So devoted is Entei to Molly that it not only bows to her every wish, but also encourages her to wish for more and to believe that she can anything she desires. When the authorities try to breach the crystal formation, Molly throws a temper tantrum and demands that they be kept out but, when she spots that Ash and the others are Pokémon trainers, she quickly wishes to engage them in Pokémon battles. Thanks to the Unown’s near-limitless power, the interior and environment of the palace constantly changes, and also allows Molly to conjure unbeatable illusionary Pokémon and even age herself up to be a more competent Pokémon trainer. Of course, thanks to the Unown’s power, she’s easily able to best her more experienced opponents with the likes of Teddiursa (Erica Schroeder) and Phanpy (Megumi Hayashibara) even when she should be hopelessly outmatched. She’s even able to flood the area with water, and allow her and Misty to breath underwater, so great are her powers, are she becomes so lost in her fantasy that Entei is empowered enough to battle even Ash’s stubborn and formidable Charizard (Shin-ichiro Miki), which arrives not only to help its former trainer but also to pit its strength against an opponent such as Entei. However, the battle proves destructive, wrecking much of Molly’s new home and leaving the heroes’ Pokémon hurt, and Charizard in danger of being killed by the furious Entei; the only hope for the heroes is for Delia, Ash, and the others to help remind Molly of her real family, both those who are gone and the family she could have by forming a bond with real Pokémon, which causes her to finally snap free from her fantasy and demand an end to the fighting.

The Nitty-Gritty:
One of issues I had with Pokémon the Movie 2000 was that it tried a little too hard to raise the stakes in comparison to the first film; while Pokémon: The First Movie was reconfigured into more of a worldwide threat in the English dub, the second film explicitly put the entire world at risk, so it’s a nice change of pace to see the third film tell a far more grounded, more personal story. This is most obvious in Delia’s larger role; up until now, she’s merely been a cameo or a bit-player in the films, but she’s a pivotal inclusion in this film and the driving force behind Ash’s excursion into the crystallised Greenfield. Indeed, he is driven to an uncharacteristic anger at her abduction, which is focused entirely on Entei and transforms into a battle of wills as Ash regards the beast as a mere illusion and Entei adamantly seeks to prove its reality and defend Molly by any means necessary.

Molly’s desire to have her family back means she dreams up her own fantasy world free from sadness.

Of course, it’s Molly’s sadness and grief that is at the heart of the movie’s story; already struggling after the loss of her mother, she was left despondent when Spencer disappeared as well and unable to properly process her anguish. When the Unown respond to her dreams and wishes, she finally feels that hole in her heart has been filled and is easily convinced that everything she is seeing is “real” and that she can be and have whatever she wants “as long as that is her wish”. It’s a powerful, emotional aspect of the film, and easy to forget that Molly isn’t some malevolent or mean-spirited antagonist. She’s just a frightened, lonely little girl who desperately wants her beloved “Papa” and “Mama” back, and is overjoyed to see her father returned in the form of Entei and her every wish brought to life by the Unown’s power. Similarly, Entei is not a necessarily vindictive entity; it’s simply acting out Molly’s wishes, whatever they may be, but bolstered by such vicious and formidable power that it transforms the once beautiful crystal tower into a hazardous landscape of spikes and battles Charizard with such an unmatched ferocity that it’s even posed to kill the helpless and outmatched creature. While Entei seems to fill the void in Molly’s life and heart, Delia and Ash and the others try to convince her that it’s merely another aspect of the Unown’s illusionary power; a false reality she’s conjured to shield her from facing the real world. Through them, she sees that real relationships can be forged through friends, partners, and make-shift families that can be just as fulfilling as having her every wish granted.

Probably the darkest and most personal Pokémon movie despite the odd changes to the source material.

I have to say that, given the trajectory of the Pokémon movies, I was surprised that a Pokémon as unremarkable and weak as Unown be such a focal point of this film, especially considering the next most obvious choice would have been to focus on Ho-Oh and the Legendary Beasts. Instead, though, Entei, Raikou (Katsuyuki Konishi), and Suicune (Masahiko Tanaka) were split up across specials and movies and it would take quite some time for Ho-Oh to actually make a real movie appearance. I guess this helped to make the movies a bit more unpredictable, and it certainly helped to make the Unown a surprising threat in this film, but I can’t help but feel like it was a missed opportunity. Still, the Unown are given an unexpectedly malicious edge in this film; while ostensibly appearing to be somewhat mischievous and aloof, their ability to read people’s minds and alter reality based on their wishes and dreams quickly makes them a threat to all of Greenfield. Not only do they transform the landscape, but they but many lives in danger through their quasi-avatar, Entei, and the strength of Molly’s tumultuous emotions soon sends their Psychic powers into overdrive. By the time she’s ready to leave behind her dreamworld and return to reality, the Unown have exerted so much power and thrown into such chaos by Molly’s emotional state that they’ve lost control of the illusion and the crystalline formations threaten to trap, or kill, everyone within. Their only hope is Entei, whom Molly pours all of her hopes and dreams and belief into to break through the Unown’s protective barrier and undo their magic, dispelling itself in the process. Although distraught to see her father-figure unmade, Molly has learned the value of friendship, co-operation, and family from Ash’s example and her story ends on a happy not when the Unown return not only Spencer but also his wife from their dimension. Thus, Greenfield is restored, Molly regains her true family, Delia is rescued, and Ash and the others continue on their Pokémon journey.

The Summary:
As much as the first two Pokémon films were a spectacle that released right as the franchise was at its peak, Pokémon 3: The Movie opts to tell a far more personal and emotionally-charged story by focusing on a little girl’s loneliness and despair and having Ash’s mother be caught up in a chaotic situation. This is easily the best part of the movie’s appeal, beyond the brutal and unrelenting battle between Entei and Charizard, and definitely makes it a worthwhile watch and worthy follow-up to its predecessors. It’s a very different movie from the last two, which placed the most powerful, mysterious, and elusive Pokémon at the centre of their stories and kind of slapped action set pieces around them, such was the allure of the Legendary Pokémon they featured, whereas Pokémon 3: The Movie fundamentally alters the characterisation, abilities, and role of Entei and the Unown in service of its story. As much as I appreciate the effort put into crafting a more poignant story that tackles the grief felt be the loss of a loved one and reinforces Pokémon’s overall themes of friendship and partnership, I still can’t help be disappointed by the depiction of Entei in this film. For me, splitting the Legendary Beasts up for so long as a major misstep and deprived us of seeing them make a proper, big screen impact. Still, this doesn’t dilute the story we’re given here and Pokémon 3: The Movie remains a unique entry in the Pokémon movie series since it keeps the stakes grounded and personal; while the literal world isn’t at risk, Molly’s dreamworld is and so is Ash and Delia’s (since they mean the world to each other), which really helps to make for a much more relatable and focused narrative. The Unown’s limitless and unpredictable powers, coupled with Entei’s mounting ferocity, make for a surprising threat against the heroes, who are constantly outmatched at every turn and only triumph by appealing to a frightened and hurt little girl’s heart, which definitely helps the film to make an impact even if I would have preferred more focus on the actual Legendary Pokémon.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Are you a fan of Pokémon 3: The Movie? What did you think to the more personal grounded focus? Did you like the depiction of Entei and the Unown or would you have preferred to see them portrayed closer to the source material? What did you think to Delia’s larger role and the focus on Molly’s grief? Which Pokémon game, generation, and creature is your favourite and why? How are you celebrating National Pokémon Day today? Whatever your thoughts, sign up to drop them in the comments below or feel free to leave a reply on my social media.

Game Corner [PokéMonth]: Pokémon: Crystal Version (Nintendo 3DS)

Upon the release of Pokémon: Blue Version and Pokémon: Red Version (Game Freak, 1996), a new craze swept through playgrounds across the world. An entire generation grew up either playing Pokémon, watching the anime, playing the trading card game, and watching the feature-length movies as clever marketing and a co-ordinated release and multimedia strategy saw Nintendo’s newest franchise become not just a successful videogame franchise but a massively lucrative and popular multimedia powerhouse that endures to this day. Accordingly, February 27th is now internationally recognised as “National Pokémon Day”, which I’m expanding to an entire month of Pokémon every Tuesday in February.

Released: 26 January 2018
Originally Released: 14 December 2000
Developer: Nintendo
Original Developer: Game Freak
Also Available For: GameBoy Color

The Background:
I’ve talked before not just about Pokémon but also about how Pokémon: Gold Version and Pokémon: Silver Version (Game Freak, 1999) are my favourite games in the franchise. Thanks to the success of not just the first Generation of Pokémon videogames but also an aggressive multimedia strategy, Pokémon became an instant cultural phenomenon across the world, and yet the developers originally intended for Pokémon: Gold and Silver to be the final entries in the series. The sequels immediately sought to improve upon the gameplay, graphics, and mechanics of the first games; developed exclusively for the GameBoy Color, the game would feature a greater colour palette, backwards compatibility with the previous games, a real-time internal clock, and one-hundred new Pokémon to collect and battle (in addition to two new Types, Dark and Steel). Although many of these Pokémon were dropped, or significantly redesigned, during the game’s development, Nintendo offered the otherwise-inaccessible Celebi as a promotional extra and Pokémon: Gold and Silver were highly anticipated by me, personally, thanks to the new Pokémon cropping up in the anime and movies.

Anticipation was high for all-new Pokémon videogames thanks to the anime and the franchise’s popularity.

This Generation stands out for me for including things like a day/night cycle, breeding, and including the entire region of Kanto as post-game content and, like Pokémon: Blue and Red, Pokémon: Gold and Silver were not only highly praised at the time but also soon followed by a third entry, Pokémon: Crystal. While essentially the same game, Pokémon: Crystal was a trend-setter for the franchise, allowing players to choose the gender of their avatar, including partially animated battle sprites, featuring a whole additional side-story revolving around Suicune and the Unown, and debuting the ever-popular Battle Tower for players to further test their mettle. Again, thanks to Pokémon’s popularity and including additional elements as an incentive for a further purchase, Pokémon: Crystal was well received upon release and has been noted as one of the best Pokémon games. Many elements from Pokémon: Crystal became series staples in subsequent releases, and featured prominently in the Gold and Silver remakes, and the game was later released on the 3DS Virtual Console with the Celebi event included as standard.

The Plot:
The time has come to receive your first Pokémon from Professor Elm and challenge the Gym Leaders and Pokémon of the Johto region. However, your journey is disrupted by your mysterious rival, who stole one of Professor Elm’s Pokémon, and the villainous Team Rocket, who seek to return the group to their former glory. Things are further complicated when you cross paths with Eusine, who has made it his life gal to earn the respect of the legendary beast Suicune.

As I said, I regard the second generation of Pokémon games as my favourite in the franchise; I remember going out of my way to get Pokémon: Blue when it first came out, and then snapping up Pokémon Yellow Version: Special Pikachu Edition (ibid, 1998) simply because of how popular the franchise was, and me and my friends were so eager for new Pokémon games that we readily downloaded barely-translated ROMs of Gold and Silver just to experience them. I had Pokémon: Silver back in the day, but always wanted Pokémon: Gold and never had the chance to play Pokémon: Crystal as I was firmly into collecting for the Game Boy Advance by then, so I jumped at the chance to get it before the 3DS Virtual Console shut down for good simply because of how much I enjoyed Pokémon: Silver and Pokémon: HeartGold (ibid, 2009). Essentially, Pokémon: Crystal is the same Pokémon you know and love: the game is a top-down role-playing game (RPG) in which players get to first pick their gender, name their avatar, select from three starter Pokémon, and embark on a journey to raise a well-balanced team, challenge the Johto Gym Leaders, and take on the Pokémon League. As was the style at the time, Pokémon: Crystal isn’t prone to holding your hand; you can talk to non-playable characters (NPCs) for clues, tips, lore, and some instructions but you’re mostly left to your own devices, though the game often bars your progress behind impassable objects like trees, bodies of water, or battling trainers that can only be bypassed by defeating Gym Leaders or acquiring Hidden Machines (HMs). As before, Pokémon: Crystal utilises an extremely simple control scheme that lets you organise your party, equip and use items, and save your progress or alter settings quickly and easily, and the user interface is vastly improved over the last games, with your pack now divided into pockets for key items PokéBalls, and healing items and even lets you set an item to the ‘Select’ button for quick use.

Pick your Pokémon and head out into Johto to tackle a whole new crop of Trainers and challenges.

As ever, gameplay is divided into exploring the overworld and one-on-one battles against wild or trainer-owned Pokémon. On the overworld, you’ll chat to NPCs with A, activate switches and pressure pads, and pick up items; if you walk into grass, caves, or surf on water, you’ll soon encounter a wild Pokémon, which switches the game to a battle screen where you and your opponent take turns to inflict damage or status effects on each other, or use in-battle items to heal or relieve status effects or try and capture the Pokémon. You can also run from wild Pokémon (as long as you’re a higher level), but not from a Trainer battle, and many wild Pokémon can also now flee from battle, which can make capturing them trickier. Pokémon battles are dictated by a “Type” system that’s basically a version of Rock/Paper/Scissors; Water-Type Pokémon inflict greater damage against Fire-Type Pokémon, for example, while Grass-Types trump Water and are weak to Fire. There are now seventeen different Types of Pokémon in the game, with Dark- and Steel-Types adding an extra dimension to battle as the previously all-powerful Psychic-Type Pokémon now have a formidable weakness in Dark-Type Pokémon and moves. While some moves, like Bite, have changed Type to align with this new system, it’s all pretty simple to figure out thanks to battle text informing you when moves are “Super effective” or “Not very effective” and external factors like your location, wild Pokémon names, and their colouring and appearance cluing you in on the best attack strategy. If you’re fishing in the sea, for example, and hook a Qwilfish (which is blue, clearly identified as a fish), it’s pretty obvious that you need to use a Grass- and Electric-Type to inflict maximum damage. At the beginning, you can pick between three different Pokémon, a Fire-, Grass-, or Water-Type, and I recommend keeping them in your party and five to ten levels higher than the rest of your team simply because they are your first Pokémon. You can choose to give this Pokémon, and any others you catch (but not ones you acquire via trading) a nickname to personalise them, and you’ll you can swap around your Pokémon’s moves at any time either in-battle or from the pause menu, or swap or release them from the PCs found in Pokémon Centers.

Level-up to become stronger, and make use of the game’s new evolution methods to discover new Pokémon.

To ease you into the game, early wild Pokémon and Pokémon Trainers are all at low-levels and you’re usually always at an advantage because your Pokémon have higher stats. Winning Pokémon battles will award your Pokémon with experience points (EXP); earn enough, and your Pokémon will level-up, which will increase their Hit Points (HP), Attack, Defence, Speed, and Special stats (now split into Special Attack and Special Defense) and thus make them more powerful. One of the best quality of life improvements in Pokémon: Crystal is the addition of an in-battle EXP progress bar so you can easily keep track of your Pokémon’s progress, and you can swap out Pokémon in battles to share EXP and level them up faster, which you’ll want to do as it’s helpful (though not necessarily necessary by any means) to have a diverse team with decent Type coverage. Don’t level-up too fast, though, as your Pokémon will disobey you if they’re too high a level and you don’t have the appropriate Gym Badge. I like to circumvent this by grinding between Gym battles; by keeping my main Pokémon five to ten levels stronger, but a few levels below the level cap, it can ensure that I’m always stronger enough for the next battle, though I did notice that I was spending more time grinding between Gyms than in my Pokémon: Yellow playthrough. Pokémon will learn new moves from levelling-up, or from Technical Machines (TMs), and it’s recommended to give your Pokémon moves that play to their strengths (if they have a high Attack stat, for example, you don’t really want to have moves that are all Special Attacks) and go against their Type (teaching Poison-Type moves to Grass-Type Pokémon, for example) so they have greater Type coverage in battle. In addition to the untrackable Effort Value (EV) points (earned by consecutively battling certain Pokémon, so defeating a bunch of Hoothoot in a row will boost your HP stat by one point), Pokémon: Crystal also introduces a hidden “Happiness” stat. the more you travel with, use, and care for your Pokémon, the happier it will become; you can boost this stat by grooming them and feeding them Vitamins (which also boost individual stats) or equipping them with certain items in order to max out their Happiness and trigger their evolution.

You can shrug off status effects with Berries, and new HMs offer more exploration options.

As before, battles and gameplay are as hard as you make them; if you don’t bother levelling-up a diverse team, then battles will eventually become harder to win. You can avoid a Trainer battle by staying out of the sight line of Trainers, but I recommend battling every Trainer you come up against to strengthen your team and earn PokéDollars, and some Trainers will even give you their phone number and call you with tips or for a rematch. Trainers are much more capable this time around; not only do they have all the same options as you when it comes to swapping and healing their Pokémon, but they also don’t have to worry about running out of Power Points (PP). Pokémon can still only know four moves at a time, so you’ll have to either replace an existing move to learn a new one or visit the Move Deleter to do this outside of levelling-up or to forget HM moves, and each move has a certain number of PP. When you’re all out, you can’t use that move anymore and will eventually either have to use “struggle” (which inflicts recoil damage to you), replenish PP with a Berry or Elixir, or restore your Pokémon at a Pokémon Center. If you’re not careful in battle, your Pokémon will end up “fainting” when their HP is drained and, if all your Pokémon faint, you’ll “white out”, lose some money, and respawn at the last Pokémon Center you visited. As before, you also need to be wary of status effects, which can cause Pokémon to flinch (basically miss a turn), become confused (often resulting in them hurting themselves), miss their attacks, fall sleep or become paralysed or poisoned (which also drains HP when on the overworld), burned, or frozen. While some attacks and items will also boost your stats and your chance at inflicting greater damage with a “Critical Hit”, Pokémon: Crystal features far more moves that power up and negate certain Types, like Sunny Day and Rain Dance buffing Fire- and Water-Types, respectively. You can undo these status effects using certain items, and can have your Pokémon hold Berries that they’ll automatically eat when inflicted with a status effect or at low HP or PP to help them shake off these debilitating effects.

New mechanics and quality of life improvements make the game much more fun to play.

Victory in Trainer battles earns you PokéDollars to spend in PokéMarts and at vending machines on healing items, hold items, Vitamins, single-use power-ups, and other useful gear to help you in battle or with raising your Pokémon. Items and Pokémon can be stored in PCs when required (you can still only have six Pokémon at a time, so any additional Pokémon are automatically transferred to your PC) but you can choose to have your mother save some money for you, which will award you with extra items and toys to furnish your bedroom with. Although you still only get one save file, you can manually save your progress at any time on the overworld and I recommend saving frequently, and especially before Gym Leader battles or encounters with Legendary Pokémon so you can reset if you make a mistake. Just like before, you need to defeat eight Gym Leaders to earn their badges and challenge the Pokémon League while also working on completing Professor Oak’s PokéDex by capturing Pokémon. The PokéDex has also received an upgrade, making searching for and viewing Pokémon much easier, but you’ll still only be able to fully complete it by trading with Gold, Silver, and even the Generation One games using the “Time Machine” function and by evolving Pokémon through battle, raising their Happiness, using special stones, or by trading (often now with them holding a special item). You can manually cancel some evolutions, and even have Pokémon hold an Everstone to suppress their evolution, which is sometimes recommended as Pokémon learn moves faster in their weaker forms and some moves can only be learned prior to evolution. Another new feature in this game is breeding; each Pokémon is either male, female, or gender neutral and you can leave two Pokémon at the Day Care to be raised outside of battle or, if they’re compatible, breed either a pre-evolution like Pichu and Igglybuff or a slightly stronger version of an existing Pokémon with moves they wouldn’t normally learn. When Pokémon breed, you’re given an egg; these eggs will hatch after you’ve taken a certain number of steps or cycled a certain distance, and breeding can be a great way or filling up the PokéDex quickly alongside regular battling, though you won’t be able to breed Legendary Pokémon and some take longer to produce an egg than others.

Of all the side quests, the one involving Suicune is the most prominent.

A Pokémon’s gender is clearly visible next to their name in battle, and a further quality of life feature is that you’ll see a little PokéBall next to a wild Pokémon’s name to indicate that you’ve caught it, and the game is littered with similar helpful additions mainly tied to your PokéGear. This device houses your map, phone, and a radio which lets you listen to shows offering tips or music that will either wake up Pokémon or put them to sleep and allow you to track the mysterious goings-on at the Runs of Alph. Here, you’ll investigate strange symbols and encounter the useless Unown, though there are slide puzzles to play here and twenty-four different variations of this Pokémon to find and record for a nearby scientist. Your progress is again restricted by trees, water, and dark caves, but now you also have to content with waterfalls and whirlpools. You can again get past these obstacles with HMs, which again double as faster ways of traversing the map: Fly, for example, lets you fly to any Pokémon Center on the map, but you can also use Dig to quickly exit caves (especially useful when you’re out of Escape Ropes), Teleport to warp to exits, and acquire a bicycle (but, sadly, not a skateboard) to dramatically increase up your movement speed. Many of the same minor puzzles return from the last game, meaning you’ll be pressing switches or pushing boulders or using teleport pads to get around, though you’ll also encounter slippery ice, a strange plant that can only be moved using a special water bottle, and numerous instances where the local Gym Leader is either busy with another task or won’t battle you until you’ve complete a side quest. These primarily involve the returning Team Rocket, who have been cutting the tails off Slowpoke, take over the radio tower, and steal vital components from the Kanto power plant. When team Rocket is in town, you’ll need to clear them all out to make the Gym and other areas accessible, but you’re also hounded by your rival, a red-haired boy who stole a Pokémon from Professor Elm and is obsessed with power. Other side quests include searching for a Farfetch’d in Ilex Forest, competing in a bug-catching contest, fetching medicine for a sick Ampharos, feeding Berries to a poorly Miltank, exploring Dragon’s Den, and capturing a strange Gyarados at the Lake of Rage. This will most likely by your introduction to “Shiny” Pokémon, extremely rare palette swaps of Pokémon that occasionally appear in battle. Perhaps the most prominent side quest here involves the Legendary Beasts, specifically Suicune; the three beasts are released into the wild early into the game but, while you’ll randomly encounter Entei and Raikou while wandering around and be left tearing your hair out as they constantly flee from battle, you’ll come across Eusine in his search for Suicune as you journey around Johto and eventually be able to tackle the elusive beats one-on-one to add it to your collection.

Graphics and Sound:
Obviously, Pokémon: Crystal is still going to be noticeably limited compared to later games in the series, but the improvements between this game and not just the first generation but even Gold and Silver are pretty impressive. I never thought of the Game Boy Color as being an especially powerful device compared to the original Game Boy, but this game is huge compared to the first games, with a vibrant colour palette that is far more detailed than what we saw in the first games. Towns and routes are much more visually interesting, with grass and trees and plants swaying and bobbing as you explore, the town and route names popping up onscreen, and a distinctly Japanese aesthetic to the far more impressive interiors of buildings. All of the sprites have been given a complete makeover, meaning overworld sprites and battle sprites are far more diverse and detailed; there are new Trainer classes available in the game, new animations for the PokéBalls, and not only a bunch of new moves added to the game but much more interesting and visually exciting attack animations, with more frames and colours being utilised to really make the most of the Game Boy Color’s capabilities. Although you can’t have a Pokémon follow you around like in Pokémon: Yellow, Pokémon now have little animation frames when they appear onscreen, sparkle when they’re Shiny, and even their menu and HM sprites have been overhauled to make them more distinctive.

