Reflecting on my Time at E3 2018

“Is that the real Master Sword that Link actually used in the game?!”

Another E3 has come and gone. Although this was far from my first time at the event, it was only my second time attending since I launched Wizard Dojo, which in a weird way feels like a whole different era for me (even though it’s just a wee blog). Though the fact that E3 has had a bigger attendance than ever the past two years means that the lines to actually play the games can be, well, downright evil in their tests of patience, it was overall a very fun show.

There’s plenty to be said about the mostly disappointing presentations. Whether it was Sony’s unusual format of changing revenues and taking noticeably long breaks, or Nintendo’s maybe-too-focused-on-Smash Bros.-Direct, there weren’t a whole lot of surprises, or even as much of a lineup as last year’s show.

With all that said, however, there was still plenty to enjoy. Especially for someone like me who’s just lucky to be able to attend E3’s show floor. I’ve already written some blogs dedicated to some of the games shown at E3, but now let me write just a little bit about my own experience.

“The world’s greatest necktie.”

Naturally, the first day for me was all about Super Smash Bros. (though I also played it the latter two days as well). Though the gameplay is familiar to the Wii U version, it feels like it’s getting the right level of polish, aiming for something of a combination of Melee and the Wii U game to make the definitive version of Super Smash Bros. Though I still have some reservations (please, don’t waste whatever new characters we get with clones!), Super Smash Bros. is one of the few games where I always get sucked into the hype before release. Since the demo didn’t have my main man King Dedede playable, I spent most rounds as Bowser (who is actually my favorite Nintendo character, so wouldn’t that make him my main man?), or Donkey Kong and Mega Man. I won more than I lost *brag brag* but I admit I made more than a little bit of an oopsie when I went into sudden death as Ridley (I’ll really have to practice that up-special of his). Anyway, I’m just really keeping my fingers crossed that Geno actually makes it in this time. Hey, Sakurai’s behind the idea, if only Nintendo can twist Square’s arm…

Other notable titles I played over the three day event were Marvel’s Spider-Man (which I wish had a more unique title) and Mega Man 11. Other titles that caught my eye but weren’t playable (at least not from what I could tell) were Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and Dreams, the former of which comes from Hidetaka “Prepare to Die” Miyazaki, and the latter by Media Molecule, the creators of LittleBigPlanet who really look like they’ve upped their game.

Spider-Man’s greatest joy was simply how much it makes you feel like Spider-Man when playing it. I spent more of my time in the demo trying to find and ascend the tallest building than I did with any of the objectives. Mega Man 11, meanwhile, felt like the proper continuation of the beloved series that it should be. Mega Man 11 boasted the usual Mega Man gameplay, but with the added bonus of some fun twists on the level design.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice already looks like it could be one of my favorite games of next year. It’s interesting to see a game that follows suit with Miyazaki’s Dark Souls/Bloodborne series, but that omits the RPG elements, instead opting for action/adventure. The only downside is no multiplayer, which admittedly feels like a step back from the genius twists to co-operative and competitive multiplayer the Souls series brought to gaming. As for Dreams, well, it looks like the ultimate game-making game, with players seemingly able to make every single asset of a game (including genre, characters, environments, sounds, music, etc.). Let’s just hope the in-game gameplay doesn’t suffer as LittleBigPlanet did.

Other games I managed to play on the show floor include Team Sonic Racing, a new Senran Kagura title for PS4, Mario Tennis Aces, and Fortnite (which, believe it or not, was actually my first time playing Fortnite). Team Sonic Racing felt like a fun successor to the Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing series, though the removal of non-Sonic Sega characters actually seems like a step back (after all, Mario Kart eventually added Zelda and Animal Crossing characters into the mix. It didn’t start with them then take them away). Senran Kagura is…well, it is what it is: a mindless but fun guilty pleasure. Mario Tennis Aces actually surprised me with how much fun I had in my short time with it. I mean, playing as a Chain Chomp with a tennis racket in its mouth? How can it not be great? And although I sucked in the round of Fortnite I played, I can definitely see the appeal, seeing as it feels like PUBG, but with an actual personality and additional elements like crafting. Plus, Fortnite is now free on Switch, so I have no excuse not to get it.

Sadly, I never got the chance to play Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee, because the lines were always too damn long. Same goes for Kingdom Hearts 3. But hey, I’ll probably play them eventually. Besides, I got to meet the REAL Pikachu and Eevee in person! That counts for like, 10 demos of the games.

“Squad Goals.”

Being able to play all these games was great of course (even if the lines could be insufferable), but just the experience of being at E3 is fun in itself for someone like me. Basically, it’s like Disneyland: wait in monotonous lines most the day, get rewarded with a few moments of quality entertainment, and overall you just enjoy being there. The experience was made all the better, however, by little things like conversing with other people with similar interests while I waited in those aforementioned lines (one particularly interesting individual in line for Smash Bros. also wanted Geno to make the roster), seeing a Solaire cosplayer fat-roll his way through the exhibit hall, walking right passed The New Day and getting a photo with Charles Martinez!

