- NintendoPrice - £39.99 Eagled eyed readers will have noticed that last week heralded the release of not one, but two new consoles into the UK and Europe. Although GameCube is still over a month away, Nintendo used 15th March, 2002 to launch Pokémon Mini, a pint sized pigmy of a handheld featuring a trio of Pokémon themed games.
Pokémon Mini, unveiled at last September's Nintendo Show here in the UK, is a tiny, monochrome games machine with a pulsating blip of a speaker, a d-pad and A, B and C function buttons, the latter located in the top right like a shoulder button. The console - patent pending - has clearly been designed for Pokémon's core audience: kids. It runs off one AAA battery held in place by a screw-on cover (so as to prevent easy removal), features a rudimentary lock and release mechanism to hold the tiny little cartridges in their slot, and boasts a high contrast monochrome screen, about an inch wide. Other features that aren't so obvious include an infrared communicator to beam data between minis, rumble and shock sensing features, a clock, and onboard backup memory for storing game data and rankings. The console, available in Blue, Purple and Green, retails for £39.99 in this country, bundled with a copy of Pokémon Party Mini, and both of its other games are priced at £14.99. If your offspring is of a primary school sort of age, and often bemoans Dadda's hogging of the GameBoy Advance, this might be just the thing to shut him or her up. We've so often decried platforms in the past for their lack of launch software, but Pokémon Mini is a bit different. Aimed squarely at kids with a five second attention span, it makes no attempt to convey sweeping stories and dramatic overtures, nor do any of the games offer bounteous gameplay or revolutionary features. But it does peddle itself in ways that children can really enjoy, and that's one of the main reasons I'm impressed with it.
Pokémon Party Mini
This is the best of the three launch titles, so it's probably just as well Nintendo bundled it with the console. Party features six mini-games, mostly based on reaction with simple controls. Five of the games can be played in link up mode via the infrared port, but all of them feature leaderboard style rankings so that you can fight your friends on a single unit. Since we don't have enough space to cover all of the games, let's have a look at three of my favourites… The first is Rocket Start, where players have to help Pikachu get a rocket start at Elekid's rumble signal. The idea is to hit a button or shake the unit once you feel the console rumble, and since you're racing against a CPU opponent you will need to break the three-hundredths of a second barrier to stand a chance of winning. I like this one because we had a similar game involving stopwatches back at school, and I was never any good at it, whereas I am currently unbeaten at this. Take that Chopper Chorley! Dance Delight may sound silly, but… no, actually, like most of the games on this console it is definitely silly, but that's part of its charm, see? You have to wait until the pad rumbles and the Bellossom at the back starts dancing, at which point you have to follow suit by pointing the d-pad in the right direction or shaking the console to jump. It's very tricky to get absolutely right, and your score depends on the number of correct moves you perform in succession. I like this one because it gets very hard very quickly, and again, none of my friends were any good at it. However, I have yet to find one man who cannot grasp the concept of Boxing Frenzy and waggle it about with gay abandon. Boxing Frenzy is Hitmonchan's sparring programme, featuring Machop, or Man Chop as he's now known. The controls for Boxing Frenzy are very simple - once instructed to fight, you must shake the unit violently until it starts rumbling, at which point you should stop or Man Chop can punch you. Once the rumbling ceases, resume shaking, until the bout is over. It's all in the wrist action. Yours truly has 'topped' 100, but our hats are off to the fellows at a rival website (you know who you are) whose accountant managed to do that on his first attempt. Proving once and for all that money men are total and utter bankers. The most endearing aspect of Pokémon Party Mini is that anybody can pick it up and play it. In terms of appeal, the scope is endless, and there's even the odd game Mums and Dads can join in with, if they are so inclined. It also features plenty of throbbing. Ahem.
Pokémon Pinball Mini
You might think a pinball sim would pale in comparison to the throbbing antics of Party, but you would be wrong. There are some 90 screens worth of pinball-related shenanigans on offer here, set across several stages. It's not quite as feature complete as the GameBoy's timeless classic Kirby's Pinball, but it does offer several game modes and plenty of variety. The first mode, Time Attack, involves getting balls into all of the visible pockets within a limited amount of time, and the quicker you do it, the higher your score. Score Attack on the other hand, involves trying to best the target score before the time runs down, and once done your remaining seconds are added to your final score. In homage to its humble roots, Pinball also features a 'catching Pokémon' stage. To catch one, you have to batter the poor thing until its HP is depleted, then bounce a ball off the flailing creature into a nearby pocket. As you may have spotted, this game actually seems to have more to do with snooker than pinball, but it's surprisingly good fun. Capturing all the Pokémon to use as plungers represents a good length of play, and the varying objectives are grown up in a childish sort of way, suitable for fooling little tykes wrestling you for a go on Advance Wars. Although it's hardly rocket science to get good at Pokémon Pinball Mini, it does offer a more sustained reward structure than either of the other games, and is our second choice of the three.
Pokémon Zany Cards
Our hats are off to Nintendo for producing a game with the word 'Zany' in the title. This one gives players the chance to play four Pokémon themed card games, with up to four players competing via link up mode. Each is fairly simple. Wild Match consists of matching up cards in your hand with those on the table, while Special Seven is about getting rid of your hand completely. Card Duel is a battle to play the higher card and Four Kings, as the title suggests, is about capturing all four kings. Zany Cards is the weakest of the three games, and its graphics are the hardest of any to make out on the tiny monochrome screen. That said, it's a great deal more complex and involving than the others, and does offer scope for slightly older closet Pokémon freaks to get in on the action. As far as gameplay goes, it's not in the same league as the other more pyrotechnical card game interpretations seen on the N64 and GameBoy, and it doesn't really measure up to the other titles on the Pokémon Mini. That said, if a loud, throbbing game of virtual masturbation is too high profile for your train journey home, a (relatively) quiet game of solitaire (of which Four Kings is a take off) might just fill the void..
In terms of hardware, Pokémon Mini isn't very powerful and doesn't offer much in the way of graphics or sound worthy of your attention, but the sheer entertainment factor of the software and some of the more subtle hardware aspects such as infrared linkups and shock sensors make for a decidedly more interesting console than first meets the eye. Not really one for the adults then, and it really could do with a hardware volume control instead of relying on the software to marshal itself, but as we're now in the spring and it's difficult to find creative solutions to the ongoing problem of children's birthdays, at £39.99 including its best game and a battery, Pokémon Mini could just be the answer.