It’s amazing how much better Pokémon looks, sounds, and plays on the Game Boy Color hardware.

While Johto’s towns and areas aren’t really all that different from Kanto’s, and are probably a little less visually diverse than I’d like, there’s still some fun locations to explore here. Goldenrod City has a Game Corner and a large PokéMart like Celedon City, but also an underground passage, a radio tower, an ice cave, and the Magnet Train which can allow swift access to and from Johto to Kanto; structures like Bellsprout Tower, Burnt Tower, and Tin Tower are not only great places to train ut also key to catching the game’s Legendary Pokémon; and you can even explore a lighthouse (which is full of holes to fall down) and the entirety of Kanto! Perhaps the biggest new feature in this generation was the inclusion of a day/night cycle; at the start of the game, you set the date and time and, as day turns to night, the palette changes accordingly and this even affects the evolution and appearance of some Pokémon. Different NPCs and events will also happen on certain days, and noting the date and time is essential for completing the PokéDex and acquiring certain items. Although the game is bolstered by some jaunty, memorable little chip tunes and Pokémon cries are much improved, the sound is still a bit of a weak spot here; you can tune into different radio channels to change the music though, which is fun. While your pack is far easier to navigate, its capacity is still limited, but storing and retrieving items is much easier this time around, as is rearranging the order of items in your pack, and you can interact with far more on the overworld: Berry plants, Pokémon blocking your path, and even certain trees can all be interacted with to pick-up items or trigger a battle, and you can again use the Itemfinder to seek out hidden items. Like in Pokémon: Yellow, Pokémon: Crystal features an all-new intro sequence, this one focusing on Suicune and the Unown, and you can even choose to play as a girl if you like (though this has no impact on the gameplay other than changing your sprite).

Enemies and Bosses:
In your quest to conquer the Pokémon League, you’ll battle a wide variety of Pokémon both in the field and in use by various Pokémon Trainers. Wild and Trainer Pokémon begin at low levels, generally between three and six, but get progressively stronger as you advance to new areas and when you’re called for a rematch, which will help you to grow stronger on a rising curve. Your ability to weaken these Pokémon for capture or defeat them is directly tied to your Pokémon’s current level and moves; if your Pokémon is weak and only knows moves like Bubble and Leer or bring an Electric-Type into a forest or a Bug-Type into a cave you’ll struggle to advance. The same applies to Pokémon Trainers; they start off using one or two weak Pokémon like Sentret and Spinarak but eventually use more formidable and evolved Pokémon. They’ll also withdraw them, heal them, or buff them with items and, while you can exploit the enemy A.I. at times, Pokémon Trainers tend to use moves that have a Type advantage over your current Pokémon. Pokémon: Crystal introduces new moves that can prolong or frustrate battles as well; Protect will render your next attack useless, Spikes will damage any Pokémon you send into battle, and some moves, like Dynamic Punch, not only hit hard but also inflict confusion on their victim. Still, with enough grinding and a diverse team, you can easily overcome every opponent you face; simply take some time between Gym battles to level-up, develop specific stats if that’s your jam, and bringing your team as close to the level cap as possible, utilising moves that are super effective and sharing EXP wherever possible, and you can easily trample over the opposition once you’ve gotten past the uphill battle at the start of the game.

Team Rocket are back and you’re hounded by an arrogant rival with a superiority complex.

After being absent for a few years, Team Rocket has come back but they’re far less of a threat than in the first generation; these nefarious individuals are easily identified by their black attire and caps and will impede your progress until you’ve cleared them out of towns, towers, and buildings. When exploring their hidden base in Mahogany Town, you’ll be constantly beset by the gang when you walk in front of security cameras, though Pokémon League Champion Lance is on hand to help you out by healing your team. When you encounter them in the radio tower, you’ll have to battle a Rocket Executive posing as the tower’s director, and they’ve been cutting off Slowpoke tails to sell them earlier in the game, but Team Rocket’s grunts really aren’t much of a threat and tend to stick to common Pokémon like Rattata, Muk, and Zubat. In comparison, your rival is much more malicious than Blue from the last game; this guy (often dubbed “Silver”) is not just rude, arrogant, and obsessed with training only the most powerful Pokémon, but also a conceited bully, pushing you away and past you and refusing to help fend off Team Rocket since it doesn’t suit his goals. Unfortunately, the rivalry between you isn’t as big of a factor as in the last game; the rival pops up at various points throughout the game, but it’s easy to forget he even exists and he doesn’t even end up being the Pokémon League Champion, which is a shame as it would’ve been easy to have him be the mastermind behind Team Rocket’s return and maybe tie him into the Ruins of Alph and Suicune sub-plots. Your rival will steal whatever starter Pokémon has a Type advantage against yours (in my case, he took Chikorita) but eventually expands his team to include Sneasel, Golbat, Magneton, Alakazam, and Gengar to give him good Type coverage across the board. However, a diverse and high-levelled team can easily send him packing in every encounter; in my playthrough, I barely even needed to swap my Pokémon out between each round thanks to teaching my Feraligatr Bite, Ice Punch, Surf, and Dynamic Punch and going into every encounter at least ten levels higher than him, making him a visually interesting but hardly challenging successor to Blue.

You’ll occasionally need to complete some side quests or solve a puzzle to battle the Gym Leaders.

A whole new world to live in means eight all-new towns and eight new Gym Leaders to battle, each specialising in a specific Pokémon Type and often (but, oddly, not always) protected by a number of protégés and some light puzzles, such as a maze, obscured path, or the pushing of boulders. Other times, Gyms will be empty, locked, or otherwise barred and you’ll need to complete a side quest to gain entry. While you don’t have  to fight the Gym Leader’s minions, I recommend it so you don’t miss out on some EXP and cash, and it’s again recommended to have a diverse team on hand (though you can often helpfully find wild Pokémon nearby that can counteract the Gym’s specialty). Your first challenge is Falkner, who uses Flying-Type Pokémon; as long as you don’t have a Grass-Type on hand and, honestly, why would you?) this isn’t anything to worry about and you can improve your chances by taking a slight detour and catching a Ground-Type Phanpy. Bugsy is a walk in the park if you have a Fire-Type, though I felt the pinch against his Scyther’s Fury Cutter since I opted for Totodile instead of my usual Cyndaquil. Most players run into a brick wall when faced with Whitney and her Miltank, which can deal increasingly more devastating damage with its Rollout attack, but I honestly had no trouble besting it was a Level 28 Croconaw using Bite and Ice Punch (though a Fighting-Type Pokémon or moves are your best bet against her). Neither Morty or Chuck are much of a challenge either since you can take both out with Psychic-, Dark-, and Electric-Type moves, while Fire- and Water-Types are your best bet at taking out Jamsine’s Steelix. Electric- and Fire-Types will also allow you to make short work of Pryce’s Ice-Type Pokémon (indeed, the hardest thing about him is skidding about on the icy floor of his Gym) and, while Clair’s Dragon-Types can be intimidating and easily paralyse you, they’ll also fall pretty quickly if you have Ice-Type Pokémon or moves on hand. Defeating each Gym Leader awards you a badge that increases the game’s level cap, powers up certain stats, and allows you to use HMs outside of battle to reach new areas, and also awards you some useful TMs, like Dynamic Punch and Shadow Ball, but take care after defeating Whitney as you won’t immediately earn her badge and must talk to one of her underlings to convince her to hand it over.

The best of the best await at the Pokémon League…unless you’re levels ahead of them…

Once all of the Gym Leaders are defeated, you’re ready to take on the Pokémon League. To reach the League, you need to use your HMs to navigate through Tohjo Falls and the cavernous Victory Road, where you’ll battle your rival once more and encounter some high-level Pokémon to help push your levels higher. You’ll want to make use of the makeshift Pokémon Center and PokéMart right before the Elite Four to heal up and maybe stock up on restorative items since you again need to battle all four Trainers, and the champion, consecutively to become the champ. Each of the Elite Four has a full team of Pokémon, with a general speciality in mind but also Type coverage to keep you on your toes; your first challenge is Will, who uses Psychic-Type Pokémon but, thankfully, these are dual-Types so you can use Dark-, Ghost-, Electric-, and Fire-Type moves to easily cut through his Pokémon, though you could be caught off-guard by confusion or freezing if you’re not careful. Next up is Koga, upgraded from a Gym Leader to one of the Elite Four and still rocking the Poison-Types, making him easy pickings for your Ground- and Flying-Type attacks. The only member of Elite Four to return from the first generation is, ironically, one of the weakest of that game, Bruno. Though he’s got a bigger, more diverse team, he’s still a Fighting-Type specialist so you can easily best him with Psychic-Type moves. These are slightly negated against Karen, however, since she has Dark-Types on hand but, again, her Pokémon are dual-Types so you can balance things out with Fire- and Water-Type Pokémon. Your final challenge is against Lance, the Dragon-Type expert who’s now the Pokémon League Champion. Lance is easily the toughest Trainer battle so far…on paper, at least…since he has three Dragonites and even fan favourite Charizard on his team. However, but this point my Feraligatr was way overpowered and I managed to sweep his whole team using Bite, Surf, and Ice Punch without any issue. Toppling the Elite Four sees you and your team again entered into the Hall of Fame and declared Pokémon League Champion; you can battle the Elite Four again and again to earn more cash and level-up your team, but you’ll find challenge enough awaiting you in the post-League content.

Some of Kanto’s Gyms have undergone a bit of a reshuffle, with Blue installed as your final opponent.

Becoming the Pokémon League Champion earns you a ticket to board the S.S. Aqua and travel to Kanto, where you can not only explore the entirety of the region from the first game, battling new Pokémon Trainers with higher-level Pokémon, but also take on the eight Kanto Gym Leaders once more! Because you start in Vermillion City, the order you battle the Gym Leaders is mixed up; some are missing their puzzles and protégés as well, and all have bigger, more diverse teams and, though you’ll earn their Badges and they’ll be added to your total, you can’t view these on your Trainer Card and only two of them will award you TMs after you beat them. First up is Lieutenant Surge, now rocking two Electrode and an Electabuzz alongside his signature Raichu, but he was nothing compared to my overpowered Donphan. I got a bit mixed up and fought Misty next, which you can only do after fighting past the Nugget Trainers and interrupting her date; while her Water-Type Pokémon don’t stand much of a chance against a good Electric-Type Pokémon, this won’t help you against her Quagsire so maybe switch to a Grass-Type instead. I battled Erika next, who can be frustrating with her tendency to use Full restore, cast Sunny Day, and her ability to drain HP from your Pokémon, but at this point my Feraligatr’s Ice Punch and Suicune’s Aurora Beam were more than enough to topple her. Koga’s daughter, Janine, now resides in Fuschia City’s Gym but she uses Poison-Types just like her dad so you can get past her in much the same way you did him, and Brock and Sabrina are similarly easily taken out using Water- and Dark-Types, respectively. Since Cinnabar Island was wrecked by a volcanic eruption, you won’t find much of anything there except a Pokémon Center and Blue, the Viridian City Gym Leader, who directs you to the similarly barren Seafoam Islands to battle Blaine. Neither Blaine nor Blue have any underlings to worry about and, while Blue’s team is as diverse and powerful as ever, yours should be more than up to the task of matching him blow for blow and recapturing the Kanto Gym Badges.

As if Red wasn’t tough enough, the Legendary Beasts will flee from battle and the new Birds take a lot of Balls to snag!

With these in your possession, Professor Oak allows you access to Mount Silver and the game’s most taxing challenge of all: a battle against Red, the protagonist from the first game, who’s well-rounded team not only has great Type coverage but is also in the high-seventies (with his Pikachu being the highest-level Pokémon you’ll face in the game at a whopping Level 81). While battling Red is tough in and of itself, it’s made all the more difficult by the fact that you need all the GMs to even reach him, meaning you’re at a severe disadvantage since you’re either down a couple of Pokémon to make room for a HM slave or have had to substitute better moves for HMs. Aside from red, there are some one of a kind Pokémon to find in the wild, too: Sudowoodo block your paths and need triggering with the Squirtbottle, you’ll need to tune into Kanto’s radio stations to awaken the Snorlax blocking your path, a Shiny Gyarados waits in the Lake of Rage, and you’ll encounter a wild Lapras in Union Cave’s basement every Friday. Although Kanto’s Legendary Pokémon are entirely absent (the power plant is now up and running, Seafoam Islands is a simple cave, Victory Road has been rearranged, and Cerulean Cave is inaccessible), Johto’s are literally out and about to find. Entei and Raikou will randomly appear in different areas of Johto, fleeing immediately (or using Roar to scare your Pokémon off) and forcing you to use the PokéDex to track them down and use moves like Spider Web and Mean Look just to have a chance at catching them, damage and status attacks you inflict will carry over even if they flee, however, but these two are still a massive headache to get a hold of and Pokémon: Crystal makes things unnecessarily difficult by forcing you to have caught all three Legendary Beasts to even spawn an encounter with Legendary Bird, Ho-Oh, atop Tin Tower. Conversely, one of my favourite Pokémon, Lugia, can only be fought at Whirl Islands after reaching Pewter City and acquiring the Silver Wing, and all of these Legendary Pokémon (and some wild Pokémon) can be a chore to catch unless you inflict sleep or paralyse and whittle them down to a slither of health as they just love to break out of PokéBalls and, unlike the last games, where you obviously used the instant-catch Master Ball on Mewtwo, it can be tough to decide which Pokémon to use your Master Ball on here (though I’d recommend Ho-Oh).

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Both Johto and Kanto are littered with pick-ups to be found, gifted from NPCs, or bought from PokéMarts. All the same healing and restorative items from the last games return, such was Potions, Revives, Awakenings, and Antidotes, though you can now find various Berries that have the same function and can be held and automatically used by Pokémon in battle. As you progress, PokéMarts will start to sell more advanced items, like Hyper Potions, Max Revive, Escape Ropes, PokéDolls to help you flee battles, and likes of X-Attack for a one-time stat boost. Vitamins and evolutionary stones a far harder to find on the overworld, but can be bought from Goldenrod and Celadon City’s Department Stores and are great for raising individual stats and quickly evolving Pokémon, and you’ll also find Nuggets to sell for cash (and sell most items you find) and key items like the Itemfinder, EXP All, and various rods. Another new addition to the game are held items that give your Pokémon certain boosts and buffs; Quick Claw can make them move faster, fr example, while Amulet Coin will double the cash you earn and Leftovers will see them restore a little bit of health between every move. Many of these will increase the power of certain Types, such as Charcoal powering-up Fire-Types, and some are even needed to be held for Pokémon to evolve.

There are more items than ever before, and even your radio can help you out in a pinch.

As ever, you’ll need a steady supply of PokéBalls if you want to catch ‘em all; these again come in three purchasable types (regular PokéBalls, slightly better Great Balls, and even better Ultra Balls), with the Master Ball being a one-of-a-kind, never-fail PokéBall that is best saved for a Legendary Pokémon. You can also find Acorns in trees and, when you give these to Kurt in Azalea Town, he’ll turn them into one of seven new PokéBalls after a day of waiting: Level Balls make catching lower level Pokémon easier, Friend Balls increase a Pokémon’s Happiness stat faster, Lure Balls make it easier to catch Pokémon encounter while fishing, Moon Balls make it easier to catch Pokémon that evolve using a Moon Stone, Heavy Balls are best used against heavier Pokémon, Fast Balls can be useful against Pokémon like Entei and Raikou who like to flee from battle, and Love Balls increase your chances of catching Pokémon of the opposite gender to your own. Like last time, TMs can only be used once, while HMs can only be unlearned using the Move Deleter, and different Pokémon level-up, breed, and hatch at different speeds and at different times of the day; some don’t learn useful moves for some time, others don’t learn any decent moves at all (I’m looking at you, Unown!) or moves that boost their stats, which is useless to me as I prefer to fill my move slots with offensive moves. Some Pokémon also don’t evolve at all, which can lower the incentive on using them as you don’t see as much progression when battling with them, while other Pokémon have abilities like Sweet Scent that can attract wild Pokémon, and you can also have Pokémon hold various mails to send messages to other Trainers you trade with.

Additional Features:
Although Generation two added one-hundred extra Pokémon to the original 151, “only” 223 are actually obtainable within the base Pokémon: Crystal game so you’ll need to trade with Gold, Silver, Red, Blue, and/or Yellow in order to complete the PokéDex and fulfil Professor Oak’s life dream and earn yourself a nifty little certificate for you efforts. A lot of your post-game time and energy will be spent catching, raising, trading, and breeding Pokémon to fulfil this objective, and the day/night cycle and new additions to the gameplay mean you are given far more options to evolve and acquire Pokémon. As mentioned, you can store a limited number of phone numbers on your PokéGear and battle Trainers again when they call you, or travel to Viridian City and make use of the Trainer House to battle either a random challenger or the last human player you fought against, which remains a fun addition, and battles and trades such as this are a great way to extend the life of the game and motivate you to getting your team up to the maximum level. Also, you’ll be spending a lot of time in the Game Corners trying to buy or earn the coins necessary to get those elusive Pokémon and traipsing around Johto trying to lure out the Legendary Beasts, but this generation of Pokémon remains my favourite for its unmatched post-Elite Four content.

Travel to Kanto in the post-game, tackle the Battle Tower, and spawn in a Celebi to catch!

As mentioned, you get to travel to Kanto after becoming the Pokémon League Champion! This, effectively, doubles the timespan of the game but, while Kanto is now populated with much tougher Trainers than before, your team should be more than capable of winning the day. Still, I’ve always loved this feature, and Kanto is notably different, too; towns, caves, and routes have been switched about, new Pokémon are included, and certain areas are either inaccessible or altered, which really shows the flow of time since the last games. You can talk to Red’s mother in Pallet Town, where you find out he took off and hasn’t been seen in years, get the power plant back up and running so you can hop on the Magnet Train, and pay a visit to the new radio tower in Lavender Town, which replaces the haunted Pokémon Tower. Viridian Forest is now gone, as is Cerulean Cave, and Mount Moon is much shorter than before, but I loved seeing Blue installed as the Viridian Gym Leader and just being able to explore this region again and really wish that subsequent Pokémon games had done something similar. Pokémon: Crystal is also notable for being the first game to include the Battle Tower; located just off the coast off Olivine City, this facility lets you battle other Trainers and awards you Vitamins for consecutive victories. Though never really something I’ve enjoyed, the Battle Tower is a fun extra inclusion, and even offers level and Pokémon restrictions to keep you from using Legendary Pokémon. Best of all, though, is that the 3DS version of the game includes the GS Ball event, meaning you can place the GS Ball in a shrine at Ilex Forest to spawn the elusive Celebi and finally, legitimately, catch the little blighter!

The Summary:
I’ll be the first to admit that, when it comes to the second generation of Pokémon games, I’m extremely biased when it comes to these games. For me, this was when Pokémon was at its peak of popularity; we were so desperate to play these new games and so captivated by the new Pokémon and mechanics, and while I’ve enjoyed Pokémon games since these, none of them have quite been able to recapture the magic of Johto. Consequently, it was an absolutely joy to finally play through Pokémon: Crystal; the game is such a massive step up from its predecessors, improving and refining basically everything from the first game and adding much-needed quality of life mechanics like the EXP bar, better item and Pokémon management, and vivid, impressively detailed graphics for such a basic handheld system. The new features offered in this generation were also fantastic; the day/night cycle was a fun little inclusion, one I missed from the Game Boy Advance titles, and adding breeding really helped to speed up PokéDex completion as you could raising Pokémon traditionally whilst also getting in the steps to hatch and egg and get Pokémon to breed all at the same time. Adding the ability to rebattle previous Trainers was great too, though the constant interruptions from phone calls does get annoying; while I love the aesthetic, detail, and colour of the game, I have to admit that Johto doesn’t really stand out all that much and is basically like a reskin of Kanto for the most part, but Pokémon: Crystal adds a few extra bells and whistles to compensate for that. Animating the Pokémon, for starters, really helps to make the game feel much more alive, as do all the additional attacks and battle animations that help the game feel faster, more action-packed, and less like a Tiger Electronics LCD game like in the first generation. Being able to play as a girl was a nice inclusion, as was the attempt to expand on the Legendary Beasts by giving Suicune a larger role, but ultimately these aspects and the rival system weren’t as prominent as they could’ve been. Thankfully, the new Pokémon more than make up for this, with some of my all-time favourites being found in Johto (Ampahros, Lugia, Houndoom, Typhlosion, and Marill, to name a handful), and I loved seeing how the world has changed since the last game. Of course, this is best seen in the still-unmatched post-game content; letting you travel to, explore, and challenge Kanto once more was an ingenious idea and makes the game feel so much bigger than even some of the Nintendo DS titles, which generally settled for the Battle Frontier and little else. Add to that the tough-as-nails battle against Red, the ability to trade to the previous generation, and the addition of Celebi to the game and you have what very well may be the definitive version of classic Pokémon for me.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.


Are you a fan of Pokémon: Crystal Version:? How do you think it compares to the original games and which of the second generation titles was your favourite? What did you think to the new mechanics introduced here, like breeding, genders, and the day/night cycle? Did you struggle against Whitney and her Miltank? What did you think to the rival? Did you enjoy getting to revisit Kanto and did you ever capture Entei and Raikou? Which of the Pokémon games, and titular monsters, is your favourite? How are you planning to celebrate National Pokémon Day this year? Whatever your thoughts on Pokémon, sign up to leave them below or drop your comments on my social media and be sure to check in next week for more Pokémon content!

Game Corner [PokéMonth]: Pokémon Yellow Version: Special Pikachu Edition (Nintendo 3DS)

Upon the release of Pokémon: Blue Version and Pokémon: Red Version (Game Freak, 1996), a new craze swept through playgrounds across the world. An entire generation grew up either playing Pokémon, watching the anime, playing the trading card game, and watching the feature-length movies as clever marketing and a co-ordinated release and multimedia strategy saw Nintendo’s newest franchise become not just a successful videogame franchise but a massively lucrative and popular multimedia powerhouse that endures to this day. Accordingly, February 27th is now internationally recognised as “National Pokémon Day”, which I’m expanding to an entire month of Pokémon every Tuesday in February.