“It’s-a him!”

Yes, another E3 has come and gone, and while most will be discussing the big, news-y aspects of the event, for me, it was just  blast being there, and am itching to return next year.

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Video Game Awards 2018: Best Handheld Game

Once upon a time, the convenience of being able to take a game on the go also meant sacrificing much of its quality. Sure, there were some exceptions – with Link’s Awakening and the early Pokemon titles being early examples of well-regarded handheld titles – but it would be hard to argue that the Gameboy boasted the same quality or timeless appeal as the SNES games that were being released at the same time.

The early 2000s saw handheld gaming take major steps towards sharing the same level of quality as their console counterparts. More recent years have really brought handheld gaming to another level. Now, with the Nintendo Switch combining a handheld with a home console, the line between the two is more blurred than ever.

On the downside, that also means that traditional handhelds as we know them are becoming a thing of the past. It’s even hard to imagine Nintendo giving the 3DS a successor when they can do more on the Switch anyway.

As such, I think naming the best handheld title of the upcoming years may be a different beast than it’s been in the past (considering handheld games are now quite literally the same as home console titles). If I choose to continue this category in the future, it may seem like a superfluous additional token to a Switch game or the like. Because of that, I’ve decided to omit Switch games from this category for 2017 (because how could Super Mario Odyssey or Breath of the Wild not win?). Think of it to give a “last hoorah” of sorts to handheld gaming as we once knew it.

 

Winner: Pokemon Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon

I have a complicated history with Pokemon. As much as I love the overall idea of the games (and their many wonderful creatures), I’ve often felt it’s the most unchanging of Nintendo’s major franchises (which is particularly ironic, given its emphasis on evolving creatures). For every Pokemon I’ve got to level 100, I have a game unfinished.

Thankfully, the 3DS entries have been heading the series in the proper direction. Finally shedding their 2D skins for 3D graphics, the X and Y versions felt like they brought the series more up-to-date, while Sun and Moon felt like a rightful step forward. They may not have reinvented the formula, but they added some much needed alterations to it.

Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon (the “Yellow versions” to Sun and Moon’s “Red and Blue) continue this trend, bulking up what its preceding versions built while also adding in some tweaks of its own (including a weird story involving alternate dimensions and the long-overdue return of Giovanni and Team Rocket, who will hopefully be back in Pokemon Switch seeing as all subsequent Pokemon baddies felt like their bargain bin equivalent).

The new “Ultra” versions of Sun and Moon allow you to obtain almost every legendary Pokemon from the series’ history, which feels like a great way to pay homage to the series’ heritage. While aspects such as those may play up the nostalgia card, Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon also bring about enough of their own changes to the established formula to ensure that the future continues to look bright for Pokemon.

 

Runner-up: Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions

Pokemon 3: The Movie – Spell of the Unown Review

This may sound a bit hyperbolic, but Pokemon 3: The Movie felt like the end of an era. Now, Pokemon’s popularity hasn’t exactly waned at all in the years since the film’s 2001 release (it’s still the biggest merchandise seller of any franchise in any medium, and the games remain best-sellers to this day), but this seemed to mark the end of the world’s initial Pokemania, when Pokemon was an inescapable phenomenon. This was the last Pokemon movie to have a wide theatrical release in the United States (subsequent Pokemon features were relegated to select theaters, before receiving the straight-to-video treatment), and it also seemed to be the point when “pet monster” anime was dying down a bit (even Digimon – the closest thing Pokemon had to a rival – fell off the radar with its third season). Pokemon’s fading omnipresence could be seen in Pokemon 3: The Movie itself, as it wasn’t anywhere near the box-office success of its predecessors. Maybe parents were tired of taking their kids to see Pokemon movies, or perhaps the dwindling box-office returns had something to do with the lack of new Pokemon in the movie, and kids didn’t have as much interest (it would be another two years before the third generation of Pokemon hit stateside). But Pokemon 3: The Movie’s relative unpopularity is a shame, as it might actually be the best of the three original Pokemon features, with strong themes and surprising emotional depth.

Although the hero of the film remains Ash Ketchum, it’s hard to refer to him as the main character this time around. The young Pokemon trainer, along with his friends Pikachu, Misty and a returning Brock may be the stars returning from the show, but Pokemon 3: The Movie primarily focuses on a new character, a young girl named Molly, for its emotional core.

Molly is the five-year old daughter of a research scientist named Spencer Hale, who conducts research on legendary Pokemon. During an expedition to study the mysterious, inter-dimensional Pokemon Unown, Professor Hale is spirited away to another world by the Unown. Molly’s mother has long-since disappeared (the movie never really mentions what happened to her), and now with her father gone, Molly is overwrought with grief. Her father’s assistant brings Molly an ancient, puzzle-like artifact as a memento from her father’s expedition. After tinkering around with the puzzle, Molly unleashes the Unown, who begin using their psychic abilities to bring Molly’s dreams to life.

The Unown’s powers begin to meld with Molly’s grief, and soon she begins to alter reality to make her happy. The Unown turn her hometown into a crystalline palace, she can become a young woman at will, and most importantly, her father returns to her in the form of Entei, Molly’s favorite Pokemon. Within this illusionary dream world, Molly becomes delusional and reclusive, preferring the happiness of the Unown’s illusions to the sadness of her real life.

One thing is still missing from Molly’s life, however; a mother. So Molly sends Entei to find a surrogate mother for her, which happens to be Ash Ketchum’s mother (Molly’s family are long-distance friends of the Ketchums). So Ash and friends journey to Molly’s manor-turned-fairy tale castle to rescue Mrs. Kethum and, hopefully, to help Molly out as well.

It’s a pretty simple plot, but it differentiates itself from its two predecessors by making the stakes more personal (saving Ash’s mom, as opposed to saving the planet from Mewtwo or nature falling out of balance), and with its emphasis on Molly, who is uniquely both the film’s protagonist and antagonist (okay, Ash is technically the protagonist, but this is Molly’s story more than it is Ash’s), it stands out a little more. Not to mention with its themes of loss, loneliness and grief, it’s perhaps the most emotional and deep of the original Pokemon trilogy. I mean, when the central dilemma of a film is a small child’s grieving, it’s hard not to get emotional.

The focus on a new character is a little bit of a double-edged sword, however, seeing as Ash and the other returning characters don’t get nearly as much character development as they did in the second film. I suppose by the third entry you need a bit of a change of pace, but it should say something that Meowth makes a fourth-wall-breaking joke about Team Rocket’s minimized role in this film compared to the second feature.

More on the bright side of things, the popular-for-their-time pop tunes that littered the first movie and had a presence in the second are nowhere to be found. On the downside, that may have been another indicator of the franchise leaving the public eye a bit at the time (having a popular band attached to Pokemon was great promotion back then). But I’d much rather here the cheesy-yet-indelible original songs of Pokemon than hear a distinctly yesteryear pop tune shoehorn its way in.

Following in the footsteps of Pokemon: The Movie 2000, Pokemon 3 has a surprisingly strong original score. I’m not sure if any one track reaches the heights of “Lugia’s Song” from the second film, but its still an effective and memorable score nonetheless.

Once again, the animation takes a step up from the TV show to better fit its presence as a movie. The characters move more fluidly than the TV show to be sure, though it does seem a little inconsistent within itself (sometimes the animation looks like a remarkable improvement, other times, merely an improvement). And like the second feature, we get some fun and varied locations to see, with the sometimes surreal world of Molly’s fantasies being a highlight, and making the first film’s focus on Mewtwo’s labs look even more bland in retrospect.

Pokemon 3: The Movie – Spell of the Unown may not be a cinematic classic by any means – its structure is sometimes lacking, and certain plot elements feel rushed together – but it is a great reminder that Pokemon can be (and often is) more than the simple money-printing franchise it also very much is. I mean, how many more “legitimate” movie franchises have an entire feature about grieving, and trust that its young audience is wise enough to understand such a heavy concept?

It’s a shame Pokemon 3: The Movie came at the end of Pokemania’s initial run. Despite its (sometimes quite obvious) flaws, its heart is in the right place. And if any of the subsequent Pokemon features shared its heart, then it’s all the more disappointing to see them relegated to the straight-to-video section.

 

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Pokemon: The Movie 2000 Review

In the year 2000, Pokemon was at the height of its popularity. With the second installments – the now-beloved Gold and Silver versions – on the way later in the year, and after the box office success of Pokemon: The First Movie in 1999, Pokemon: The Movie 2000 was sure to be a hit, especially with its emphasis on some of the new Gold and Silver Pokemon. Pokemon: The Movie 2000 didn’t quite reach the ticket sales of its predecessor –  though it is the only anime film that comes close to it in the US box office – it is actually a better movie, with improved character development and a bit of a stronger story.

Pokemon the Movie 2000 sees Pokemon trainer Ash Ketchum, his friends Misty and Tracey, and, of course, the adorable Pokemon Pikachu on an adventure that takes them to Shamouti Island, after a massive storm sends them on a little detour from Ash’s usual Pokemon journeys. The group soon learns that the people of the island are in the middle of a festival, celebrating an ancient prophecy based around the mythical Pokemon Lugia and the three legendary birds; Articuno, Zapdos and Moltres.