Released: 27 February 2016
Originally Released: 12 September 1998
Developer: Nintendo
Original Developer: Game Freak
Also Available For: Game Boy

The Background:
Although I’ve talked about Pokémon quite a bit in the past, a review of one of the classic titles is long overdue. Initially developed as Capsule Monsters, Pokémon was the brainchild of game designer Satoshi Tajiri, who spent his childhood collecting insects and sought to make a videogame around the same subject, one that emphasised exploration and collecting rather than needless violence. It was the legendary Shigeru Miyamoto who suggested producing two GameBoy cartridges to realise Tajiri’s dream of allowing players to trade and battle using the system’s Link Cables. Artist and long-time friend of Tajiri Ken Sugimori spearheaded the designs of the titular Pokémon alongside a handful of others (including Atsuko Nishida) than ten people who conceived the various designs for all 151 Pokémon, and the original Pocket Monsters: Red and Green proved an immediate hit in their native Japan and were soon followed by a third version, Pocket Monsters: Blue, which included upgraded sprites, alternative dialogue, and other gameplay tweaks. This was the version of the game that served as the basis for Pokémon: Blue and Red, which became an instant cultural phenomenon upon release in the West.

Just as Pokémon: Yellow was influenced by the anime, so too did it impact later Pokémon videogames.

For its international release, Pokémon was accompanied by an aggressive multimedia marketing strategy and ancillary merchandise; much of this revolved around franchise mascot Pikachu, who was at the forefront of the still-ongoing anime series, which served as the perfect accompaniment to the videogames. So popular was Pikachu, and the anime, that a fourth version of the game was produced to capitalise on both; Pokémon: Yellow Version not only featured all-new battle sprites and gameplay mechanics, but also contained characters, references, and alterations based on the anime. The game was made to coincide with the franchise’s first feature-length adventure, was the last Game Boy title released for the system outside of Japan, and became the fastest-selling handheld game of all time upon release. Because it was essentially the same highly praised videogame as before, Pokémon: Yellow Version was highly praised; while some questioned its release and viability considering all-new Pokémon games were set to be released, critics noted that the game offered just enough to keep fans and newcomers happy. Pokémon: Yellow Version was pretty influential; the gameplay mechanic of having a Pokémon following the player’s avatar around would return in later titles, the game received a manga adaptation, and it was eventually released on the 3DS Virtual Console with the ability to communicate with the then-current Pokémon titles.

The Plot:
The time has come for you and your childhood rival to receive your very own Pokémon from Professor Oak, However, you arrival too late and are lumbered with a disobedient Pikachu to accompany you as you challenge the eight Kanto Gym Leaders in a bid to become a Pokémon Master. Your journey is also fraught with danger as the vindictive Team Rocket seeks to steal Pokémon for their own nefarious ends, to say nothing of having genetically created the most powerful Pokémon of all!

Just like its predecessors, Pokémon Yellow Version: Special Pikachu Edition is a top-down role-playing game (RPG) in which players are introduced to the wonderful world of Pokémon by the kindly, if forgetful, Professor Oak. After naming your avatar and your rival, you’re charged with heading out into the Kanto region, exploring fields, caves, and buildings in search of Pokémon, powerful native creatures that are used to trade, raise, and battle with other Pokémon Trainers. If you’ve played Pokémon: Red, Blue, or even Green before, you’ll be immediately familiar with the concept but, even though it lacks the influx of hand-holding and mandatory tutorials of the modern games, Pokémon: Yellow does a good job of introducing you to the context and mechanics of the game and then sending you on your way to figure things out for yourself or find clues by chatting to the many non-playable characters (NPCs) scattered throughout Kanto. Since it released on the Game Boy, Pokémon: Yellow has a very simply two-button control system and user interface; I say “simple” for this latter aspect as it’s both easy to navigate and incredibly restrictive. You can open your bag to view your inventory from the pause screen, and your items will be listed in the order you picked them up; you can shuffle them about using the ‘Select’ button but your inventory is limited, so you’ll need to deposit some items on your PC to make room. Your PC inventory is similarly arranged; everything’s in a list here and there’s no onscreen text to tell you what items do, so it can be a little tricky to navigate and figure things out at times. Gameplay is divided into two distinct modes: exploring towns and other areas, and battling Pokémon. In the former, you wander around on a four-way grid, chatting to NPCs with A, activating switches, and picking up items; if you enter grass, you’re very likely going to trigger an encounter with a wild Pokémon, who also spontaneously attack in caves and when traversing the sea. When this happens, the game switches to a battle screen in which you and your opponent take turns to inflict damage or status effects on each other, or use in-battle items to heal or relieve status effects or try and capture the Pokémon. You also have the option to run, however if the opposing Pokémon is at a higher level than yours or you’re in a Trainer battle this option is either limited or completely restricted.

A diverse team with wide Type coverage is key to besting your opposition and growing stronger.

Pokémon battles operate using a “Type” system that is, essentially, a version of Rock/Paper/Scissors; Water-Type Pokémon will be more effective against Fire-Type Pokémon, for example, while Grass-Types trump Water and are weak to Fire. There are fifteen different Types of Pokémon in the game and each has different capabilities against the other; Normal-Type Pokémon moves won’t have any effect against Ghost-Types and will barely touch Rock-Types, for example. It’s a pretty simple system to figure out and battle text will always tell you if moves are “Super effective” or “Not very effective” so you can figure out the best course of attack; location, Pokémon names, and their colouring and appearance can also clue you in on the best attack strategy, too. So, if you’re in a cave and encounter a Zubat, you’ll probably want to use an Electric- or Rock-Type attack to inflict maximum damage and if the opposing Pokémon is blue or encountered at sea, it’s mostly likely a Water-Type. Unlike in the previous games, you’re forced to start your journey with a Pikachu, one who refuses to stay in its PokéBall and who follows you around on the overworld. You can interact with Pikachu at any time and the game stresses treating it well so that it shows more affection towards you, though unlike in the modern games this has no real in-game benefits and you can just as easily deposit it in a PC and never use it. Having Pikachu is an issue in the early game as your first real challenge is Rock-Type Pokémon Gym Leader Brock, so you’ll need to explore the nearby towns and fields to catch a Fighting- or Grass-Type Pokémon to actually stand a chance against his Pokémon, but the game has a pretty consistent difficulty curve. Early wild Pokémon and Pokémon Trainers are all low-level Pokémon with limited moves, and you’re generally always at an advantage as your Pokémon usually always have higher stats. Pokémon battles will award you with experience points (EXP); earn enough, and your Pokémon will level-up, which will increase their Hit Points (HP), Attack, Defence, Speed, and Special stats and thus make them more powerful and more capable in battle. Unlike in later games, there’s no onscreen indication of your EXP progress unless you manually head into the menu screen, which can make levelling-up a bit of a chore.

Be mindful of the nearest Pokémon center as you’ll need them to heal from battles and status effects.

While you can get pretty far with just one or two powerful Pokémon, it’s recommended that you have a diverse team with decent Type coverage in their moves; many Pokémon can learn moves either from levelling-up or from Technical Machines (TMs) that are of a different Type, so you can have a Water-Type Pokémon bust out Ice- or Psychic-Type moves, which can make them more useful in battles, and you can both swap out your Pokémon to share the EXP gained from battles and earn hidden Effort Value (EV) points by consecutively battling certain Pokémon (so, for example, if you battle a bunch of Geodude in a row, you’ll gain an extra boost to your Defence when you level-up) and you can also find (or purchase, for an extortionate price) Vitamins that will boost individual stats. While it’s important to consider things like this in battle, and the moveset of your diverse team, it’s not always that necessary and is only as complicated as you make it; I usually settle for my starter Pokémon being about ten levels higher than my other Pokémon, then train up the rest in teams of two (usually Water/Fire, Electric/Psychic, and a wild card) to have a consistently strong team. If you walk in front of another Pokémon Trainer, they’ll initiate an inescapable battle with you; in a Trainer battle, you can’t run or catch the opposing Pokémon, and trainers have all the same options as you while not being limited by Power Points (PP). This means that they can swap out their Pokémon, heal or buff them, and they can attack without fear of running out of PP; each move has a different amount of PP, from five to thirty, which dictates how often you can use that move. When you run out of PP, you can’t use that attack anymore until you replenish it with an Elixir or restore your Pokémon at a Pokémon Center; if all your PP is drained, your only option is to “struggle”, which inflicts some serious recoil damage, so it’s wise to use your best moves sparingly. In battle, Pokémon will take damage; when their HP is drained, they’ll faint and need to be revived with a Revive or for free at a Pokémon Center but, if all of your Pokémon faint, you’ll “black out”, lose some money, and respawn at the last Pokémon Center you visited. You also need to be wary of status effects, however; some Pokémon attacks will cause you to flinch (essentially miss a turn) or become confused (which can cause your Pokémon to hurt themselves) and, in this version of the game, have a tendency to miss entirely or land “critical hits” for extra damage, but Pokémon can also be put to sleep, paralysed, poisoned, frozen, and burned, all of which will either drain your HP or leave you vulnerable to attack. You can undo these status effects using certain items, but even if you emerge victorious your Pokémon will still steadily lose health on the overworld if poisoned, so you’ll either need to keep your inventory well stocked or be mindful of the nearest Pokémon Center.

Level-up your Pokémon to evolve them, give them nicknames, or store them in Bill’s PC system.

Winning Trainer battles also nets you PokéDollars, which you can spent in PokéMarts and at vending machines on healing items and other useful gear to help you out in battle or in raising your Pokémon. Items and Pokémon are stored in PCs when you run out of room (you can only have six Pokémon at a time, so any additional Pokémon are automatically transferred to your PC, though you’ll need to heal them if you choose to use them) and the game allows you to manually save your progress at any time (though you only get one save file to use). I recommend saving frequently, and especially before Gym Leader battles or encounters with Legendary Pokémon as this allows you to reset the game on the off-chance that you’re defeated, thus sparing you from losing money. You’re given two primary goals in the game: Battle the eight Gym Leaders to earn their badges and challenge the Pokémon League and complete Professor Oak’s PokéDex, which you do by capturing every Pokémon in the game. When you encounter a Pokémon, its basic data is stored in this encyclopaedia so you can see where it appears on the overworld; you can then hunt it down and catch it and either try to capture its next form or “evolve” it by levelling-up, using special stones, or trading it. The majority of Pokémon will evolve into at least one extra form through levelling-up, which will add their new form’s data to the PokéDex and make them stronger; you can cancel evolution at any time by pressing B and this is sometimes recommended as Pokémon learn moves faster in their weaker forms and some moves can only be learned prior to evolution. Similarly, each Pokémon can only know four moves at a time; when it grows strong enough to learn a new move, you can choose to either replace an existing move or not learn the new one, but you’ll need to visit the Move Deleter to do this outside of levelling-up or to forget Hidden Machine (HM) moves. When you capture a Pokémon, you’re given the option of nicknaming it; again, this doesn’t really do anything beyond personalising them to your Trainer and your characters are limited, but it’s a nice touch for making your team unique.

Side quests, some basic puzzles, and some fun little mini games are on offer to spice things up.

Navigation in Pokémon: Yellow is pretty simple; you can get a town map early on (or view them in Pokémon Centers) that shows you the different towns, locations, and “Routes” you can travel, but your progress is constantly restricted by trees, bodies of water, dark caves, and patches of grass. You can climb ladders to reach different levels of caves, hop over ledges for shortcuts, and get past these obstacles with HMs but you’ll progressively earn more convenient ways to travel across the map. Pokémon like Abra can Teleport you back to the last Pokémon Center you visited, Escape Ropes will allow you to quickly exit any areas you’re in, you’ll acquire a bike that dramatically speeds up your movement speed, and you’ll eventually be able to fly and surf to quickly get around the overworld. Some areas will require some rudimentary puzzle solving, generally involving pressing switches (either hidden ones or by pushing boulders onto them) to open doors, teleporting using special pads, or spinning around in maze-like environments. You’ll also be given some fetch quests to complete that will open up new areas and gift you items, need to acquire keys and tickets to open doors or access locations, and be able to trade (or buy…) with NPCs to acquire new Pokémon. Trading can also be done in Pokémon Centers, which allows you to trade Pokémon with a friend (or battle them, if you like) to get Pokémon that aren’t in the game or evolve certain Pokémon, like Haunter/Gengar. Traded Pokémon level-up faster then regular Pokémon, though you can’t change their nicknames and they’ll always have the Trainer ID of their original Trainer. You also need to be mindful of levelling-up too quickly; if you’re Pokémon is too high a level, and you don’t have the appropriate Badge, they may disobey you by ignoring your commands or loafing around. In addition to the slot machines available to play in the Celadon City Game Corner and the Safari Zone in Fuchsia City (which gives you a time limit to catch rare Pokémonby baiting or angering them), Pokémon: Yellow also adds printer functionality for the Game Boy Printer and a cute little mini game that lets you net points by pulling of mad tricks with your surfing Pikachu!

Graphics and Sound:
Since it released on the original Game Boy, Pokémon: Yellow is pretty limited in terms of its graphics and visual presentation compared to later games in the series, but I think these early Pokémon games still did a really good job of making the most of their limited hardware. While most of the towns don’t really look that different, they vary in size and colour palette and all have a unique music track associated with them; some have larger buildings like the Celadon City Department Store, a science museum, and the haunted Pokémon Tower, while others are flanked by caves, bodies of water, or are literally islands in the middle of the ocean. Towns all contain a number of houses with NPCs to talk to, some of whom will give you hints, items, or side quests to progress further; Routes are sometimes blocked by trees or a sleeping Snorlax, and you’ll find fun elements to interact with, like a Super Nintendo Entertainment Systems (SNES) in your bedroom, Mr. Psychic, and Copycat. Routes are generally littered with Pokémon Trainers, grass, and items to find but some items are hidden from view; you can tap A to pick these up at random but an Itemfinder will help by emitting a beep whenever a hidden item is nearby, and HMs like Cut and Flash will make short work of trees, grass, and dark caves to help you progress.

Though essentially the same game, Pokémon: Yellow is bolstered by a new colour palette and new additions.

Sprites are all pretty adorable as well; while many NPCs all look the same, they have a lot of personality in the things they say and all have an appreciation or some kind of advice to give regarding Pokémon. Your avatar is clearly recognisable despite the limited graphics and colour palette, and you’ll always be able to spot your rival, Gym Leaders, and agents of team Rocket thanks to their unique sprites and accompanying themes. In Pokémon: Yellow, Pikachu is your constant companion, waddling around behind you on the overworld and spitting out a grainy, but ambitious, cry of “Pika!” when thrown into battle. Pikachu has unique entrance and exit animations in battle since it doesn’t use a PokéBall, but otherwise battles remain largely the same; limited animation frames are used to convey the impact of moves on Pokémon and the moves themselves are represented by the screen shaking, flashing lights, and partially animated sprite work that is largely reused over and over. You can actually turn battle animations off in the settings, which speeds the game up a bit, but takes away some of the fun in my opinion; still, the frame rate can struggle a bit at times both in and out of battle, and you’ll find the Pokémon cries are a little distorted because of the hardware. Pokémon: Yellow completely overhauls the in-battle sprites of the Pokémon and adds in numerous influences from the anime in the form of additional NPCs who gift you new Pokémon, Chansey’s being in Pokémon  Centers, and Jesse and James of Team Rocket fame, which helps add a little visual flair to the game but I really don’t care for many of the new battle sprite designs. Finally, all of the jaunty, memorable tunes are here to enjoy in all their chip-tune glory, and the game features a brand new intro video and theme tune as well.

Enemies and Bosses:
As you journey around Kanto, you’ll encounter a variety of wild Pokémon out in the field and in use by a number of different Pokémon Trainers. Wild Pokémon start off at a low level, usually between three and six, and stay at that level in each area; a level four Caterpie you encountered in Viridian Forest will stay level four when you return in the post-game, but wild Pokémon levels increase as you journey to new areas, meaning you’ll face progressively tougher opposition as you go on, which will help you to grow stronger on a rising curve. Your ability to weaken these Pokémon for capture or defeat them entirely is directly tied to your current level and the moves you know; if your Pokémon are under-levelled, you’ll face a tough time even with the Type advantage, but if you bring a Normal-Type into a cave or a Fire-Type to the sea then you may struggle even if you’re at a higher level. This is true of the Pokémon Trainers you encounter; while they start off pretty simple and use weak Pokémon like Rattata and Pidgey, they eventually use more formidable and evolved Pokémon and also have more on hand. They’ll also withdraw them, heal them, or buff them with items and, while the enemy A.I. can be janky and easily exploitable at times, Pokémon Trainers tend to use moves that have a Type advantage over your current Pokémon. Still, with the right training regime and a diverse team, you can easily overcome every opponent you face; simply take some time between Gym battles to level-up, maybe focus on developing certain stats, and bringing your team as close to the level cap as possible, utilising moves that are super effective and sharing EXP wherever you can, and you can easily trample over the opposition once you’ve gotten past the uphill battle at the start of the game.

As if Team Rocket wasn’t bad enough, your asshole rival constantly pops up to challenge you.

Your most persistent foes in the game are the nefarious Team Rocket; easily identifiable by their black attire and caps, this gang of Poké-nappers have taken over buildings and even entire towns in a bid to steal Pokémon for their own evil uses or to acquire technology like the Silph Scope and Master Ball. For the most part, Team Rocket grunts aren’t much different from other Pokémon Trainers you encounter and are actually fairly predictable as they stick to common Pokémon like Zubat and Ekans, but you’ll also have to battle the duo of Jesse and James a few times throughout the story as these buffoons have been added in as sub-boss battles in key areas of the game. Like their anime counterparts, Jesse and James use Koffing/Weezing, Ekans/Arbok, and Meowth in battle and even spout their famous catchphrase, though they’re basically just another grunt to fight past rather than being pivotal to the plot. Another recurring obstacle is your rival; this arrogant and rude little git will pop up at the worst times, challenging you to a battle to prove his superiority over you and changing up his team as the game progresses to show how he’s tried to amass the most powerful Pokémon team possible. Unlike in the previous games, your rival starts off with an Eevee, which he eventually evolves into either Flareon, Jolteon, or Vaporeon (in my case, it was Flareon), and your rival will be both the first Pokémon Trainer you battle and the last as he eventually manages to become the Pokémon League Champion in keeping with his annoying ability to always stay one step ahead of you. While your rival can be a tricky customer, a diverse and high-levelled team can easily fend him off; in my game, he ended up with a team of Sandslash, Alakazam, Exeggutor, Cloyster, Magneton, and Flareon so it’s simply a case of shuffling your team so that your Water-Type goes out first and then swapping out your Pokémon between each knock out so you can hit a super effective move or have a better chance to resisting his attacks. Probably his biggest advantage is speed, as he often has Pokémon that have higher Speed stats, his Type coverage, and his eventually use of Potions and buffs to keep his team going strong but you can overcome him at every turn if you just take the time to do some grinding.

Eight Gyms await you, some with puzzles to solve beforehand, but they’re easily bested with grinding.

In your quest to challenge the Elite Four, you’ll need to travel to at least eight different towns and battle the eight Kanto Gym Leaders. Each Gym Leader specialises in a specific Pokémon Type and is protected by a number of protégés, but some Gyms even include little puzzles that you have to solve. You’ll need to investigate the bins in Lieutenant Surge’s Gym to lower the electrical barrier protecting up, navigate an invisible maze in Koga’s Gym, take an optional quiz in Blane’s Gym, and travel along spinning pads in Giovanni’s Gym. Other times, Gyms will be closed, locked, or otherwise barred and you’ll need to go on a short (or long, in the case of the last Gym) side quest to gain access but, once inside, you can often choose to avoid fighting the minions if you don’t feel like it (but I don’t recommend this as you’ll miss out on some EXP and cash). Since each Gym specialises in a Pokémon Type, the game pushes you to have a diverse team on hand, but you can often find helpful Pokémon in the wild nearby that can counteract the Gym’s specialty. Things start off relatively easily; as long as you can grab a Mankey, you can easily take out Brock, and your Pikachu will absolutely trounce Misty, but things can get difficult when fighting Lt. Surge and his Raichu…unless you’ve been grinding or snagged a Diglett from the nearby cave. By the time you reach Koga, you should be powerful and varied enough to easily overcome every subsequent Gym, though he and Erika can cause issues by inflicting status effects with their Poison- and Grass-Type Pokémon. Blaine can also be tough because of his powerful Arcanine, but you can easily overpower him with a Water-Type if you’ve been training one for a while. Giovanni, the leader of team Rocket who you battle prior to tackling him in his Gym, is heralded as Kanto’s most powerful Gym Leader but, while he has some intimidating Pokémon on hand, his focus on Ground-Type moves means a Water- or Flying-Type can significantly neuter this threat (especially if you snagged Articuno earlier).

The Elite Four are a tough prospect, but bested with smart training, item use, and a diverse team.

Defeating the Gym Leaders nets you not just a big cash payout and their Gym badge, but also a TM that allows you to teach their favourite move to one of your team. You’ll need every one of these Gym Badges, and most of the HMs, to navigate through Victory Road, a cave full of high-level Pokémon (and a great place to level-up your team) that stands as your final challenge before the Elite Four, the most formidable Pokémon Trainers in all of Kanto but, before you can reach them. Thankfully, there’s a makeshift Pokémon Center and PokéMart right before the Elite Four, so you can heal up and buy some restorative items before tackling them, and you’ll probably need these as you have to face all four Trainers in a row, and the champion, without any healing breaks in between, so you’re left with your team and the items you have on you. Lorelei and Bruno don’t really pose much of a problem; focusing on Water- and Ice-Type and Fighting-Type Pokémon respectively, you’re in a great position to overwhelm them with your Pikachu, which should be about level sixty by this point, and an Ice- or Psychic-Type Pokémon like Kadabra or Poliwrath. Agatha is a bit of a hurdle, however; specialising in Ghost-Type Pokémon, her Gengar’s love to confuse you, put you to sleep, and drain your health with their moves, so again it’s helpful to have a strong Psychic-Type Pokémon on you. Lance is probably the most unique challenge in the whole game as he utilises Dragon-Type Pokémon, a Type that you really don’t encounter anywhere else in the game except in the safari Zone. Sporting powerful moves like Thunderbolt, Hyper Beam, Ice Beam, and Dragon Rage, his Dragonairs and Dragonite can be tough to get past unless you have Ice- or Dragon-Type Pokémon or moves of your own, which you definitely will if you snagged Articuno our taught Ice Beam to someone on your team. After you topple the,, and the champion, Professor Oak registers you and your team in the Hall of Champions and you can review this, and any subsequent victories, from your PC after the credits roll.

Four powerful, Legendary Pokémon await you in the game’s toughest areas.

Although you’re given a multitude of opportunities to catch the wild Pokémon encountered in the game, some are much rarer than others. In Mount Moon and the Fighting Dojo, you’ll be given the opportunity to pick from one of two Pokémon (with the former being fossilised and needing to be restored on Cinnabar Island), immediately meaning that you won’t be able to acquire the other without trading. You can win (or buy) Game Coins to purchase rare Pokémon in Celadon City, encounter unique Pokémon like Kangaskhan and Dratini in the Safari Zone, and, while you’ll battle an enraged Marowak, the only way to acquire one is to evolve a Cubone. Similarly, you’ll have just two chances to capture a Snorlax as the bulbous Pokémon block your path in two places, but you’ll only get one chance to catch the three Legendary birds, Articuno, Moltres, and Zapdos. These powerful elemental birds are found in Seafoam Islands, Victory Road, and the Power Plant, respectively, and you absolutely need to save before battling them as they won’t appear again if you knock them out and save after. You’ll also need a hefty supply of PokéBalls, Pokémon moves that inflict paralysis, freezing, or sleep, and a whole lot of luck and patience as the game’s annoying tendency to have balls “miss” can make these battles needlessly frustrating. When trying to catch the bird son this play through, I continuously ran out of Ultra Balls or kept knocking the birds out, but then random managed to catch each within five throws of a weaker Great Ball, so go figure. After besting the Elite Four, Cerulean Cave will open up; this cavernous area is a great place to level-up and find some new items, but is also home to the most powerful Pokémon in the entire game, Mewtwo. This genetically-engineered, Psychic-Type Pokémon can deliver massive damage with Psychic and even heal itself with recover but, while it’s entirely possible to capture it using status effects and Ultra Balls, it’s much easier to simply toss the never-miss, one-throw capture Master Ball at it and add it to your team to wipe out all subsequent challenges.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As you explore the wide land of Kanto, you’ll find plenty of pick-ups strewn around, be gifted them from NPCs, or will be able to buy a variety of items from PokéMarts. These include healing items like Potions, Super Potions, and Hyper Potions, restorative items like Revive and Max Revive, and status-healing items like Awakening and Antidote. These are relatively commonplace, though are not widely available across the region; the PokéMart in Pewter City will forever sell the basic PokéBalls and Potions, while only the more expensive items are available in Celadon City and at Victory Road. Other items can also be acquired that can aid you in battle; PokéDolls can help you flee from battle, the likes of X-Defend will boost your stats for that battle, and you can snag a PokéFlute that lets you wake up sleeping Pokémon without having to constantly buy Awakenings. Vitamins and evolutionary stones are far harder to find on the overworld, but can be bought from Celadon City’s Department Store and are great for raising individual stats and quickly evolving Pokémon to their more powerful forms, and you can also fend of random encounters with repels, find Nuggets to sell for cash (and sell most items you find), a Coin Case to play slot machines, and key items like the Itemfinder and EXP All if you capture enough Pokémon to appease Professor Oak’s aide.

Buy, find, or acquire items to boost your abilities, progress the story, and learn new moves.

One of the most common items you’ll need are PokéBalls; these come in three purchasable types (regular PokéBalls, slightly better Great Balls, and even better Ultra Balls) and you’ll need a lot of them to complete your PokéDex, especially as they often miss when tossed at their target. The Master Ball is a one-of-a-kind, never-fail PokéBall that is best saved for Mewtwo, and you’ll also need to plan out exactly how you want to use your TMs as these can only be used once. Some can be bought for Game Coins, but mostly you get one use and that’s it; conversely, HMs can be used multiple times but you’ll need to visit the Move Deleter to unlearn them. As you level-up, your Pokémon will learn new moves, with their most powerful moves becoming available if you put the effort into raising them. Some are harder to evolve than others as they level-up slower or don’t learn decent moves for some time, others mainly learn moves that boost their speed, attack, or defence, which doesn’t help me as I prefer to fill my move slots with attacking moves. Some Pokémon also don’t evolve at all, which can lower the incentive on using them as you don’t see as much progression when using them.

Additional Features:
Of the 151 Pokémon available in this generation, 137 are available to catch or own in Pokémon: Yellow either by evolving or trading in-game. As you play, you can consult with Professor Oak on your progress and he’ll offer feedback and tips for where to catch new Pokémon, and you’ll need the three fishing rods and the HMs to find all the Pokémon available in the game. Even if you catch or evolve everything available, you’ll still need to trade with a copy of Pokémon: Red and/or Blue to complete the PokéDex; although you unfortunately still have no legitimate way to acquire the elusive Mew, you don’t need it to complete the PokéDex and will be gifted with high praise from Professor Oak and even a certificate from the game’s developers. While many of the areas you visit are mandatory, some are optional; you can explore caves to find new Pokémon and shortcuts, bring water to checkpoint guards to make travelling a lot easier, and tackle the Fighting Dojo to earn either Hitmonchan or Hitmonlee. Although there’s no way to battle any of the Pokémon Trainers or Gym Leaders again after you’ve beaten them, the aforementioned Seafoam Islands, Victory Road, and the Power Plant all include diverging paths that lead to one of the Legendary Birds, and you can challenge the Elite Four and the champion over and over again to level your team up to the maximum level and earn big cash to spend in the Game Corner and snag those rare Pokémon and items. You can revisit the Safari Zone as often as you can afford the entry fee and search about for the rare Pokémon found there, and pull off a few glitches to both allow these Pokémon to appear in the overworld and duplicate your items (though you risk corrupting your save file if you do this). Post-game content is primarily focused on completing the PokéDex and travelling to the Cerulean Cave to capture Mewtwo; otherwise, you’ll probably be spending most of your time grinding, capturing, or trading and battling with other players using the online functionality.

The Summary:
It’s been a long time since I played the first generation of Pokémon and it is a little jarring returning to a simpler time before many of the gameplay mechanics and quality of life improvements that were introduced in subsequent games. The core gameplay is still there, and it’s just as simple to get to grips with the mechanics once you get going, but there’s no denying that things are much slower and more aggravating in Pokémon Yellow Version: Special Pikachu Edition. The lack on an in-battle EXP bar, the messy organisation of the PCs and inventory, and not being able to keep track of the Pokémon you’ve caught outside of viewing the PokéDex make things a bit tedious as you’re constantly going back and forth and scrolling between menus (you even need to manually activate HMs rather than the option simply appearing when you press A near objects). Battles are made incredibly frustrating due to the janky A.I. that sees critical hits, confused attacks, missed moves and missed PokéBalls dragging things down, and many of the new artwork for the Pokémon really is incredibly ugly. On the plus side, though, this remains a timeless gaming experience; everything you loved about the first generation of Pokémon is here, plus a little more thanks to the influences from the anime: while it’s annoying that you can’t evolve your Pikachu, it’s cute having it following you around and saying its name and playing the surfing mini game, and I loved seeing Jess and James pop up as opponents (I just wish they had played a bigger role in the narrative). Pokémon Yellow Version: Special Pikachu Edition is certainly the definitive game of the first generation, allowing you to acquire all three of the Kanto starters and offering a variety of Pokémon previously exclusive to its predecessors and even including new layouts for some areas. While subsequent sequels quickly made these first games irrelevant by improving every aspect of the presentation and gameplay, there’s still a lovely hit of nostalgia to be found here and Pokémon Yellow Version: Special Pikachu Edition remains as entertaining now, despite its flaws, as it was back in the day.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Did you enjoy Pokémon Yellow Version: Special Pikachu Edition? How do you think it compares to the original games, and which of the first generation titles was your favourite? Did you enjoy having Pikachu as your partner or did you just leave it in a box? Which of the Gym Leaders did you struggle against? Did you nickname your Pokémon and who made it into your final team? Did you ever complete the PokéDex? Which of the Pokémon games, and titular monsters, is your favourite? How are you planning to celebrate National Pokémon Day this year? Whatever your thoughts on Pokémon, sign up to leave them below or drop your comments on my social media and be sure to check in next week for more Pokémon content!

Talking Movies [PokéMonth]: Pokémon: The Mastermind of Mirage Pokémon

Upon the release of Pokémon: Blue Version and Pokémon: Red Version (Game Freak, 1996), a new craze swept through playgrounds across the world. Entire generations have grown up with Pokémon as clever marketing saw Nintendo’s newest franchise become a massively lucrative and popular multimedia powerhouse that endures to this day. Accordingly, February 27th is now internationally recognised as “National Pokémon Day”, which I’m expanding to an entire month of Pokémon every Tuesday in February, which is even more fitting given that February 6 is the day that Mew successfully gave birth to my favourite Pokémon, Mewtwo!

Talking Movies

Released: 29 April 2006
Director: Kunihiko Yuyama and Masamitsu Hidaka
Distributor: Shogakukan Productions / Pokémon USA, Inc.
Budget: Unknown
Stars: Sarah Natochenny, Bill Rogers, Michele Knotz, Jamie Peacock, Billy Regan, Katsuyuki Konishi, and Ikue Ōtani

The Plot:
Ash Ketchum (Natochenny) and his friends are invited to the mansion of Doctor Yung (Regan), a Pokémon scientist who has developed a machine to create holographic mirage Pokémon. However, he is kidnapped by the mysterious “Mirage Master” who wishes to use the system to produce Pokémon with absolutely no weaknesses, and it’s up to Ash and friends to preserve the natural balance of the Pokémon world.

The Background:
I’ve discussed in detail before about how influential Pokémon (Nintendo/Creatures/Game Freak, 1995 to present) was when it was first released, though the videogames were only one part of the multimedia franchise as kids became engrossed in every piece of Pokémon merchandise available, including the still-ongoing anime series (1997 to present). Accordingly, the aptly-titled Pokémon: The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back (Yuyama, 1998) proved to be a massive financial success despite the many changes made in the translation process. With Mewtwo being one of Pokémon’s most popular characters, and considering the movie’s success, it was perhaps inevitable that Mewtwo became the focal point of the anime’s tenth anniversary special, which chief director Kunihiko Yuyama aimed to be a celebration of the evolution of Pokémon over the last ten years. Premiering on Kids’ WB and made widely available as a DVD extra, the one-hour special received crticism for replacing the long-running English language voice cast and is generally regard as the worst Pokémon special ever made.

The Review:
The tenth anniversary special opens with Ash, Pikachu (Ōtani), May (Knotz) and her little brother Max (Peacock), and former Pewter City gym leader Brock (Rogers) travelling through a forest in Ash’s home region of Kanto. Ash is feeling particularly smug because he has received an invitation from Dr. Yung to test his “amazing Pokémon training skills” against the doctor’s new battle system, and the group quickly arrived at Dr. Yung’s laboratory, which is housed within an elaborate castle known as the Mirage Mansion. There, Ash is surprised to find that his mentor and neighbour, Professor Samuel Oak (Billy Beach), and his old travelling companion and former Cerulean City gym leader, Misty (Knotz), have also been invited to attend; Ash is disappointed to find that his invitation wasn’t unique and that Dr. Yung has been passing his compliments out to other notably Pokémon trainers. Their mysterious host soon arrives, and the group do that blood annoying thing where they waste time introducing themselves to him, as though anyone really needs such an introduction, but it’s notable that Dr. Yung and Professor Oak are already familiar with each and have a previous professional relationship.

Ash and his friends are excited at the prospect of pitting their skills against Dr. Yung’s Mirage Pokémon.

Ever the eager beaver, Ash asks to see the doctor’s vaulted new battle system and the group are stunned to find that the entire floor of the Mirage Mansion has been converted into a “mirage field”. Using this holographic technology, Dr. Yung is able to conjure up a variety of Pokémon based on their Pokémon data; Dr. Yung’s Mirage Pokémon are realistic down to the smallest detail, save for an obvious glow, and Dr. Yung is extremely proud of having perfected his technology, which is even capable of recreating extinct and Legendary Pokémon in order to better understand their capabilities. Naturally, Ash immediately volunteers to pit his skills against these Mirage Pokémon, but Misty overrules him on the basis of chivalry. Misty and Dr. Yung engage in a simple, one-on-one, knockout battle that pits his Mirage Aggron (Unknown) against Misty’s Staryu (Shin-ichiro Miki). This is another of those horrible mismatches that could only take place in the anime; seriously I have no idea why Misty, a former gym leader, wouldn’t send her Starmie (Ōtani) out against an Aggron, and we’ll never know if Staryu’s more powerful and competent form would have stood a better chance against the Mirage Aggron. Still, the point of the battle is to showcase not only how powerful and fast Dr. Yung’s Mirage Pokémon are, but also that he’s fully capable of programming them to use any movies he wishes; in this case, the Mirage Aggron was given an additional edge because it was able to use Bullet Seed and Thunder Wave, two moves that are super effective against Water-types like Staryu.

While Team Rocket aren’t a threat, the Mirage Master is a heinous villain who cares little for a Pokémon’s welfare.

Despite this, Ash remains as excited as ever (if not more excited) to pit his Pikachu against the Mirage Aggron, but their battle is interrupted before it can begin when the Mirage System is suddenly hijacked by the malevolent Mirage Master, who turns Dr. Yung’s Mirage Pokémon against the heroes. Unfortunately for the mysterious, masked villain, all of the heroes are able to escape from the Mirage Mansion by running away, leaving only Professor Oak behind, and the Mirage Pokémon are unable to leave the confines of the mansion due to the limitations of the Mirage System. The Mirage Master holds Professor Oak hostage deep within Dr. Yung’s laboratory and demands to know the access password for the professor’s laboratory database so that the masked villain can put Oak’s research towards creating better, and even more powerful Mirage Pokémon that will be super effective against all types of Pokémon. Professor Oak is disgusted at the villain’s disrespect for the strengths, weaknesses, and individuality that comes from natural Pokémon. Determined to rescue Professor Oak, the heroes decide to split up: May and Max watch over the Mirage Mansion, Brock goes to contact Officer Jenny (Peacock) for help, and Ash, Pikachu, and Misty sneak into the Mirage Mansion using their Water-type Pokémon. As if the Mirage Pokémon wasn’t bad enough, Ash and Misty soon bump into regular buffoons and would-be Poké-nappers Jessie (Knotz), James (Billy Beach), and wise-cracking Meowth (ibid) of Team Rocket have followed our heroes to the Mirage Mansion with designs to finally get their hands on Ash’s Pikachu. However, their goals immediately shift to stealing or repurposing Dr. Yung’s technology for their own nefarious ends to create powerful Pokémon for themselves, win the favour of their boss, and become rich either through using or selling the Mirage System. However, Team Rocket are hopelessly outmatched by the Mirage Pokémon and quickly sent packing before they can influence the plot in any meaningful way, and Ash and Misty are separated while battling Mirage Pokémon. Cut off from his friends, Ash is assisted by a Mirage Mew (Satomi Koorogi), a gentle Mirage Pokémon and the victim of constant attacks and ridicule from the Mirage Master, who considers it a “flawed specimen”. Mirage Mew leads Ash to where Professor Oak and Pikachu are being held captive, but he’s too late to stop the Mirage Master from forcibly downloading data of all the Legendary Pokémon Pikachu has encountered from its memories.

Thanks to having access to near-unlimited power, the Mirage Mewtwo proves to be a ruthless foe.

Horrified at Pikachu’s suffering, Oak reluctantly gives over his password, allowing the Mirage Master to hijack every Pokémon database around the world and giving birth to his ultimate Mirage Pokémon: Mirage Mewtwo (Katsuyuki Konishi). Rather than being the same Pokémon Ash encountered before, Mirage Mewtwo is an all-powerful creation of the Mirage System, one incapable of telepathic communication but boasting every Pokémon attack available. Not only is the Mirage Master revealed to be Dr. Yung in disguise and out for revenge after his research was disregarded due to his immoral attitude towards Pokémon, he also extends the Mirage System outside of the Mirage Mansion using a series of missiles and recreates Mirage versions of Entei, Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres. Naturally, the heroes’ Pokémon are no match for the Mirage Legendary Pokémon, much less Mirage Mewtwo; not only can it destroy other Mirage Pokémon in a single attack, it makes short work of even Professor Oak’s Dragonite (Unknown) by unleashing powerful attacks such as Flamethrower and Hyper Beam. Mirage Mew comes to their aid, shielding them from Mirage Mewtwo’s attack, but is ultimately overwhelmed and disintegrated by Mirage Mewtwo’s attack. Dr. Yung then downloads all of the Mirage Pokémon data into his Mirage Mewtwo, causing tumorous lumps to pop up all over its body and a range of powerful attacks to be unleashed all at once. Right as Mirage Mewtwo is poised to finish off the heroes, Mirage Mew remerges from the Mirage System (and within Mirage Mewtwo’s body) and exerts its control over Mirage Mewtwo, holding it in place so that Pikachu can destroy it with a Volt Tackle. Sadly, Mirage Mew is also destroyed along with its malevolent counterpart, and the entire Mirage System; Dr. Yung refuses to surrender, however, and disappears into the flaming rubble and explosions of his Mirage Mansion and is presumed to have perished alongside his research. In the aftermath, Ash and his friends thank the efforts of the Mirage Mew and condemn Dr. Yung’s immoral nature, before resolving to continue on their journeys.

The Nitty-Gritty:
One thing I’ll give The Master of Mirage Pokémon is that it sure doesn’t waste any time; the opening title sequence is painfully short, even shorter than the one in a regular Pokémon episode, and the credits play over the group’s arrival at the Mirage Mansion. There’s also little to no real build-up and no big Pokémon battle sequence to open the special; it simply begins with Ash re-reading Dr. Yung’s letter for the umpteenth time and then boom, they’re at the Mirage Mansion right away. Being that it’s only an hour long, this is necessary to get us to the main plot of the Mirage Pokémon as quickly as possible, but it’s not as if the special is full of non-stop action, returning faces, or Legendary Pokémon from there. In fact, it actually slows down for quite a chunk and more time is spent showcasing the Mirage Aggron than any of the more powerful, popular, and alluring creations Dr. Yung brings forth. It was great seeing Misty make a comeback and briefly revisiting her friendly rivalry with Ash, but you could have easily taken her out of the special and it wouldn’t have made any difference at all. May, Max, and Brock were all notably side-lined as well, acting as mere support characters going through their usual motions rather than actually having an impact on the plot, and as a celebration of the first ten years of Pokémon ends up falling a little flat as it just doesn’t do enough with the potential of its premise.

A fun enough, poignant special that sadly doesn’t realise the full potential of its premise.

There’s a great deal of anticipation surrounding the reveal of Dr. Yung’s ultimate Mirage Pokémon, which of course turns out to by Mirage Mewtwo and ultimately ends up falling very flat because, by the time Mirage Mewtwo finally shows up, the special is almost over and we don’t really get to see much from it. To make matters worse, Dr. Yung is awestruck at the amount of Legendary Pokémon contained within Pikachu’s memory and yet he doesn’t create Mirage versions of Pokémon like Lugia; instead, he limits himself to the Legendary Birds and Entei, who mostly just stand around and overpower the heroes’ Pokémon before they are absorbed into Mirage Mewtwo (something that didn’t really need to happen as Mirage Mewtwo could already utilise all of their attacks and abilities, and more). This means that the one time we get to see Mewtwo and the Legendary Birds onscreen in an actual episode amounts to a whole lot of nothing, and we don’t get to see Lugia, Latias, and Latios flying alongside the Legendary Birds or Ho-Oh or anything. Instead, the focus is all on Mirage Mewtwo being this dominating holographic Pokémon, which is certainly is, but without the morality and personality of the original Mewtwo, it’s little more than just a mindless beast or machine to put the heroes in peril. Things are even more confused by the fact that Mirage Mew inexplicably exhibits an independent personality; there’s an attempt to explain that this is because even Dr. Yung can’t destroy the natural spirit of Pokémon and that Mew is an aberration compared to the other Mirage Pokémon, but this doesn’t really hold up under close scrutiny. Indeed, if any Mirage Pokémon were to break free from Dr. Yung’s control, I’d expect it to be Mewtwo, and I wonder if the story might have been better serviced by Mirage Mewtwo going berserk and Dr. Yung being forced to team up with the heroes and turn the Legendary Mirage Pokémon against it in order to shut it down and realise the error of his ways.

The Summary:
I don’t think that I would agree that The Mastermind of Mirage Pokémon is necessarily the worst Pokémon special I’ve ever seen, or even the worst product to come out of the anime, but it can’t be denied that it is quite disappointing. I am a big fan of Mew, Mewtwo, and the other Legendary Pokémon and I love seeing them crop up in the anime, specials, and movies, but a major gripe I have about their appearances is that they have to count for something. Here, they really don’t count for anything; Dr. Yung observes footage of some of the other Pokémon movies through Pikachu’s memories, reminding us of better times and more accurate representations of these creatures, and makes a big production of showcasing his Mirage Mewtwo and condemning his Mirage Mew, but simply having versions of these creatures appear onscreen doesn’t necessarily equate to them actually being meaningful or interesting. It’s great seeing Mirage Mewtwo busting out all these wacky attacks and overwhelming the heroes, and it was suitably heart-breaking to witness the Mirage Mew sacrifice itself to destroy its ruthless counterpart, but there was so much more potential to be had here. Why not merge the Legendary Birds into one being? Why not team Mirage Mewtwo with a Mirage Lugia? Why not have Mirage Mewtwo break free and go on a rampage and see it battle against Mirage versions of the other Legendary Pokémon? None of that happens, and it results in The Mastermind of Mirage Pokémon playing things very safe and dull, and only saving itself from a one-star rating because of the nostalgia surrounding the tenth anniversary and the Pokémon anime and the fact that I am a sucker for Mewtwo and the Legendary Pokémon, even when they barely do anything remotely interesting or entertaining.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think of Pokémon: The Mastermind of Mirage Pokémon? Did you enjoy seeing Mewtwo in action again or did you feel the feature was a missed opportunity to do more with the character? What did you think to Dr. Yung and the concept of Mirage Pokémon? Did you enjoy seeing Misty make a return and the cameos from the other Legendary Pokémon? How are you celebrating Mewtwo’s birthday this year? Whatever you think about Pokémon: The Mastermind of Mirage Pokémon, Mewtwo, and Pokémon in general, sign up to leave your thoughts in the comments below or leave a reply on my social media.

Talking Movies [National Pokémon Day]: Pokémon the Movie 2000: The Power of One

Upon the release of Pokémon: Blue Version and Pokémon: Red Version (Game Freak, 1996), a new craze swept through playgrounds across the world. An entire generation grew up either playing Pokémon, watching the anime, playing the trading card game, or watching the feature-length movies as clever marketing and a co-ordinated release and multimedia strategy saw Nintendo’s newest franchise become not just a successful videogame franchise but a massively lucrative and popular multimedia powerhouse that endures to this day. Accordingly, February 27th is now internationally recognised as “National Pokémon Day” for fans of the long-running and beloved franchise to come together in celebration of all things Pokémon.

Released: 17 July 1999
Director: Kunihiko Yuyama
Distributor: Toho
Budget: $30 million
Stars: Veronica Taylor, Neil Stewart, Rachael Lillis, Ted Lewis, Amy Birnbaum, Eric Stuart, Ikue Ōtani, Maddie Blaustein, and Eric Rath

The Plot:
In the Orange Islands of the Kanto region, a cold-hearted collector (Stewart) sets in motion his plan to capture the Legendary Pokémon Articuno (Yumi Tōma), Zapdos (Katsuyuki Konishi), and Moltres (Rikako Aikawa) in order to upset the natural balance and bring forth Lugia (Rath), guardian of the sea. When Ash Ketchum (Taylor) and his friends stumble upon the collector’s plot, they face a race against time to quell the battle between the Legendary Birds and keep the world from being destroyed by a tumultuous storm caused by their conflict.

The Background:
Pokémon (Nintendo/Creatures/Game Freak, 1995 to present) was more than just a craze when it came over from Japan: it was a phenomenon that swept through playgrounds as kids played the videogames, battling and trading with one another, collected the trading cards, bought all the magazines and such, and were mesmerised by the still-ongoing anime series (1997 to present). To say that expectations were high for the aptly-titled Pokémon: The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back (Yuyama, 1998) was putting it mildly; the film was not only a box office success but also enticed Poké-fans with glimpses of some completely new Pokémon! Production of a second Pokémon movie took place during a transitional phase for the anime and the Pokémon videogames; having finished up his adventures in Kanto, Ash was travelling the Orange Islands while the developers worked on my favourite games in the series, Pokémon: Gold Version and Silver Version (Game Freak, 1999). Pokémon the Movie 2000 (or “Pocket Monsters the Movie: The Phantom Pokémon: Lugia’s Explosive Birth”) was largely marketed around a brand new Legendary Pokémon, Lugia, who was the creation of Takeshi Shudo; Shudo was surprised not only when Lugia was incorporated into the games and anime but also when it was characterised as a male considering he regarded it as a more maternal Pokémon. Although the film made over $130 million at the box office, the critical reception was mixed to negative for the most part. Still, for me and many other Poké-fans at the time, Pokémon the Movie 2000 proved to be excellent promotion for the upcoming videogames and arguably was the first hint towards just how massive the franchise was set to become.

The Review:
Pokémon the Movie 2000 opens by immediately introducing us to a central aspect of its plot, a prophecy that warns against disturbing the harmony of fire, ice, and lightning and foretelling the coming of a “Chosen One” to help quell the “beast of the sea”. This little rhyme emphasises that, although the “guardian” of the sea will arise should these elemental forces be pushed out of balance, “alone its song will fail and thus the world shall turn to ash”. Obviously, this has been slightly altered from the original Japanese version which, as I understand it, was slightly vaguer in its details and basically said that anyone could be the Chosen One if they were able to reunite the treasures found on islands near Samouti Island in the Orange Islands (that’s a lot of islands…) However, in the dub, it’s made ridiculously explicit that “ash” has a double meaning, which is kinda fun but I guess your enjoyment of this aspect will depend on how much of a fan of Ash you are.

Ash and friends reach Shamouti Island as storms rage across the region and upset local Pokémon.

Naturally, Ash, Misty (Lillis), and Tracy Sketchit (Lewis) are currently travelling around the Orange Islands and, thanks to their current guide, Maren (Tara Jane), they soon learn all about the same prophecy and the legend of the treasures from the natives of Shamouti Island. While Melody (Birnbaum) stresses that its just a simple legend that they observe for fun and frivolities, Ash takes to his duties as the “Chosen One” with vigorous enthusiasm and the gang notice that all of the Pokémon in the area, including Pikachu (Ōtani), are acting strangely. Sensing the tumultuous changes in the weather, which causes sudden rain and snowstorms, Pokémon flock to Shamouti Island in droves since they feel that the natural balance of the ecosystem is in turmoil. Melody is largely dismissive of the island’s rituals and customs, believing them to be outdated and boring, much to the chagrin of her older sister, Carol (Michelle Goguen); despite her frivolous and snarky attitude, though, Melody still takes part in the ritual, which calls for her to dance about in a pretty dress and play the “Guardian’s Song” on conch-like ocarina. When the natives peg Ash as being the Chosen One simply because he happens to be a young Pokémon trainer, Melody immediately finds a more interesting reason to play her role as she takes an instant liking to Ash, much to Misty’s annoyance. This adds an interesting wrinkle to the film and the main characters as Melody constantly winds Misty up by flirting with Ash. Clearly jealous of Melody, Misty acts all passive-aggressive at the suggestion that she is Ash’s girlfriend and, unlike in the last film where she (and basically everyone else) just stood around doing nothing, this at least gives her a small arc where she realises that she’d do anything to help out her friend.

Ash finds unlikely help in the form of Team Rocket, who are willing to sacrifice themselves to save the world.

Of course, the main characters are pursued by Jesse (Lillis), James (Stuart), and Meowth (Blaustein) of Team Rocket; still determined to get their hands on Pikachu, Team Rocket soon find that they’ve once again bitten of more than they can chew as they are buffeted around by the rampaging storm and constantly bombarded by the Legendary Birds’ attacks. When they realise that the fate of the very world is at stake, though, they decide to join forces with Ash and his friends to help gather the treasures (since they wouldn’t be able to profit if the world is destroyed). This isn’t the first or the last time Team Rocket would team up with their enemies but they actually throw themselves into this heroic role with a surprising amount of gusto; not only do they help free Moltres and Zapdos from captivity, they also help Ash reach Ice Island and are basically prepared to die in order to see him succeed.

The Collector simply wants to add rare Pokémon to his collection no matter the consequences.

Their role as main antagonist is usurped by a cold-hearted, arrogant philanthropist (retroactively revealed to be called Lawrence III but here simply referred to as a “Collector” of rare Pokémon) who has spent his entire life obsessed with rare Pokémon, Legendary Pokémon, and studying the legend of the “Beast of the Sea”. His efforts lead him to attack the Shamouti Islands, employing tactics very similar to games of chess where he fire elemental blasts at each of the Legendary Birds and ensnares them in special electrical bands with, it has to be said, a ridiculous amount of ease. The Collector has seemingly no concern about the ramifications of his actions; he doesn’t care how capturing one Legendary Bird upsets the balance between the three and causes the Pokémon to run wild or that a raging storm brews under the sea that threatens the world. All he cares about it forcing Lugia to the surface so he can capture it for his vast collection (which is ironic as we never actually see his vaulted collection) and, even when the Legendary Pokémon are engaged in all-out war, he continues to pursue this goal and, as a result, finds his floating palace in ruins from Lugia’s desperate counterattack. While he is left defeated, the Collector ends the film free and resolves to begin his quest all over again, which I always found to be a poor ending as he really deserved to face greater consequences for his selfish and destructive actions. However, while the Collector may be positioned as the film’s main threat, it’s actually the warring Legendary Birds who are the primary menace for Ash and his friends. Hugely territorial, the birds generally prefer to keep to themselves on their respective islands but, when Moltres is captured, Zapdos immediately overtakes Fire Island and expands its territory.

Lugia arises to quell the fighting but needs the “Chosen One” to calm the trio.

Zapdos refuses to listen to reason and doesn’t seem to care about the effect this has on the environment; it just wants to lord over more land and, when the three birds are unleashed, they engage in all-out war against each other. The effect this has is destructive and immediate but also causes a greater threat to emerge beneath the ocean, where the true “Beast of the Sea” rages; this swirling mass of energy causes catastrophic weather changes across the world and threatens the safety of everyone. With the Legendary Birds raging out of control, Lugia finally arises to put an end to their conflict; like Mewtwo (Philip Bartlett), Lugia is fully capable of communicating with the human characters using is psychic abilities and, from it, they learn that they must bring all three treasures to a shrine and they play the Guardian’s Song in order to calm the warring trio down. While Lugia is extremely powerful, the numbers game overwhelm it constantly and its strength is directly tied to the success of the Chosen One; as a result, while it does everything it can to subdue the trio with brute force, it isn’t until Ash is able to fulfil his destiny that its powers are finally able to quell Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres and thus dissipate the environmental catastrophe that threatens the entire world.

The Nitty-Gritty:
As in the last film, Pokémon the Movie 2000 merges traditional 2D anime with some CGI effects; however, as much as I enjoy this movie for its depictions of the Legendary Birds and the emphasis it places on Lugia, I always found the rendition of the four birds to be somewhat lacking compared to the likes of Mewtwo or other Legendary Pokémon. The animation is good, and of a higher standard than a regular episode of the anime, but it just doesn’t seem to look or feel as big as the last film despite having more action and higher stakes. Like the first film, there’s also a bit of computer-generation animation employed here, primarily in the Collector’s ship, the rendition of the underwater tumult, and some of the birds’ attacks; it seems to have been implemented much better compared to the last film but I wonder if a bit of CGI enhancement would have helped the birds to stand out a bit more.

There’s plenty of amusing gags amidst all the action and themes of environmental concern.

While the use of rampant storms, wind, and rain is extremely similar to the aesthetic of the last movie, here it is a far bigger threat as we see the effect the trio’s battle has on Ash’s hometown and regularly cut away to a sub-plot involving Professor Samuel Oak (Stuart Zagnit) and Ash’s mother, Delia (Taylor), as they experience the severe phenomena, advise new reporters on what’s happening and theorise as to why, and even travel to the elemental islands to help out as best they can. There’s a clear and obvious environmental message in the film that warns about the dangers of interfering with or upsetting the natural order of things; while this can have severe ramifications for us in the real world, those in the Pokémon world are even more at risk as captured or provoking certain Pokémon can encourage or awake even more powerful and destructive creatures. One thing I’ve always enjoyed about Pokémon the Move 2000 is its use of humour and jokes; there were some puns and gags in the first film but there’s loads of amusing little moments here, like when Misty and Melody are arguing about Ash and Tracey thinks they’re talking about him or a simple shot to Slowking (Nathan Price) when its sat in and covered by snow and it simply states, completely deadpan: “I could use pants”. These moments of levity really help to break up the film’s overall dark and bleak tone; the first movie was pretty dark in its implications and stakes but the second one escalates thing even further as the conflict between the Legendary Birds threatens to destroy the entire world and Ash is given the explicit role as the saviour of the planet rather than simply lucking into being a hero like usual.

The battle between the trio and Lugia is a big highlight of the film.

Another area where Pokémon the Movie 2000 also excels is in its action sequences; as awesome as it was to see Mewtwo finally battle with Mew (Kōichi Yamadera), all they did was basically just bash into each other a bit while the other Pokémon slapped each other about and it did somewhat underdeliver in its fight scenes. That doesn’t happen here; Articuno, Moltres, and Zapdos attack each other without mercy and with rampant aggression that threatens everyone and everything. Sadly, for a big Articuno fan like me, the Ice-type bird gets the short end of the stick a bit as it gets battered about by its counterparts but the film is a fantastic debut for Lugia, another of my all-time favourite Pokémon. While I would have preferred to see Lugia and its counterpart, Ho-Oh, share the screen (and it’s still weird to me that this never happened, as far as I know), Lugia is an enigmatic Pokémon in its own right and more than capable of battling against all three Legendary Birds for a time. While, like Mewtwo, Lugia’s powers are vast and formidable, its not an overpowered creature; it can calm the warring trio only when all three treasures are returned to the shrine and the song is played and it even seems to die a couple of times as it is overwhelmed by the Legendary Birds. A wise and enigmatic figure, Lugia is only as strong as the Chosen One to whom it is bonded, meaning that its success in battle hinges on Ash’s ability to live up to the lofty expectations of the prophecy (and his name). Of course, he succeeds in this endeavour (and without being turned to stone this time…) but it’s pretty touch and go for a while as he is relentlessly hounded by Moltres, Zapdos, and Articuno and is only able to succeed with help from friend and foe alike.

The Summary:
Since Pokémon Gold and Silver have always been my favourite Pokémon videogames, and my love of Pokémon was at its peak around this time, I’ve always had a soft spot for Pokémon the Movie 2000. It didn’t quite have the same epic feel as the first movie, mainly because the anime didn’t build towards the conflict or sow the seeds for the feature this time around and it would be difficult for any Pokémon film to match the mystery Mew elicited in young Pokémon fans at the time, but it was still a pretty impressive follow-up in its own right. With bigger, and more impressive action, a surprisingly emotional score and subtext, and debuting one of my all-time favourite Pokémon, the film is a decent entry and easily in my top three-to-five of all the Pokémon movies. Oddly, though, I don’t have quite the same level of nostalgia for this one compared to the first one and, in some ways, it might be a little more run-of-the-mill compared to the first movie but it’s got a lot going for it and, while I’m not much of a fan of Ash, it handled him being the “Chosen One” in a fairly amusing way. For me, it’s all about the battles between the Legendary Birds; while I’m still disappointed we never got to see Ho-Oh involved in the conflict, it was great seeing Moltres, Articuno, and Zapdos going at it in a furious squabble over territory that threatened the entire planet and tying Lugia’s strength in with Ash’s courage helped to keep the tension, and the stakes, pretty high as they were constantly battling the odds the entire time so I’d say it’s definitely one not to underestimate for how engaging it can be in its own right.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Are you a fan of Pokémon the Movie 2000? If so, what did you like about it; if not, how do you think it could have been better? Did you like the depiction of the Legendary Birds or would you have preferred to see them portrayed in a way that was closer to the source material? What did you think to the Collector as the main antagonist and the depiction (and debut) or Lugia? Which Pokémon game, generation, and creature is your favourite and why? How are you celebrating National Pokémon Day today? Whatever your thoughts, drop them in the comments below.

Talking Movies [Mewtwo’s Birthday]: Pokémon: Mewtwo Returns


According to Pokémon: Blue and Red Version (Nintendo/Creatures/Game Freak, 1995), February 6 is the day that Mew successfully gave birth to my favourite Pokémon, Mewtwo. Whether this was a natural birth or simply the day the clone was successfully created is up for debate but, nevertheless, this is the official date that the world’s most powerful Pokémon came into being. Happy birthday, Mewtwo; please don’t kill me!

Talking Movies

Released: 30 December 2000
Director: Kunihiko Yuyama and Masamitsu Hidaka
Distributor: Warner Bros. Home Video
Budget: Unknown
Stars: Veronica Taylor, Dan Green, Rachael Lillis, Eric Stuart, Kerry Williams, Ikue Ōtani, Maddie Blaustein, and Ed Paul

The Plot:
Having erased all traces of its origins and settled in a remote area of the Johto region, Mewtwo (Green) lives in peace with its fellow clones. However, when its creator, Giovanni (Paul), discovers its location, it’s up to Ash Ketchum (Taylor) and his friends to once again defend the troubled Psychic Pokémon and the mysterious healing properties of Mount Quena.

The Background:
I’ve talked at length about the incredible influence Pokémon (Nintendo/Creatures/Game Freak, 1995 to present) had when it was first released and, indeed, the videogames were only a part of the brands appeal as kids became engrossed in every piece of Pokémon merchandise available, including the still-ongoing anime series (1997 to present). The brand reached a fever pitch with the release of the aptly-titled Pokémon: The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back (Yuyama, 1998), which (perhaps unsurprisingly) proved to be a massive financial success despite the many changes made in the translation process. With Mewtwo being one of the franchise’s most popular characters, and considering Mewtwo Strikes Back’s success, it’s also perhaps unsurprising that Mewtwo received an hour-long special to tie up some loose ends from the first film. Released direct to video overseas, Mewtwo Returns was notable for including the “Uncut Story of Mewtwo’s Origin”, which was cut from the first film, and for attracting generally underwhelming reviews.

The Review:
Mewtwo Returns begins with Mewtwo providing a recap of its origins and the events of Mewtwo Strikes Back, which establishes its character, the events of that film, and that it wiped the events of all characters present on its island at the film’s conclusion. Unfortunately, Mewtwo neglected to expand the reach of its mindwipe further afield and, as a result, Giovanni not only still remembers Mewtwo but has been actively hunting it ever since it escaped from him. Giovanni’s aide, 009/Domino (Williams), earns her master’s favour when she shows him satellite imagery of Mewtwo hiding out in a remote area of the Johto region. There, Mewtwo lives alongside the clones it produced in the first movie; although having learned a valuable lesson about the sanctity of all life, human and Pokémon alike, Mewtwo continues to question not just its place in the world but the place of its fellow Pokémon. Believing that they are outcasts, it firmly believes that they must live in secret if they are ever to live in peace and questions how it can judge concepts such as “beauty” given that it is a product of science.

After Pikachu is captured by Team Rocket, Ash and friends stumble upon Mewtwo’s sanctuary.

Coincidentally, as always, Ash, Brock (Stuart), Misty (Lillis), and Pikachu (Ōtani) just happen to be passing through that region of Johto on their way to Purity Canyon, a sight known for its refreshing and reinvigorating properties and tumultuous weather. Rushing to catch the last bus up the mountain pass (which allows for a funny gag where Brock uses his frying pain as a “drying pan”), the three catch the eye of their constant pursuers, Jesse (Lillis), James (Stuart), and Meowth (Green) of Team Rocket. After missing the bus and being kept from proceeding because of the weather, the three protagonists take shelter with Luna Carson (Amy Birnbaum), who blows their minds with how refreshing and delicious the water from Purity Canyon is (although, amusingly, Ash is unimpressed). In lieu of the bus (and since Misty is afraid of the Bug-type Pokémon the clear waters attract), the three plan to climb up Mt. Quena to proceed and, despite Luna’s reservations, they are only spurred to go through with the plan after being told of Clarity Lake and the specially-adapted Pokémon that live on the mountaintop. They’re unable to immediately proceed, however, thanks to the sudden arrival of naturalist Cullen Calix (Scottie Ray) and his assistant, Domino (the same Domino from Team Rocket who is in disguise); Luna is disheartened to hear that Cullen plans to investigate the lake’s regenerative properties, as this would potentially ruin the natural environment, but Team Rocket strike and kidnap Pikachu with an electricity-absorbing cable before any of this can come to pass.

Mewtwo’s primary concern is safeguarding the clone Pokémon under its protection.

In their attempt to rescue Pikachu, the group are buffeted about by the violent storms and end up at Clarity Lake; Mewtwo is shocked to cross paths with them all again but, rather than being welcoming, demands that they all leave the area. Interestingly, although the clones appear to wish to rejoin the wider world, clone-Pikachu’s first instinct is to oppose Pikachu and force it out. While this would seem to align with Mewtwo’s overall wish for solitude, Mewtwo directly intercedes and prevents them from battling since they’ve already proven themselves to be equals, and everyone (especially Team Rocket) are confused by the presence of Mewtwo and its clones since they have no memory of the events of the first movie.

The divide between the clones and Mewtwo is repaired when Giovanni invades.

When Giovanni and his forces arrive, Mewtwo believes it’s better to simply flee Clarity Lake rather than engage in battle; clone-Pikachu rallies many of the clones in its absence (resulting in a ludicrous scene where Team Rocket, the protagonists, and all of their Pokémon are locked up in a cell) to go to war and Mewtwo struggles to reconcile its desire to protect them with the clones’ wish to be free. Thankfully, Giovanni’s arrival and subsequent attack against them galvanises not only Mewtwo’s resolve and its relationship with its clones but also forges an unlikely alliance between Team Rocket and the protagonists to fend off Giovanni and defend Clarity Lake.

Mewtwo’s decision to submit to Giovanni to protect its clones almost costs it its life.

Although Mewtwo doesn’t wish to fight, clone-Pikachu and many of the other clones are only too eager to go to all-out war to defend their home, and their right to a peace existence. Clone-Pikachu, especially, believes that it is unfair for them to be forced to live like shadows when there’s a whole wide world out there and, since many of the other clones agree with this, a divide is created between them and Mewtwo since it simply wishes to be left and alone and they wish to be equals in the world. Mewtwo is adamant that they remain hidden so that they can live peacefully and, even in the face of Giovanni’s invasion, refuses to fight, a decision which very nearly costs it its life.

The Nitty-Gritty:
It’s come up a few times but not only is Mewtwo my favourite Pokémon but Johto is my favourite Pokémon region so Mewtwo Returns automatically gets a bonus point or two from me before it even begins. Add to that the fact the film reuses the excellent musical score from the English dub of Mewtwo Strikes Back and I’m in my element. While the animation and presentation isn’t quite up to the same high-quality standards as the movie, for obvious reasons, Mewtwo Returns is still a cut above most regular episodes of the anime thanks to featuring music from the first movie and Mewtwo’s presence.

Although no longer seeking conflict, Mewtwo’s power and resolve are as formidable as ever,

Mewtwo’s demeanour is very similar to that from Mewtwo Strikes Back; although it is no longer actively seeking conflict, it steadfastly goes to extreme lengths to protect itself and its clones. The clones of Pikachu and Meowth question why Mewtwo went to the effort of saving a bus load of humans from a potential fatal crash off the cliff, believing that it felt compassion for the passengers, but Mewtwo reasonably asserts that it was simply trying to avoid more humans coming to the area and potentially disturbing their peace. Mewtwo feels as though it, and they, do not belong or deserve to belong anywhere in the world, despite clone-Meowth asserting that all creatures see the same moon and are thus equal.

Domino is a capable and pivotal member of Team Rocket and instrumental in Giovanni’s plan.

Unlike Jesse, James, and Meowth, Domino is portrayed as a capable and conniving member of Team Rocket; not only does she identify Mewtwo’s location, she successful fools all of the characters with her disguise as Cullen’s assistant and she commands the Team Rocket Combat Unit, a feat that Jesse, James, and Meowth are incredibly impressed by. Her reputation as the “Black Tulip” and authority make her a pivotal agent of Team Rocket; she’s embarrassed by the trio’s slapstick antics, is instrumental in Giovanni’s campaign against Mewtwo, and is absolutely reprehensible in her capture of the clones using her electricity-spitting tulips.

Giovanni takes centre stage as the main antagonist for once.

It’s refreshing to see Giovanni playing such an integral role as the overall antagonist; a scheming, manipulative mastermind, Giovanni wields incredible power from behind the Team Rocket Combat Unit. He’s easily able to disable the clone Pokémon with red energy bolts, briefly capture them in special Team Rocket-branded PokéBalls, and is even able to force Mewtwo into submission by threatening the safety (and lives, in a surprising inclusion) of its clone Pokémon and the sanctity of Clarity Lake. Giovanni’s machinery threatens to bend Mewtwo to Giovanni’s will and almost kills it but, thanks to the intervention of a horde of Bug-type Pokémon (who show up to oppose the ridiculously fast construction of Giovanni’s base and his polluting of the lake) and the protagonists, and the restorative properties of Purity Lake, Mewtwo is saved from brainwashing and death and returns full force to enact its revenge.

Revitalised by the water, Mewtwo defends his home and roams the world by moonlight.

In the end, Brock and Misty join forces with the clones and Bug-type Pokémon to cover Ash as he takes Mewtwo to safety; in the process, Mewtwo learns additional lessons about self-sacrifice and a being’s uniqueness. After recovering in the lake, Mewtwo sees a vision of Mew (Kōichi Yamadera) and finally realises that it is just as “real” as any other creature since the water’s properties have the same effect on it as they would any other creature. Using its incredible psychic powers, Mewtwo instantly puts an end to the conflict by transporting the entire lake underground and out of sight; it also erases the memories of Giovanni, Domino, and their forces but, at the insistence of the main characters, spares the others from the same treatment this time around so that they can remain friends and to ensure the legacy of its clone Pokémon. Having learned to embrace its identity and no longer ashamed of its past, Mewtwo allows its clones to go and find their rightful place in the world while it wanders alone (and wearing a bad-ass anime scarf) and always by moonlight.

The film also finally explores Mewtwo’s tragic origin.

Of course, it doesn’t end there as “The Uncut Story of Mewtwo’s Origin” is also included on the disc; this short prelude to Mewtwo Strikes Back follows Doctor Fuji (Jay Goede) and his team on an expedition to a dense jungle. Since the expedition is funded by Giovanni, Fuji has no choice but to create an all-powerful clone of Mew using a “fossil” recovered from some ancient ruins in order to learn the secret of restoring life. Fuji’s efforts result in the creation not only of a young Mewtwo (Stuart) but also clones of Bulbasaur (Tara Sands), Charmander (Michael Haigney), and Squirtle (Stuart). Communicating via telepathy as they sleep, Mewtwo, Bulbasaurtwo, Charmandertwo, and Squirtletwo meet Ambertwo (Williams), a young girl who was once Fuji’s daughter and who he is trying to resurrect through his cloning experiments. Obsessed with his desire to see Amber smile, and live, once again, Fuji is desperate to create a clone strong enough to survive the process so that he can recreate life; through Ambertwo, Mewtwo and the others experience a few of the basic beauties of life (the sun, wind, passage of time, and the moon) but, all too soon, the clones begin to degrade. Charmandertwo, Squirtletwo, and Bulbasaurtwo all disintegrate before their eyes; Mewtwo’s confusion turns to despair as the only friend it’s eve known turns to sparkling dust right in front of it as Ambertwo dies. Left alone and heartbroken, Mewtwo has only its tears (which Ambertwo says contain “life”). When its emotions threaten to destroy the lab, Fuji has no choice but to wipe its memories to subdue it and, in the empty void of its mind, Mewtwo is left with only its confusion and vague memories of feelings it doesn’t understand.

The Summary:
Pokémon: Mewtwo Returns is a brisk and entertaining enough watch; clocking in at just over an hour, it’s obviously not going to measure up to the efforts of its feature-length cousins but it’s decent enough for fans of Mewtwo Strikes Back. By addressing the loose ends from the first movie, Mewtwo Returns allows us to see what happened to Mewtwo and its clones after they flew off to an uncertain future and, while it’s hardly full of action or a showcase of Mewtwo’s destructive potential, it’s a heart-warming enough tale about identity and our place in the world. The anime’s focus on having Mewtwo be this introspective character who questions its identity and right to exist is fascinating, in many ways, though it has to be said that maybe many of the character’s other aspects were downplayed in service of this goal. Sadly, the next time Mewtwo appeared it would be in a decidedly different form and we never followed up on its moonlight journey but, as a coda to Mewtwo Strikes Back, Mewtwo Returns  is inoffensive enough. The fact that the DVD also contains Mewtwo’s heartbreakingly tragic origin story only adds to the film’s appeal and, were both of these to be included in re-releases of Mewtwo Strikes Back, you’d basically be left with the complete package for Mewtwo’s story in the anime. As it is, I guess it’s worth seeking out if you’re a die-hard Mewtwo and Pokémon fan but it’s not as accessible as other Pokémon media and probably not really worth going out of your way to get your hands on.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think of Pokémon: Mewtwo Returns? Did you enjoy seeing Mewtwo in action again or did you feel the feature was a missed opportunity to do more with the character? What did you think to Domino and Giovanni taking a more active role as a villain in the feature? How are you celebrating Mewtwo’s birthday this year? Whatever you think about Pokémon: Mewtwo Returns, Mewtwo, and Pokémon in general, leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Game Corner [National Pokémon Day]: Pokémon Shield (Nintendo Switch)

Upon the release of Pokémon: Blue Version and Pokémon: Red Version (Game Freak, 1996), a new craze swept through playgrounds across the world. An entire generation grew up either playing Pokémon, watching the anime, playing the trading card game, and watching the feature-length movies as clever marketing and a co-ordinated release and multimedia strategy saw Nintendo’s newest franchise become not just a successful videogame franchise but a massively lucrative and popular multimedia powerhouse that endures to this day. Accordingly, February 27th is now internationally recognised as “National Pokémon Day” and a day for fans of the long-running and beloved franchise to come together in celebration of all things Pokémon.

Released: 15 November 2019
Developer: Game Freak

The Background:
I’ve talked about Pokémon a few times but, until now, I haven’t actually sat down and done a proper review of one of the games; as I’ve indicated previously, Pokémon was an instant cultural phenomenon back when the games first dropped, taking playgrounds by storm and dominating almost every aspect of my generation through a slew of merchandise. I remember being so adamant about purchasing Pokémon: Blue Version that I bought it brand new rather than getting a cheaper copy of Pokémon: Red Version and my friends and I routinely played the game at break times at school or on the Nintendo 64 thanks to Pokémon Stadium (Nintendo EAD/HAL Laboratory, 1999). Although the developers originally intended my favourite games/generation of Pokémon, Pokémon: Gold Version and Pokémon: Silver Version (Game Freak, 1999) to be the final entries in the series, Pokémon videogames continued to be developed, with new features, improved graphics and mechanics, and a whole bunch of new Pokémon being introduced in each generation.

Pokémon‘s home consoles games largely diverted from the RPG formula of the main series.

However, in all that time, we never really got a proper version of Pokémon on home consoles; they were always spin-offs, battling games, or neutered versions of the main role-playing experience, which remained exclusive to Nintendo’s handhelds. Nintendo’s development of their Switch console changed that, however; thanks to the Switch’s unique ability to be both a handheld and a home console, players were finally able to experience a main series Pokémon game in glorious high definition with the release of Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee! (ibid, 2018) Though remakes of the first Pokémon games, the Let’s Go games (like pretty much all Pokémon games) proved both successful and popular and, eager to keep their unstoppable cash-cow afloat, Game Freak began developing an original main series Pokémon title for the Nintendo Switch. This time, much to my interest and appreciation, the games would be set in a new region that was heavily inspired by locations in the United Kingdom, featured the return of mechanics from previous Pokémon games alongside some all-new ones, and would later expand upon its limited roster of Pokémon through a number of expansion packs.

The Plot:
After years of waiting, the time has come for you and your childhood friend, Hop, to receive your very own Pokémon from Professor Magnolia. After Hop’s brother, Pokémon League Champion Leon, endorses your entry into the Gym Challenge, you prepare to journey across the region of Galar to earn a spot in the Pokémon League but, after a fateful encounter with the legendary Zamazenta, you also stumble upon a plot to use Galar’s precious Wishing Stars to cause Pokémon to enter a rampaging Dynamax state and bring about the apocalyptic “Darkest Day”!

I had (have? It’s honestly hard to tell these days) a friend once who told me that the reason he fell out of playing Pokémon was that the games hadn’t really changed since the days of Blue and Red. Personally, I find that a comfort; it means that if you haven’t played a Pokémon game in some time, perhaps years, you can still pick up a title like Pokémon Shield and know exactly how to play as the core gameplay mechanics are basically identical to how you remember them. Accordingly, Pokémon Shield is a role-playing game (RPG) in which you play as a young, up-and-coming Pokémon Trainer; as you explore Galar with your chosen Pokémon, you’ll encounter wild Pokémon which must be fought and defeated (or captured to be added to your team) and other Pokémon Trainers.

Battle other Pokémon to level-up, learn new moves, and increase your Pokémon’s stats.

Battling other Pokémon earns your Pokémon both experience points (EXP) and effort value points (EVP); you can track your EXP using a handy gauge beneath your Pokémon’s hit point (HP) bar and, once it is full, your Pokémon will grow a level and its statistics (Attack, Defence, Speed, and the like) will grow depending on what sort of Pokémon you battled and the otherwise-hidden EVP you gained from each battle. When your Pokémon level-up, they may learn new moves; since each Pokémon can only know four moves at a time, it pays to think ahead about what moves you want your Pokémon to have. For example, you might have a Pokémon with a high Special Attack stat; if this is the case, it’s probably better to not load it up with Attack moves as it won’t deal as much damage. Conversely, your Pokémon may have a low Defence or Speed stat so you might want to invest in a few moves that raise these stats in battle (Iron Defence, Dragon Dance, etc). Through proper EVP training, though, you can tailor Pokémon to battle how you wish but it does take more effort; personally, I like my Pokémon to be proactive and aggressive, with a range of attacks suited to their strengths rather than worrying about raising stats. In the course of levelling-up, your Pokémon may also evolve; this process allows some Pokémon to assume an entirely new form, gaining significant stat boosts at the same time. Evolution is sometimes tied to other factors, such as using special stones, bonding with your Pokémon, having them hold a special item, the weather and time of day, or through trading them with a friend. Battling, capturing, and levelling-up Pokémon is essential not just to making your team stronger and earning Pokémon Dollars to spend on various items but also to complete the PokéDex. Each time you encounter a Pokémon, some of its data will be recorded so you know where to find it and what “Type” of Pokémon it is but you’ll only complete its PokéDex entry by capturing it yourself.

Always ensure that you have the type advantage and make full use of your Pokémon’s abilities.

I mentioned Pokémon “Types” just then so I’ll get into that now; each Pokémon can be either one or a combination of two types and using type advantage is key to becoming a stronger and more capable Pokémon Trainer. Because of the tried-and-tested type mechanic, Pokémon battling is, essentially, like a game of rock, paper, scissors: Fire-type Pokémon are super effective against Grass- and Ice-types, for example, while Grass-types have the edge over Water- and Rock-types, and Water-types will make short work of Fire- and Ground-types. It’s a simple system that you can usually gauge by considering the colour and location of the Pokémon you encounter (a blue-coloured Pokémon on or in water is probably going to be a Water-type, for example) but one neat addition to this game is that the next time you encounter a Pokémon, whether you’ve caught it or not, the game will tell you which of your moves are effective or ineffective against it, making battling much less a case of trial, error, and experience. Being that Game Freak love to mix things up with each new generation and region, familiar Pokémon have also been given new typings in Pokémon Shield (Rapidash, for example, is traditionally a Fire-type Pokémon but is now a duel Psychic/Fairy-type Pokémon so it’s better to use Ghost- or Dark-type attacks) and, as is the standard now, Pokémon also come with different “Natures” and “Abilities” which give them slightly different traits or abilities in battle (such as raising stats causing or removing weather effects, or powering up certain moves).

Inflate your Pokémon to giant size with the new “Dynamax” mechanic.

Pokémon Shield’s big new thing is the “Dynamax” mechanic and the game’s Wild Area; normally in Pokémon games, you travel from town to town using “Routes”, passing through caves and forests and such along the way and, while you still do that here, Pokémon Shield introduces a vast open area filled with a variety of wild Pokémon and shifting weather patterns. Here, you can catch and train up your team but you’ll also encounter glowing Pokémon Dens; if these have a shaft of red light coming from them, you can participate (alone or with computer-controlled or online players) in a “Max Raid Battle” against a Pokémon that has entered the Dynamax state and grown to gigantic size. In these battles, which also occur in each of the game’s Gym Leader battles, you have the opportunity to Dynamax one of your own Pokémon; essentially the same thing as “Mega Evolution” from the previous games, Dynamaxing may allow you to perform more elaborate moves but it only lasts a few turns and you can just as easily defeat a Dynamax Pokémon with a normal Pokémon. It adds a slight wrinkle to the usual gameplay, though, as you’ll earn better rewards from such battles, like Technical Machines (TMs) and Technical Records (TRs) to teach your Pokémon new moves, special stones and items, and Watts (which is, annoyingly, a separate form of currency).

It’s easier than ever to find, battle, and capture wild Pokémon.

I glossed over it earlier but, as always, one of the main aims of the game is to capture Pokémon; you won’t get very far without a diverse team of at least four different Pokémon types (though it is conceivable) so it’s highly advised that you catch a variety of Pokémon and teach them diverse moves to make things easier on yourself. Thankfully, you can now see wild Pokémon on the map, meaning random battles are a thing of the past; you can choose to avoid or run past wild Pokémon, sneak up on them to battle rarer ones, or whistle or ring your bike’s bell to attract them, which is all very helpful if you’re in a rush or want to grind for levels. Pokémon are caught in the usual way; you battle a wild Pokémon until its HP is low (preferably in the red and with a status effect (paralyse, sleep, etc) inflicted upon them) and then throw one of the game’s many different Poké Balls. The lower the level of the Pokémon, the easier it is to catch and you’ll be able to catch higher level Pokémon as you defeat the Galar Gym Leaders; however, it has to be said that capturing Pokémon has become pathetically easy over the years. Back in the day, I would waste my entire stock of Poke Balls on some Pokémon but, now, you can often capture a Pokémon with your first ball without even weakening it, which severely reduces the fun and challenge of the game.

There’s so much hand-holding that it’s almost insulting.

Speaking of which, Pokémon Shield has to include some of the most annoying and unnecessary hand-holding I’ve ever experienced; Pokémon games have often employed mini tutorials and hand-holding techniques but Pokémon Shield really takes the cake as you’ll be constantly lectured on how to battle, how to capture Pokémon, what each building is in a town, where to go, and what to do. There’s never any danger of you getting lost or not knowing where to go next as characters spell it out for you, force you where you need to go, block your exit until you’ve fulfilled an objective, and your handy-dandy map constantly displays your current objective and where you need to go. I’m sure it’s helpful for young or new players but I’ve been playing Pokémon since the start so it would have been nice to be able to turn this feature off.

Graphics and Sound:
Thanks to the power of the Nintendo Switch, Pokémon has never looked better; no longer forced into the classic top-down RPG perspective, the game makes full use of its engine to display a number of dynamic camera angles (even giving you full camera control in the Wild Area), and every time you visit a new town or area, you get a nice little look at what the location has to offer.

Locations draw heavily from the varied architecture and landscapes of the UK.

Locations are based on those from right here in the UK; accordingly, there’s a lot of beautiful countryside (most of it barraged by ever-changing weather conditions), farm land, little towns and villages, and large, industrial towns based on the likes of London. Like the UK, Galar is united through a comprehensive rail system that allows you to quickly travel between towns; the stations are reminiscent of those here in the UK and you’ll also see other similar landmarks and familiar elements, such as a clock tower, an ostentatious ferries wheel, red phone booths, and Victorian/Gothic architecture. I guess because of this UK-influence, there’s a heavy emphasis on football and football-inspired iconography, meaning you’ll take on the Gym Leaders in massive stadiums packed with cheering crowds which really helps up the scale of these battles. The whole game has the usual anime-inspired aesthetic that Pokémon has been known for only now it’s heavily infused with some steampunk influences because of the nature of the region as well as being sleek and modern when in Galar’s bigger towns and featuring crystalline mines and more fantastical locations like Glimwood Tangle. Characters are all well modelled and expressive; while the game still doesn’t use voice acting, their personalities are all expressed through their dialogue boxes (featuring an abundance of British slang which really appealed to me; characters often casually call each other “Mate” or “Luv” and speak with recognisable British quirks and expressions) and their body language.

We’ve got some funky Pokémon designs, as is to be expected at this point.

Though the base game “only” features four hundred of the eight hundred available Pokémon, each one has their own fully-rendered model with unique animations; add to that the various different regional forms, new evolutions, and the Dynamax and Gigantamax forms and you have plenty of little critters to choose from and keep you busy. As mentioned, they all appear on the overworld as well, making the Pokémon world finally feel large and alive, and they all have their own unique cries (with Pikachu still being the only one to speak its name, such is its popularity and appeal) and the new Pokémon and forms available here aren’t too bad. We’ve got such things as a football-loving rabbit, a bongo-drumming ape, fluffy sheep, cute little electric puppies, chubby chipmunks, and anthropomorphic lumps of glowing coal. Then there’s weird shit like a haunted teapot, an animated apple, and penguins with ice cubes on their heads! I have to say, though, that I remain unimpressed with a lot of the names for these new Pokémon; I mean, come on, a Fire-type rabbit and you call it “Cinderace” instead of “Hareblazer”!? The legendary Pokémon aren’t all that much to shout about either; the mascots, Zacian and Zamazenta, are okay, I guess, and Eternatus is pretty bad-ass but the majority of the other legendaries are locked behind the pay wall of the game’s expansion pass. In terms of sound, not much really jumped out at me; the classic Pokémon games were full of catchy little tunes that brought Routes, towns, and battles to life and while that is true of Pokémon Shield, none of it really stuck with me…with the exception of the Gym Leader battle theme! This rocking, energetic piece changes tempo depending on how well you are doing and ramps up once the Gym Leader busts out their Pokémon’s Dynamax form; this theme alone really got the blood pumping for those battles and worked with the stadium setting and roaring crowd to really make the stakes feel high for a change.

Enemies and Bosses:
As you explore Galar, you can choose to battle the various Wild Pokémon that are wandering throughout the overworld; these will hide in grass or underwater, run out into the street, chase you (or run from you), or more powerful variants may pop up in the Wild Area. In each instance, you have much more flexibility about engaging or fleeing from these battles; when you battle, you’ll still earn EXP even if you capture the Pokémon and, in a change that I’m sure irked many, all of your Pokémon will gain some EXP from every battle (but only those that actually participate will gain the most and the EVP from each battle). Like all Pokémon regions, Galar is also populated by other Pokémon Trainers; these days, the game clearly shows you a fellow Trainer’s line of sight so you can try to sneak past or avoid them but I recommend battling every one you come across to level-up your team faster and earn more money. Pokémon Trainers are generally armed with only one or two Pokémon in the early going but eventually have more (and far stronger) Pokémon in their team.

Team Yell are not Team Rocket, that’s for sure; they’re just a bunch of try-hard fanboys.

When battling, be sure to keep an eye on the Power Points (PP) of your Pokémon’s moves; each move has a certain amount of PP and, when it’s spent, you can’t use that move anymore and may be reduced to literally struggling to survive. Similarly, as with many Pokémon games, you may have to battle two trainers at once in a double battle either alone (with two of your Pokémon) or with a computer-controlled partner (usually Hop). In these battles, it’s important to consider the effect your attacks may have on your partner and the game encourages players to use moves like Helping Hand or Wide Guard to help protect or buff your partner (of course, because I adopt an aggressive approach to battling, I don’t do this). As in every other Pokémon game, you’ll also run afoul of a team; in this case, it’s the punk-rock-inspired Team Yell. Unlike other teams, though, Team Yell aren’t out to steal or manipulate Pokémon or to destroy the world; instead, they are the cheerleaders and groupies for one of your rivals, Marnie. Led by Marnie’s older brother (and Gym Leader), Piers, Team Yell generally cause a nuisance by blocking your path or forcing you into a single or double battle at various points but are little threat compared to the likes of Team Rocket or Team Magma/Aqua.

Hop, your childhood friend and rival, makes up for his lack of skill with enthusiasm.

As I alluded to above, the game also includes the standard rival mechanic; for the most part, your rival is Hop, your childhood friend, with whom you have a friendly rivalry with. Hop will accompany you into new locations and areas, often battling alongside you or while you’re battling someone else, and is extremely enthusiastic in following in his brother’s footsteps and besting the Gym Leaders before you. As a result, when you encounter Hop he will generally challenge you to a Pokémon battle but, as the plot eventually reveals, Hop is no Blue or Silver; hell, he isn’t even a good substitute for May! You’ll have no trouble at all wiping the floor with Hop each and every time you battle him and he actually drags you down in double battles since he’s so useless; the only time he’s a threat is right at the end of the post-game when he’s captured Zacian and, even then, it is that legendary Pokémon that causes you the most trouble as opposed to Hop himself. Marnie and Bede are also two of your rivals, though you encounter and battle them far more infrequently than Hop. Both share the same desire as you and Hop to conquer the Gym Challenge and, though Bede is disqualified from the Challenge after he steals a bunch of Wishing Stars, he returns to interrupt the finals of the Champion Cup to battle you once more. However, if you have a well-balanced team at a high level, neither of these rivals will really cause you much of a headache.

Before you can take on the Gym Leaders, you’ll have to complete their various missions…

That strategy also applies to the game’s Gym Leaders, who act, as always, as the closest thing Pokémon has to “bosses”. You must defeat each of the eight Gym Leaders to earn Badges and qualify for the Champion Cup; each time you defeat a Gym Leader, they award you with a TM, some clothes to wear, and you earn the right to capture and own Pokémon of a higher level. There’s a pretty big gap between the start of the game and your first battle against Milo, meaning that, if you’re anything like me, you run the risk of your Pokémon being over-levelled and thus ignoring your commands so, again, it’s best to have a diverse team at different levels to ensure that doesn’t happen until you have acquired the right badge. Before you can battle a Gym Leader, you’ll have to take on their Gym Mission; before, you used to just walk into the Pokémon Gym and battle the Gym Leader’s disciples, maybe solving a puzzle or two, but the games have increased the puzzles and requirements to reach the Gym Leader over the years and Pokémon Shield is the culmination of that. As a result, you’ll be herding Wooloo around, solving a water puzzle, earning points in double battles while your partner tries to scuttle you, navigate a maze, answering questions and battling a gauntlet of Trainers like it’s a stage audition, battle members of Team Yell down a dingy alleyway block by Mr. Mimes, and having to conquer three Trainers in double battles. The challenge of these missions varies and ranges from ridiculously easy to unnecessarily annoying but the end result is the same; eventually, you’ll get dressed into your special stadium attire and head out onto the Gym Leader’s stadium to challenge for a Gym Badge.

Even with their Gigantamax Pokémon, the Gym Leaders are easily bested.

When battling Gym Leaders, the battles are given more variety thanks to the use of more dynamic camera angles which alternate between shots of the battle and the crowd and include televised shots. Again, though, anyone who has played Pokémon before has a distinct advantage in these battles; if you’re anything like me, you’ll grind and train between Gym battles and ensure that your team is as strong as possible to take full advantage of each Gym Leader’s chosen type. Milo uses Grass-types, Nessa uses Water, Kabu uses Fire, Allister uses Ghost-types, Opal and Bede favour Fairy-types, Melony uses Ice-types, Piers and Marnie use Dark, and Raihan uses Dragon-types. You always know which type each Gym Leader uses before you challenge them and the game smartly places wild Pokémon in the nearby region that will give you an advantage in battle that, and your training, means that you can easily sweep through each of the Gym Leaders without breaking a sweat even when they bust out their Gigantamax Pokémon. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Pokémon game without some kind of nefarious deed going on; in this case, Rose, president of Macro Cosmos and the chairman of the Galar Pokémon League, has been gathering the Wishing Stars than enable Dynamaxing in order to bring about the fabled Darkest Day through mass Dynamaxing and the awakening of the legendary Pokémon, Eternatus. Before you can stop him, you’ll have to battle his co-conspirator and secretary, Oleana, who leads you on a wild goose chase that sees you battling corrupted League Staff in order to get a key to confront Rose; you’ll then have to battle Oleana herself who, despite the diversity of her team, is easily bested if your team is well-trained and varied enough to match her Pokémon.

When Rose awakens Eternatus, only you (and some Legendary Pokémon) can quell the beast.

When you finally confront Chairman Rose deep within the Hammerlocke Energy Plant, you won’t be faced with much of a challenge since all of his Pokémon are Steel-types; this means that he is easily decimated with a Fire-type Pokémon but, after he is defeated, you are forced to battle the enraged Eternatus after Leon fails to capture it. Eternatus appears in two forms, its regular form and its horrific Eternamax form; you can’t capture it in its base form or use Dynamax when battling either of its forms and you’re forced to team up with Hop, Zamazenta, and Zacian to whittle its HP down and capture it (with, again, a ridiculous amount of ease; time was that legendary Pokémon were nigh-on impossible to catch but modern Pokémon games make them a breeze!) After all that palaver is taken care of, you finally get to finish off the Champion Cup; in a change of pace, rather than tackling the Elite Four of the region and the regional champion, Pokémon Shield has you participate in a three round, single-elimination tournament against the other Gym Leaders to earn the right to face Leon. This is a bit disappointing as, rather than facing off with Galar’s best and brightest Trainers, you end up doing what is, essentially, a “boss rush”. On the plus side, Leon can actually be a tough battle thanks to the strength and variety of his Pokémon (though, to be fair, I only found this because I started with the wrong Pokémon in the lead of my team). Once you defeat Leon and become the Champion, the credits play pretty much right away (there’s no Hall of Fame ceremony here) and you move on to the post-game.

Some of the game’s toughest challenges await in the post-game.

In the post-game, you have to travel all around Galar revisiting the Pokémon Gyms to quell the anger of various out-of-control Dynamax Pokémon; for the first few battles, you’ll fight alongside Piers, Hop, and another Gym Leader but, for the rest, you go it alone. Luckily, though, by this point your team should be well in the late-level-fifty or early-sixties so these battles aren’t much of a hassle. You’re also introduced to two new antagonists, the ridiculously-named Sordward and Shielbert, who see themselves as the rightful kings of Galar and are actually pretty tough since their Pokémon are at level sixty. It’s actually beneficial, for the first time ever, when you battle them alongside Hop, and once you defeat them you’ll get to battle and capture Zamazenta. Unlike Eternatus, Zamazenta is not so easily caught in the usual assortment of Poké Balls but, luckily, you can just toss your Master Ball at it to snag it without any effort at all.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As you explore Galar, keep an eye out for red and yellow Poké Ball-like items on the ground and twinkles of light; picking these up will award you with items, TMs, ingredients, and other helpful pick-ups to aid you in your battles. You can also use for Pokémon Dollars and Watts to spend in various ways; Poké Marts are now a thing of the past, with these shops now being located inside of Pokémon Centers, but you can also spend your money at various travelling merchants across the map and in clothing stores. You can buy and pick up helpful items that will heal a certain amount (or all) of a chosen Pokémon’s HP, restore their PP, revive them from fainting, or heal them of any detrimental status effects. You can also acquire different types of Poké Balls; the standard variant is decent enough in the early going but you may need to utilise the Great and Ultra Balls to capture higher-level Pokémon or use special balls to increase your chances (Dive Balls for Pokémon caught while fishing, for example, or Net Balls for Bug-types). You can also get your hands on items that increase your Pokémon’s level, Dynamax level, stats, PP, and EXP or which can be used once in a battle to raise certain stats or increase certain abilities.

You have many different options for travelling around Galar.

These days, Hidden Machines (HMs) aren’t really a thing anymore so you don’t need to worry about wasting a move slot or a member of your team with moves like Surf or Fly. Instead, you can call upon a Flying Taxi to fly around the map and upgrade your Rotom Bike to cross over water; the Rotom Bike is far faster than your usual jog, as well, and can be further upgraded to go even faster. You can still get TMs, though, which can be used multiple times to teach new moves to your Pokémon. TRs are a new addition and are primarily earned through Max Raid Battles and spending Watts; these break after use, though, so be sure to spend your Watts wisely.

Dynamaxing is cool but somewhat limited and hardly a requirement.

Your biggest power-up in Pokémon Shield, besides the usual evolution mechanic, is the new Dynamax mechanic. However, Dynamaxing is quite limited; unlike Mega Evolution, you can only Dynamax at certain specific points in the game and it is, honestly, rather pointless. It’s impressive to see and fun to behold two giant, goofy-looking Pokémon butting heads but, as I mentioned, you can defeat Dynamax Pokémon with a regular Pokémon as long as you’re strong enough and have the type advantage. Some Dynamax Pokémon make things difficult by putting up a barrier that must be whittled down but, otherwise, it’s a fun and interesting new feature that, I feel, is a bit squandered and wasted because of its limitations.

Additional Features:
It’s a Pokémon game so, naturally, there is a lot to do; most of these additional features are holdovers from previous Pokémon games: battling, capturing, and evolving Pokémon; any Poké Ball having a random chance of capturing a Pokémon without fail; leaving Pokémon at the Day Care to breed new Pokémon; customising your avatar’s gender, hair style, and clothing at the start of the game and throughout by buying new clothing; meeting the game developers in a hotel; using the menu screen to save, view items and your map; and customising your Pokémon team placement, moves, and markings, and acquire various items through the online Mystery Gift function.

I must have skipped or missed the point of collecting League Cards…

There are, however, some changes, as you might expect; characters will award you with their League Cards (though I’m not sure of their purpose; it seems you can swap and trade them online, though) and you can also customise your own League Card using the PC in the Pokémon Center. You’ll also find the Name Rater, Move Deleter, and Move Reminder non-playable character (NPC) in the Pokémon Center; amalgamated into one character, you can change your Pokémon’s nickname and delete and relearn moves as often as you like with this NPC. Furthermore, you can press Y during battles to see what your moves will do and get a snapshot of any status and type ailments you need to be aware of and press X to throw a Poké Ball without having to access the in-game menu; your PokéDex even offers you recommendations for Pokémon to catch in the immediate area to help you take on upcoming Trainers and Gym Battles and every time you acquire an item for the first time, a little text box tells you what it is in another case of helpful hand-holding. Some of the game’s additional features are more fun and useful than others; when it’s your birthday, the Pokémon Centre NPCs will make a big fuss of you, which is a nice touch, but then you can also sit on chairs and benches for absolutely no reason or benefit other than immersion. You eventually acquire the ability to access your PC boxes remotely so you can swap your team out on the go, which is useful, and, while you can retake the Champion Cup over and over and even invite specific characters to compete against you in it, you still can’t rebattle previously defeated Pokémon Trainers.

Toss it all in a pan, whip up a curry, and get a fancy medal for your troubles.

There is a startling amount of online connectivity in Pokémon Shield; when connected to the internet and in the Wild Area, other players will spontaneously appear to join you in Max Raid Battles and offer helpful items. You can also battle and trade with others players online, as usual, but you’ll need to pay for the Switch’s online service to do any and all of these things, which is a real greedy move on Nintendo’s part as you never had to do that in the previous games! You can also set up a tent at any time, and may encounter other player’s Pokémon Camps; here, you can “speak to” and play with the Pokémon in your team to improve your bond with them. Doing this, and being a good, consistent trainer, means your Pokémon try harder in battle and will land more critical hits, keep themselves from fainting, or even shake off status effects to please you. In the Pokémon Camp, you can also take part in the game’s newest mini game: curry making. By exploring the overworld and shaking trees, you’ll acquire a variety of berries and other ingredients to throw into a cauldron and whip up a variety of curries. While camping gains your team some EXP by default, curry will provide them with a lot more EXP and also restore their HP; certain NPCs will also rate and reward your curry-making skills and you can make curry with other players if they join you in a camp. Furthermore, by accessing the PC, you can send your Pokémon off on jobs to earn them some EXP outside of battling (though I never actually bothered with this).

To get the most out of the post-game, you’ll need to pay for the expansion pass…

You can also acquire rewards by using the Lotto ID on any PC, which will randomly check the identification numbers of your Pokémon and award a prize if it matches, take part in the Rotom Rally to race through the Wild Area collecting balloons for boosts and time, or visit the various cafés across Galar once a day to compete in a double battle for additional rewards. As you conquer the Gym Leaders, you’ll also acquire fans; NPCs will cheer you on when you roll into the stadium and congratulate you after each victory, which is nice, and you are often given the choice of a couple of responses to in-game dialogue but it doesn’t really affect the story in any meaningful way so go nuts and tell that loser Hop what you really think about him! As mentioned, Pokémon Shield also continues the tradition of featuring some post-game content; this sees you revisiting the Galar Gyms to battle Dynamax Pokémon, opposing Sordward and Shielbert, and mainly exists to give you the chance to capture Zamazenta. While you can still use fossils to resurrect long-extinct Pokémon, there are no roaming legendaries to be found in the base game and the closest the game has to a powerful Super Boss is the aforementioned battles against Zamazenta and Hop. Once you clear the post-game, the Battle Tower opens up and you can take on its level-capped challenges to rise up the ranks, earn Battle Points (BP), and acquire rarer items but I’ve never liked the Battle Tower so I didn’t spend much time there. Honestly, Pokémon Shield’s post-game is severely lacking, especially compared to other Pokémon games; this may be because Nintendo are charging players £20 to expand the Galar region with new areas, Pokémon, forms, and challenges with their expansion passes, which is a bit of a piss-take and I am honestly shocked at how greedy Nintendo have become!

The Summary:
It’s been a while since I played a main series Pokémon game; I was pretty happy to be all but done with the franchise before I got my Nintendo Switch but revisiting the world of Pokémon is like meeting an old friend you’ve lost touch with. While there are a few new mechanics here and there to make things interesting for long-time players, Pokémon remains as accessible as ever thanks to the core gameplay mechanics staying largely the same even all these years later. All that’s really changed is the presentation and, to be fair, Pokémon Shield looks fantastic and really increases the scope and size of its world to make you finally feel totally immersed in a live, breathing environment. Unfortunately, for every good idea Pokémon Shield has, there are a few nitpicks that drag it down a bit: Dynamax is an interesting mechanic and I do prefer it to Mega Evolution in a lot of ways but it’s far too limited, there’s way too much hand-holding for my tastes, you still cannot have rematches with NPCs and, while you can encounter other players in the Wild Area, Nintendo still refuse to let you download an NPC of your friends into the game to act as a rival, and the game is maybe too helpful with all of its new features, meaning that there really isn’t much challenge for veterans of the franchise. Still, the presentation is great, especially in the way the game handles battles against Gym Leaders, and it is a top-class game in its own right…I just wish Nintendo hadn’t gotten so greedy and forced you to pay for the online features and post-game content.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What are your thoughts on Pokémon Shield? Perhaps you bought Pokémon Sword instead; if so, why was that and which of the two do you prefer? Which starter did you pick and why, and who made it on to your final team? What did you think to the Dynamax mechanic and the way the game presented Gym battles? What features did you like, or dislike, or would you like to see return to the series? Were you also annoyed at the hand-holding in the game or do you like always knowing exactly what to do and where to go? What did you think to Hop and the post-game content? Are you planning on buying the expansion pass? Which Pokémon game, generation, and creature is your favourite and why? How are you celebrating National Pokémon Day today? Whatever your thoughts, drop them in the comments below.

Screen Time: Pokémon Origins

Air Date: 2 October 2013
Worldwide Network: Pokémon TV 
Original Network: TV Tokyo
Stars: Bryce Papenbrook, Lucien Dodge, Jamieson Price, Kirk Thornton, and Kyle Hebert

The Background:
The brainchild of executive director Satoshi Tajiri, Pokémon began life as Capsule Monsters (later changed to Pocket Monsters and rebranded as Pokémon for the games’ worldwide release), a role-playing game inspired by Tajiri’s childhood days wandering through forests and collecting bugs. Thanks largely to the decision to produce two versions of the game, each with different Pokémon to collect and encouraging gamers to battle and trade with their friends to catch every Pokémon, the games sold very well in Japan and were soon localised for a worldwide audience. Fearing that American audiences would struggle to connect with the game’s cute concepts and creatures, Nintendo apparently spent well over $50 million localising, rebranding, and marketing the games for their international release. It turns out, however, that Nintendo were wrong to doubt Pokémon’s appeal; still, when Pokémon: Blue Version and Pokémon: Red Version released in 1998, they were accompanied by an anime, a trading card game, and more advertisements and media coverage than you could shake a stick it. Of course, history shows us that this aggressive strategy paid off; Blue and Red sold over 30 million copies worldwide, birthing one of Nintendo’s most popular and enduring videogame franchises ever, and the anime continues to air to this day, with feature-length movies and television specials being regularly produced.

Thanks to a co-ordinated marketing campaign, Pokémon dominated an entire generation.

In short, Pokémon was not just some short-lived fad of one generation but a multimedia blockbuster franchise that has spanned multiple generations and shows no signs of stopping. By 2013, there were over 720 Pokémon to be found, battled, and traded in comparison to the 150 regularly-obtainable Pokémon of the original videogames. The anime was well into its sixteenth season, having aired over 780 episodes, the sixteenth feature-length movie had just been released, the excellent ongoing Pokémon Adventures manga (Various, 1997 to present) was entering its eleventh chapter, and Pokémon was celebrating its fifteenth anniversary that year. This was also the year that Production I.G, Xebec, and OLM, Inc. produced a ninety-minute animated special, split into four parts, which retold the events of the original games in a way that was more faithful to the source material than the regular, ongoing anime. First broadcast on TV Tokyo ten days before the release of Pokémon X and Pokémon Y (Game Freak, 2013), the episodes were dubbed into English with a new voice cast and made available both on home media (in some countries) and to watch on various online platforms, including Pokémon TV.

The Plot:
Red (Papenbrook) and his childhood friend and rival, Blue (Dodge), have been chosen to select their first Pokémon from Professor Oak (Hebert). Tasked with completing Oak’s lifelong dream of capturing and recording data on all Pokémon, they set out into the region of Kanto, battling both Gym Leaders and the nefarious Team Rocket in a quest to not only capture every Pokémon but also become Pokémon League Champion.

The Review:
Pokémon: Origins is split into four parts, “File 1: Red” (Kawasaki, 2013), “File 2: Cubone” (Kuroda, ibid), “File 3: Giovanni (Takahashi, ibid), and “File 4: Charizard” (Tomiyasu, ibid). The animation style is quite different to that of the existing Pokémon series; for one thing, Origins looks much more professionally rendered and of a higher quality than even some of the Pokémon feature films. For another, many episodes feature music inspired directly from the videogames, with the classic Pokémon battle theme playing during Pokémon battles and the iconic, creepy Lavender Town theme playing when the story reaches the haunted Pokémon Tower. Of course, the anime did feature remixed versions of some recognisable Pokémon themes but nowhere to the degree of Origins; Origins also opens and closes each episode with a game save/load screen and includes dialogue boxes ripped right from the videogame.

Origins includes many aspects and mechanics from the videogames.

This closer fidelity to the source material brings Origins more in-line with Pokémon Adventures, which recreated many of the gameplay mechanics of the videogames with a surprising amount of detail and loyalty compared to the anime but also took the source material a bit more seriously as well, featuring blood, much higher stakes, and even Pokémon dying. While Origins doesn’t go fully down this path, it does go out of its way to stay closer to the source material than the anime: Red receives Technical Machines (TMs) and Hidden Machines (HMs) in the form of floppy discs, just like in the game; Pokémon battles (while generally much faster and glossed over thanks to Origins’ short runtime) are much more intense and closer to how they go down in the games (there’s no bullshit strategies like sprinkling water on an Onix to make it weak to electric attacks); and many of the items (such as the PokéFlute, the fishing rods, and the Silph Scope) from the videogame make an appearance, albeit a brief one.

Sadly, Origins glosses over many of the game’s important battles and plot points.

Something that lets Origins down, though, is the brevity of its narrative and the way it devotes the focus of each of its four episodes. “File 1: Red” begins in standard fashion, with Red and Blue beginning their Pokémon journey, establishing their rivalry (which is much friendlier than portrayed in the games or the early days of the anime), and Red learning the basics of Pokémon battling and capturing from Brock (Johnny Yong Bosch). However, from “File 2: Cubone”, each subsequent episode begins, and includes, a recap and a montage of sorts that glosses over what I consider to be some very important story beats: Red tells us about, and we briefly see, how he defeats the majority of the Gym Leaders (we only see him battle two in full throughout the course of the series), acquires the aforementioned fishing rods, captures the majority of his Pokémon (again, we only really see him capture a handful in any kind of detail), the evolution of his Charmander (Shin’ichirō Miki), and even his battles against the Elite Four and, most egregious of all, some of his most important encounters with the villainous Team Rocket.

Red and Blue begrudingly team up but Team Rocket are easily defeated despite their reputation.

Obviously, there are only four episodes of this mini series so the story cannot cover everything from the videogames but, for me, glossing over Red’s first meeting with Team Rocket and his eventual vendetta against them is a bit of a mistake. Take “File 2: Cubone”, for example; sure, it features Team Rocket having overtaken the Pokémon Tower, but it’s far more concerned with the trauma the group caused Cubone (Cristina Vee) and the ghost that haunts the tower. Red and Blue begrudgingly team up to solve both problems but Team Rocket is easily defeated first off-screen by Blue and then with a ridiculous amount of ease by Red, who successfully scares them off after defeating one of their Pokémon. Considering how the townsfolk were so afraid of Team Rocket’s power and threat earlier in this episode, this is more than a little disappointing and I would have preferred to see Red’s journey through Mt. Moon and his battle against Lieutenant Surge to help properly establish Team Rocket’s threat in this world. On the plus side, at least the group isn’t portrayed as largely ineffectual bunch of goofballs and Red takes his opposition to their plot a lot more seriously than Ash Ketchum (Veronica Taylor/Sarah Natochenny).

Although he stumbles in the first episode, Red quickly becomes a competent and capable trainer.

When comparing Red to Ash, it’s like comparing night to day or apples to oranges. There are some similarities but these are generally due to the fact that both characters are based on the avatar from the games and therefore follow the same path the player forges in the source material. While both are big Pokémon fans and excited to become Pokémon trainers and both start out knowing very little about the actual mechanics of Pokémon battling, capturing, and the scope of their journey, it takes Red a bit more time to learn that a close bond with his Pokémon is required to grow stronger and succeed in battle. While Brock does help to teach him these lessons, Red’s bond with Charmander is nowhere near as intense as Ash’s with Pikachu (Ikue Ōtani) yet he quickly becomes a far more competent trainer than Ash; in a surprising amount of restraint, Pikachu only appears in a brief cameo and, to separate Red from Ash even more, Red not only uses a far more competent Electric-Type Pokémon in Jolteon (Unknown) but only captures a Pikachu after he has become the Pokémon League Champion! Granted, most of this is implied, seen in montages, or takes place between episodes but Red captures way more Pokémon (mainly because he’s much more committed to completing the PokéDex than Ash), easily defeats pretty much every trainer and Gym Leader he comes up against, and has a far more well-balanced and well-trained team than Ash has ever had. Hell, Red even ends up with Articuno (ibid) in his squad and, generally speaking, has much more in common with his counterpart from Pokémon Adventures, who was also a far more competent and capable trainer compared to Ash.

Blue is humbled in defeat, realising Red’s bond with his Pokémon has made him superior.

One thing that helps separate Origins from the anime is the relationship between Red and Blue; in the games, and the anime, these two had a largely antagonistic relationship throughout the story until facing off in the Pokémon League. Here, though, while Blue is arrogant and a blowhard and determined to complete the PokéDex before Red and become a more powerful and capable trainer than him (he picks Squirtle (ibid) not because it matches his name but specifically because it will give him the type advantage over Red’s Charmander), he and Red have a much more friendly rivalry than one based on actual animosity. Blue sees himself as Red’s superior and seems to both be motivated to beat Red to the punch wherever possible and happy to walk away from confronting the likes of Team Rocket when it doesn’t suit him but the two are generally more about ribbing on each other and winding each other up about their progress and abilities than actually hating each other. Sadly, though, because of the brevity of the mini series, Red and Blue only battle head to head twice in this story; the first time, Red is soundly defeated as his strategy of mindlessly attacking without having properly developed trust and partnership with his Charmander prove his downfall. Brock specifically uses Blue as an example of a trainer who has established this bond and it is from both of them that Red learns to put his love and trust into his Pokémon, which are treated as his beloved partners and allies rather than mere tools. However, when they face-off again in “File 4: Charizard”, the tables have turned; though Blue has already become the Pokémon League Champion, he falls to Red despite having amassed a team powerful and diverse enough to conquer any and all opponents not because of his lack of strength but because he had failed to maintain the bonds of trust and friendship between himself and his partners. Humbled by his defeat, Blue nevertheless congratulates Red on his victory and accomplishments and the two retain a friendly rivalry for the final episode of the anime, one based on Blue’s desire to one-up Red at any opportunity while still acknowledging his skill and capability.

Battling with Red awakens a passion that Giovanni had long forgotten.

Despite much of Origins being reduced to quick montages, there is still a strong sense of Red’s capability throughout the anime; after learning valuable lessons from Blue and Brock, Red goes from strength to strength, easily defeating other trainers and Gym Leaders even when he has a massive type disadvantage. Not counting that initial battle against Blue, Red only runs into two roadblocks throughout his journey, the first being his showdown against Giovanni (Price). Though Red’s first meeting with the Team Rocket boss is glossed over in a recap, his battle against him for the Earth Badge is a significant part of the aptly-named “File 3: Giovanni”. The strength of Giovanni’s Rhyhorn (Unknown) alone is enough to wipe out all of Red’s team even when Red has the type advantage but Red’s determination and passion for both battling and towards his Pokémon awakens something in Giovanni he had long forgotten. Exhilarated by the thrill of the battle (even though it’s ridiculously one-sided in his favour for the majority of the time), Giovanni is impressed, humbled, and even grateful to have been defeated by such a zealous trainer. So touched is Giovanni that he disbands Team Rocket and wishes Red well on the remainder of his journey, urging Red to follow the path that he (Giovanni) strayed from long ago and pledging to carve a new path for himself going forward.

Mewtwo represents Red’s final, and greatest, challenge.

The second obstacle Red encounters is hinted at in “File 2: Cubone” and forms the central focus of “File 4: Charizard” and it is, of course, Mewtwo (ibid). Mewtwo’s threat is immediately established by how badly, and easily, it overwhelms Blue, leaving him badly injured and putting the wind up the usually arrogant trainer. Nevertheless, motivated by the desire to finally complete Oak’s PokéDex, Red heads to Cerulean Cave to confront the creature, which is still a genetic copy of the mythical Pokémon Mew (Christine Marie Cabanos) but, unlike in the anime and manga, it never speaks or communicates in any way other than brutal, aggressive battle. Far from the nuanced, tortured character in other media, Mewtwo is portrayed more as simply an extremely powerful Pokémon to be captured like any other, which is much more in-line with its position in the games as a “super boss” of sorts rather than a pivotal plot point. However, even Red is unable to match Mewtwo’s monstrous power; luckily, though, he was gifted two Mega Stones by the mysterious Mr. Fuji (Kirk Thornton) in “File 2: Cubone” and, even more helpfully, they just so happen to react to the close bond between Red and Charizard (Shin’ichirō Miki) and allow Charizard to mega evolve into Mega Charizard X (did I mention that Origins came out around the same time as Pokémon X and Y?) This is enough of a power boost to allow Red to overwhelm Mewtwo faster than it can react and capture it with a ridiculous amount of ease; seriously, Red throws two Ultra Balls and captures Mewtwo with the second, which is some serious bullshit when you think about how many damn balls it can take to snag Mewtwo in the games. I would have liked to see Red use a Master Ball but, sadly, he never acquires one in Origins as it’s merely an unfinished prototype in this story.

Origins ends with Red eager to find more Pokémon, starting with the mythical Mew.

Regardless, Red is successful and captures all 150 Pokémon but his mission is far from over as, while celebrating with Oak and Blue, he remembers that Mewtwo was created from Mew and rushes out a bundle of excitement and anticipation at the prospect of encountering and capturing still more Pokémon. It’s here, and in Red’s steadfast determination in battle, that we see the closest links between Red and Ash: both are stubborn in battle and endlessly excited about capturing and finding new Pokémon. However, Red ends Origins a far more accomplished and experienced trainer; he’s the Pokémon League Champion, for one thing, and now has numerous Legendary and incredibly powerful Pokémon in his possession. In this regard, Origins ends exactly as a standard game of Blue or Red would end, with the character having numerous Pokémon at their disposal and ridiculously overpowered. While Ash does also grow and become more accomplished as a trainer, this takes…what? A hundred episodes? Two hundred? And even then he still makes rookie mistakes; no such foibles befall Red but, to be fair, much of his growth as a trainer and a character is implied, rushed through in montages, or takes place between episodes and relies heavily on the viewer’s familiarity with the videogames to fill in the blanks whereas the anime is able to use many (many) episodes to show Ash’s numerous lessons and growth.

The Summary:
Pokémon: Origins is an extremely enjoyable, gorgeously-animated anime; everything from the character designs, Pokémon battles, and sounds is fantastic to look at and closely reminiscent of the source material. Unlike the anime (and a lot of Pokémon media), Pokémon do not constantly speak their names and instead have more realistic, animal sounds like in the games; Japanese text is also left unaltered, which is refreshing, and while many elements, mechanics, and important plot points from the games are glossed over, at least they’re actually included here rather than either being ignored or significantly altered. As much as I enjoy the anime (specifically the films because of their focus on Legendary Pokémon), it can be grating at times to follow a character as annoying and unreliable as Ash and, because of that, Red is a breath of fresh air. Like his manga counterpart, Red is competent, brave, and determined; he starts out as a rookie, knowing very little about the basics and nuances of Pokémon battling, and quickly matures to the point where he can defeat Gym Leaders with ease, single-handedly brings down Team Rocket (something Ash is still struggling to do), and not only captures Legendary Pokémon but casually uses them as part of his team just like the player would. His fidelity to the player’s character and journey is commendable; he learns the same lessons that the player does throughout the game while still being his own distinct character separate from the player’s avatar, Ash, and even his manga counterpart.

Origins‘s fidelity is impressive, though it rushes through many usually-important plot points.

It’s this fidelity to the source material that elevates Pokémon: Origins and makes up the majority of its appeal; the anime strayed too far from the gameplay mechanics and spirit of the games for my taste, as much as I enjoy it, so it’s refreshing to see such a well-crafted and well-animated series tell a very similar story to the anime but in a way that is so much closer to the source material. The only thing that lets Pokémon: Origins down is the brevity of its narrative; limiting its story to just four episodes means so much of the game’s story gets glossed over and the focus can be a bit skewed at times. While, at its core, it focuses on Red’s journey and his mission to complete the PokéDex and his ongoing rivalry with Blue and Team Rocket, I can’t help but feel like this would have benefitted from being more like ten episodes to spend a bit more time on Team Rocket, Red’s battles against the Kanto Gym Leaders, and, specifically, his battles against the Elite Four.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What did you think about Pokémon: Origins? How do you think it holds up when compared to the anime and numerous feature films? Did you enjoy how faithful it was to the source material or do you feel that it was weighed down by focusing on fidelity over telling a more unique story? Do you agree that certain parts were rushed or were you happy with the story it told? Which character, or Pokémon, is your favourite and why? How did you capture Mewtwo when you first played Pokémon? Whatever you think, do please leave a comment below and join me next Saturday for National Pokémon Day!

Talking Movies [Mewtwo’s Birthday]: Pokémon: The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back


According to Pokémon: Blue and Red Version (Nintendo/Creatures/Game Freak, 1995), February 6 is the day that Mew successfully gave birth to my favourite Pokémon, Mewtwo. Whether this was a natural birth or simply the day the clone was successfully created is up for debate but, nevertheless, this is the official date that the world’s most powerful Pokémon came into being. Happy birthday, Mewtwo; please don’t kill me!

Talking Movies

Released: July 1998
Director: Kunihiko Yuyama
Distributor: Toho
Budget: $5 million
Stars: Veronica Taylor, Philip Bartlett, Rachael Lillis, Eric Stuart, Madeleine Blaustein, Ikue Ohtani, and Kouichi Yamadera

The Plot:
Cloned from the genetic material of the rarest Pokémon of all, Mew (Yamadera), and enraged at its mistreatment at the hands of humans, the Psychic Pokémon Mewtwo (Bartlett) lures Ash Ketchum (Taylor) and his friends to its island to witness its plan to enact revenge against all humanity.

The Background:
So, by now, you’re well aware of Pokémon (Nintendo/Creatures/Game Freak, 1995 to present), a role-playing videogame in which you capture, raise, and battle little monsters and which dominated playgrounds and friendships in the late nineties. After rushing out to purchase Pokémon: Blue Version or Pokémon: Red Version, kids soon became engrossed in every piece of Pokémon merchandise there was, and that included the still-ongoing Pokémon (1997 to present) anime series. Though somewhat removed from its videogame source material, the anime was popular enough to warrant the release of a feature-length animated movie that revolved around one of the most powerful and popular Pokémon, Mewtwo, and its ever-elusive biological counterpart, Mew.

Pokémon led to a successful, long-running anime and, of course, the first of many movies.

Mewtwo represented the ultimate challenge in the original videogames; capturing it meant you had easily the strongest Pokémon the game had to offer and the creature was seemingly tailor-made for the game’s Master Ball, which captured any Pokémon without fail. In comparison, Mew wasn’t actually available in the original videogames outside of Japan, resulting in a slew of wild theories on how to capture it and kids either breaking their games with glitches or buying a Game Genie to get their hands on the mysterious little critter. For me, Pokémon: The First Movie has never been matched by other Pokémon movies in terms of its spectacle and hype. This was peak Pokémon, when the games and anime were at their most popular for my generation (matched only by the release of the follow-up titles), and the appeal of Mewtwo and mystery surrounding Mew was at the forefront of my mind and the minds of my friends and peers. Best of all, hints and glimpses of Mewtwo had been peppered throughout the anime: Giovanni (Ted Lewis) had used it in a battle against Ash’s rival, Gary Oak (James Carter Cathcart), and we’d seen it escape from Giovanni’s headquarters in explosive fashion. Never again would the anime so explicitly tie into one of the movies and the hype for Pokémon: The First Movie was palpable as a result.

The Review:
Pokémon: The First Movie opens with Mewtwo questioning its memories, its identity, and the reason for its creation. These issues haunt Mewtwo throughout the film and are the reason for its rage against, and hatred of, humanity; cloned from a single cell of the mythical Pokémon Mew, Mewtwo is tormented by visions from a life it doesn’t remember and feelings it can’t reconcile.

Mewtwo’s hatred for humanity makes it an aggressive and dangerous foe.

Add to that its “awesome Psychic powers” and Mewtwo doesn’t waste any time in breaking out of its containment tube and demanding answers from the Team Rocket scientists that created it. Incensed at the their lack of care for its feeling or condition, Mewtwo flies into a rage, destroying the lab and killing everyone within. This opening sequence effectively sets the tone for what is to follow; although the film is rated U for everybody, it’s a far darker and more sombre affair than the usually fun-loving anime series thanks, largely, to the changes made to Mewtwo’s motivations by producer Norman Grossfeld. This involved cutting an entire opening sequence which made Mewtwo a far more sympathetic figure and changing the Pokémon from a more ambiguous and tragic figure and into one that is clearly evil and motivated by anger. However, this doesn’t make it any less a tragic figure; Mewtwo suffers nothing but abuse and betrayal in its short life and its outrage is completely understandable.

Ash and his friends are invited to a Pokémon tournament.

Determined to take revenge against the human world, Mewtwo organises a Pokémon tournament on its island; after winning a Pokémon battle against a random trainer (in unbelievable fashion), Ash, Brock (Stuart), and Misty (Lillis) are invited to attend but soon find themselves opposed by a sudden storm. This world-covering tempest is actually a result of Mewtwo; in the dub, Mewtwo causes a storm that threatens all life on Earth rather than to simply cloak its island and, while debating how to brave the storm, Ash and his friends hear a story that is also exclusive to the dub. They are told of a time long ago when a storm wiped out countless lives; so heartbroken by the devastation, the surviving Pokémon’s tears “somehow restored the lives lost in the storm”. Though it obviously has many holes, this ridiculous premise actually works to help justify what happens at the end of the film and simplifies the film’s events for the younger viewers that made up the majority of its audience. Regardless, Ash and his friends manage to reach Mewtwo’s island thanks not only to their Pokémon (despite them being described as being “too weak” to brave the storm) and, partially, to assistance from their long-time enemies from Team Rocket, Jessie (Lillis), James (Stuart), and Meowth (Blaustein), all of whom largely fulfil their usual roles as comic relief.

Mewtwo plans to replace life with its genetically superior clones.

Once they reach the island and encounter Mewtwo, Ash immediately opposes Mewtwo’s plot to wipe the planet clean of all life, human and Pokémon alike, and replace it with its genetically superior clone Pokémon. What follows is an inevitable conflict between the naturally born and trained Pokémon of the trainers present and Mewtwo’s clones and a debate about the merits of fighting and the difference between nature and nurture. Now, obviously, the dub makes these aspects so on the nose and in your face that you’d be hard-pressed to miss them; the characters literally have an entire conversation in the middle of a no holds barred fight between the clones and the originals where they simply repeat “fighting is wrong” over and over. As a kid, this was a frustrating experience as those who didn’t understand Pokémon or who thought it was stupid would criticise this moment as all Pokémon ever seem to do is fight but I would argue that there is a clear difference in the games, anime, and in this movie and its subsequent sequels between battling for sport and in the name of friendly competition and fighting to the death.

Both Pikachu and Meowth refuse to fight their clones.

No one exemplifies the refusal to take part in such a pointless fight more than Pikachu (Ohtani); seeing it pointedly refuse to fight its clone and getting smacked around as a result was utterly heartbreaking but it serves to drive the point home extremely well. Even Team Rocket come to realise the pointlessness of such conflict, with Meowth also refusing to fight its clone and musing that individuals have more in common than they might think. Of course, all this surprising character growth and development is then rendered completely mute when Mewtwo wipes all of their memories, meaning that the only one who really learns a lesson is Mewtwo but, given that it was hell-bent on destroying all life on Earth, I guess that’s preferable.

Psychic or otherwise chatty Pokémon featured in almost every subsequent movie.

Even after all this time, and despite some of its flaws, Pokémon: The First Movie is still a great film for me. Of all the Pokémon movies released, this, in my opinion, is still the best one; nostalgia obviously plays a large part in this but, while I enjoyed some of the later movies, none of them had quite the same appeal as this one. It introduced a few new Pokémon from the upcoming sequel games, showcased my favourite Pokémon (Mewtwo), and brought Mew into the spotlight for the first time. It’s telling that every single Pokémon movie that has followed has featured either a Psychic Pokémon or a Pokémon capable of speech/communicating and that they often have similar themes of an evil or misguided, stupidly powerful Pokémon having to be quelled. Pokémon: The First Movie did it first, and best, in my opinion, though.

The Nitty-Gritty:
I mentioned just now that the film has some flaws and, yeah, it would be ignorant not to address them. Compared to later movies in the series, Pokémon: The First Movie isn’t quite as crisp or as smoothly animated; indeed, the animation is clearly a step up from the regular anime but far from the gorgeously slick rendering of later films. While you could argue that the producers really didn’t need to replace certain aspects with computer-generated images (doors, some camera movements and effects and the like), I didn’t actually mind this; sure, it sticks out a bit but it’s harmless enough.

The dub changes Mewtwo’s motivations but it’s still a complex character.

Of course, the changes made to the script, specifically Mewtwo’s origin and motivations, irked many people but it was never really an issue for me; sure, I’d like to see it either redubbed or subtitled in the original Japanese format but I grew up with the dubbed anime and this version of the movie. It’s all I’ve ever known and I’ve always been happy with it despite how unapologetically the script hammers home its obvious themes. It is a bit weird, though, how the script makes a few errors in identifying Pokémon; it makes an ironic sense that lifetime bunglers like Team Rocket would mistake Sandshrew for Sandslash (even though they look very different) but it is a bit odd that a trainer would misidentify his own Pokémon. Mistakes like these are surprising but hardly a deal-breaker; it smacks of laziness and a lack of quality control but hardly derails the movie.

Mewtwo and Mew clash in a test of will and power.

Frankly, they could have screwed the names of all the Pokémon and I still would have been happy just to see the long-awaited fight between Mewtwo and Mew. Apparently evenly matched in terms of raw power, their fight disappointingly descends into them simply ramming into each other’s protective shields but it’s nonetheless quite brutal and exciting. It’s even quite surprising how vicious Mew is; it is portrayed the entire movie as this mischievous little pixie but, when push comes to shove, is more than happy to trade energy blasts with its monstrous counterpart and fight to prove its point.

Still a heartbreaking moment all these years later…

This, of course, brings me to one of the most heartbreaking moments you could experience as a kid; Ash, desperate to stop the fighting, leaps between the two and is inexplicably turned to stone. The moment is shocking (even for me…and I’ve never been that big a fan of Ash) but quickly becomes absolutely heartwrenching when Pikachu, confused and in despair, tries to rouse its master with little pushes and shock after shock. The fighting stops; friend and foe alike gaze in disbelief as Pikachu fails to awaken Ash and bursts into tears of grief. It’s absolutely heartbreaking even now just seeing Pikachu in such a desperate state. Luckily, that “tears of life” story pays off and the collective tears of all the Pokémon restore Ash but I never expected the movie to have this sudden, abrupt turn into the feels and it still gets me to this day.

This wouldn’t be the last time we see Mewtwo in a Pokémon movie.

Pokémon: The First Movie was a rousing success, earning over $170 million at the box office and kick-starting a slew of movies to follow. The producers circled back around to Mewtwo a couple of times after this, first in the direct-to-DVD sequel, Pokémon: Mewtwo Returns (Sonoda, 2000), which answered a few lingering questions from this film, and then Mewtwo and Mew also appeared in Pokémon: The Mastermind of Mirage (Yuyama and Fujita, 2006). Mewtwo also featured in Pokémon the Movie: Genesect and the Legend Awakened (Yuyama, 2013), though that film inexplicably and quite ridiculously featured an entirely different Mewtwo, and Pokémon: The First Movie was remade entirely in CGI in 2019 around about in time for the first film’s twentieth anniversary and, of course, who else but Mewtwo would feature as the principal antagonist in Pokémon: Detective Pikachu (Letterman, 2019), a film that explicitly referenced Pokémon: The First Movie when discussing Mewtwo’s origins.


The Summary:
Never doubt the power of nostalgia; it can make even the crappiest polygonal graphics seem timeless and the most outlandish movies memorable. I still like Pokémon but I don’t really play the games anymore and am nowhere near as invested in the franchise as I was when Pokémon: The First Movie came out; I would scour magazines and comic books for glimpses of the film and the mysterious new Pokémon we knew nothing about and went out of my way to get a bootleg VHS of the movie just so I could watch it and see my favourite Pokémon in action. I admit that nostalgia plays a large part in my affection for Pokémon: The First Movie but it is still a really solid entry in the Pokémon movie series and a decent animated feature in its own right. It’s not as action-packed as the later entries and nowhere near as well animated or scripted but the hype was real and seeing Mewtwo and Mew go at it in this classic will never got old. It got me then and it still gets me now.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.


What did you think of Pokémon: The First Movie? Where does it rank for you compared to the other Pokémon films? Do you think it still holds up to this day or do you think it’s seen better days? How are you celebrating Mewtwo’s birthday this year? Whatever you think about Pokémon: The First Movie, Mewtwo, and Pokémon in general, leave your thoughts in the comments below

Talking Movies: Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution

Talking Movies

Released: July 2019
Director: Kunihiko Yuyama and Motonori Sakakibara
Distributor: Toho
Budget: $27 million
Stars: Sarah Natochenny, Michele Knotz, Bill Rogers, Ikue Ōtani, James Carter Cathcart, Michele Knotz, Dan Green, and Kōichi Yamadera

The Plot:
Cloned from the genetic material of the rarest Pokémon of all, Mew (Yamadera), and enraged at his mistreatment at the hands of humans, the Psychic Pokémon Mewtwo (Green) lures Ash Ketchum (Natochenny) and his friends to its island to witness its plan to enact revenge against all humanity.

The Background:
No doubt you are familiar with Pokémon (Nintendo/Creatures/Game Freak, 1995 to present), a role-playing videogame for Nintendo’s Game Boy and handheld consoles that, with no exaggeration, took the world by storm back in the late nineties. Everyone who was anyone rushed out to buy a copy of Pokémon: Blue Version or Pokémon: Red Version (ibid) back when they first released and, before long, kids everywhere were hooked on the seemingly never-ending stream of multimedia merchandise released by Nintendo. Chief amongst these was the still-ongoing Pokémon (1997 to present) anime series which, while somewhat removed from its videogame source material, nonetheless enthralled kids everywhere and, perhaps inevitably, led to the production of a feature-length animated movie, Pokémon the First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back (Yuyama, 1998). Then, for whatever reason, the decision was made, in the midst of a soft reboot to the Pokémon film series and anime alike, to remake this iconic movie entirely through the use of computer-generated imagery (CGI), resulting in this modern twist on what is, in my opinion, still the best Pokémon movie ever made thanks, largely, to the power of nostalgia.

The Review:
Basically, Evolution is exactly the same story as its predecessor but with a few noticeable changes; the most obvious is, of course, the CGI animation but other things, such as dialogue changes, narrative changes, and changes to the music, all help to freshen up the original movie. The opening scenes are largely the same (but, once again, the film skips the prologue that sees Mewtwo make friends with other clones who heartbreakingly die right before his eyes) as Mewtwo is cloned from a single cell of Mew and, unimpressed with the motivations behind his creation, destroys the facility in which it was created and kills all the scientists who birthed it.

Mewtwo swears revemge against humanity.

Summarily manipulated by Giovanni (Ted Lewis), the evil leader of Team Rocket and the mastermind behind its creation, Mewtwo’s rage against humanity leads it to organise a Pokémon tournament in order to build an army of clone Pokémon to “strike back” against the world that treated him so badly. In the middle of their journey through Kanto, Ash, Brock (Rogers), Misty (Knotz), and Pikachu (Ōtani) receive an invitation to Mewtwo’s island and, after braving a storm it created, immediately take umbrage to Mewtwo’s twisted world view and rally a group of trainers, their Pokémon, and even their long-time enemies from Team Rocket, Jesse (Knotz), James (Cathcart), and Meowth (ibid), in opposing Mewtwo’s plans.

Ash vehemently opposes Mewtwo’s plans.

Let me state first of all that, unapologetically, I absolutely love Pokémon the First Movie; I still remember going out of my way to purchase a bootleg VHS tape of the film back in the day before finally getting a legitimate copy from a car boot sale. As much as I’ve enjoyed subsequent Pokémon movies, nothing beats the nostalgia of revisiting the original film. It may have some flaws, largely based around the numerous changes made when dubbing the film into English that made Mewtwo far less sympathetic, but I will defend it to this day simply because it came right at the peak of Pokémon’s popularity for me; Pokémon: Gold Version and Pokémon: Silver Version (Game Freak, 1999) were due to be released around that time and the hype was real concerning brand new Pokémon, to say nothing of finally seeing Mewtwo in all its glory (it had been teased in several episodes of the anime prior to the movie’s release), much less going head-to-head with Mew, which was the most elusive of game secrets at the time due to their being no legitimate way to catch it outside of Japan.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Thankfully, Evolution doesn’t really alter that much from the original film, meaning that the only thing you’re really missing out on is the gorgeous anime aesthetic from the original. The CGI looks good on the Pokémon but the human models look a little…off, like they’re made of plastic, which gets a bit distracting at times.

A lot of the battles have been improved and expanded upon.

Additionally, there were a few odd choices made here; dialogue is altered significantly, to the point where it feels much closer to the original Japanese dialogue (if that makes sense) but then, about halfway through, the dialogue changes and is almost exactly the same as in the original film (Mewtwo’s closing monologue, for example, is pretty much word-for-word). There’s also the criminal decision to supplant the original dub score with a new one (those who preferred the Japanese score will likely be thankful for this, however) and completely remove Blessid Union of Souls’ ‘Brother My Brother’ from the epic final clash.

Ash’s sacrifice still hits in the feels…

One change I did appreciate, however, was the complete remove of the “tears of life” sub-plot; in the original, Ash and the others are fed a nonsense story about Pokémon tears being able to restore the dead to life, which was completely missing from the original Japanese version. While this did bring a lot more context to Ash’s resurrection in the film’s climax, it never sat well with me in the original as it always felt wedged in there.

Evolution features some welcome alterations to the original.

Similarly, Mewtwo’s mechanical suit gets on hell of a bad-ass upgrade, Team Rocket’s amusingly ridiculous disguise as Viking sailors, of all things, is removed completely (and for the better), and minor niggles like Pokémon being referred to incorrectly have been addressed. There are also some improvements made through this remake, as well; the ambiguity surrounding Mewtwo’s motivations that was explicit in the original Japanese release is far more prevalent here than in the original dub, for one thing. Some of the battles also receive a makeover, such as Ash’s initial battle during the iconic Pokémon theme song and the battles between the cloned start Pokémon and their biological counterparts.


The Summary:
In the end, Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution is a nice little update to a childhood favourite; it adds in a lot of subtle story beats that were missing, beefs up some of the battles and content, and adds a fresh coat of paint to a classic. Yet, at the same time, it feels incredibly redundant; beyond the CGI overhaul and a few of these alterations, there’s not much new happening here and, considering the fact that the Pokémon movies are completely removed from the anime, it feels a bit weird to have this suddenly released upon us. A big factor into my final score comes down to my unconditional love for the original movie but even I kind of feel like much of the same could have been accomplished by releasing a high-definition, digitally remastered version of the original movie with all of the cut content restored alongside the recording of a new dub and the option to watch in the original Japanese.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What did you think of Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution? Do you think it is a good tribute to Pokémon the First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back or do you, perhaps, not share my fondness for that movie? Whatever the case, feel free to share your Pokémon thoughts and memories in the comments.