The prophecy states that the elemental birds of ice (Articuno), lightning (Zapdos) and fire (Moltres) will lose their balance over the world’s climate, and their ensuing war amongst each other will awaken Lugia, the guardian of the sea, to try to ease the warring birds and bring balance back to nature. But Lugia will need help from a chosen hero and a special song.

A young girl named Melody is the festival’s maiden, and selects Ash to be the “chosen one” of the festival. As the chosen one, Ash is to retrieve three crystal orbs from the islands of the legendary birds, take them to Shamouti’s Shrine (located in the middle of the three islands), where Melody is to play Lugia’s Song.

This turns out to be more than a ceremonial ritual, however, as an obsessed Pokemon collector named Lawrence III seeks to bring the prophecy to fruition – by means of capturing the legendary birds with his immense, flying fortress – in order to awaken Lugia, which Lawrence believes to be his ultimate prize.

Suffice to say Ash’s role as the chosen one ends up being more vital than simply being part of a festival, and due to Lawrence III’s actions Ash’s duties hold the fate of the planet in the balance.

The plot may be a bit simple, and storylines being built around prophecies are always a bit of a tightrope to walk (more often than not, they tell you exactly where the story is going). But Pokemon has that innocent charm about it that makes it hard to resist, and with Lugia’s presence as a mythological creature, it’s a fitting story.

What gives Pokemon the Movie 2000 extra points in the story department, however, is its improved character development. While the first film focused more on Mewtwo’s backstory, 2000 gives Ash the chance to show a more heroic and selfless side, as if his actions towards the end of the first movie carried over and continued for the entirety of the sequel. Misty – though perhaps needing of some more screen time – is also given time to grow as a character.

Perhaps most notably is how this sequel actually gives Team Rocket something important to do, and gives them new dimensions. While they primarily served as bumbling, villainous comic relief in the series (and still do a bit here), Team Rocket’s Jessie, James and Meowth end up playing an integral role in the plot. It’s a shame that the series would more or less retcon all these character changes away, but hey, they’re still enjoyable to watch during the movie.

As is often the case with Pokemon, 2000 has a go at some emotional moments, and is surprisingly effective with them. Look, it’s obviously not Pixar levels of making audiences cry, but its heart is in the right place, and the emotion resonates more than you’d expect from a movie based on a TV show based on a video game.

Much like the first movie, Pokemon the Movie 2000 has improved animation over the TV series. Though it isn’t without some notable limitations, the jump to the big screen gave Pokemon a new visual life. Plus, the island setting and environmental changes (not to mention Lawrence III’s fortress) gives audiences a wider variety of scenery than the first movie’s focus on Mewtwo’s labs.

An even bigger improvement over the show and the previous film is the musical score. While the English version still contains some pop music of the time, they’re mostly saved for the end credits (and hey, we get a Weird Al Yankovic song out of it, so I can’t complain too much). But the original score of Pokemon: the Movie 2000 is surprisingly good, with “Lugia’s Song” in particular being a standout, and seems to have more than a little bit of inspiration from Princess Mononoke.

Pokemon: the Movie 2000 still suffers from some obvious shortcomings; the plot is nothing special, the animation – though improved – still can’t stack up to other anime features of the time, and its villain needed a bit more time on screen for his motivation to resonate.

But y’know, when you get to see Ash Ketchum, Pikachu and Team Rocket traversing a frozen ocean while Lugia has an elemental battle in the sky against three magic birds, it’s all too easy to look past Pokemon the Movie 2000’s flaws as a film and just enjoy it for what it is. It may not be great cinema, but Pokemon: the Movie 2000 is a good Pokemon movie. It got its fanbase hyped for Pokemon Gold and Silver back in the day, especially with its emphasis on Silver’s mascot Pokemon Lugia (who remains my personal favorite legendary Pokemon to this day). Better still, if you’re a Pokemon fan, Pokemon the Movie 2000 is still worth the occasional revisit for its improved characters and overall sense of charm and fun. Plus, Lugia is just so cool.

 

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Pokemon: The First Movie – Mewtwo Strike’s Back Review

Go back to 1999. Pokemon dominated the Earth. The monster collecting video game franchise got its start in Japan in 1996, but by the time it made its way to the western world in 1998, the games had a wildly successful anime and a trading card game to go with them. And they all hit stateside at the same time, creating a pop culture phenomenon that I don’t think has been equaled in my lifetime.

It’s not hard to see what made Pokemon popular: It’s ever-increasing roster of Pokemon give it a seemingly endless supply of cute and cool characters, its emphasis on collecting, trading and sharing makes it engaging, and its kid-friendly exterior hides a deceptively deep set of rules and mechanics, whether its in its original video game form or the other media that have spawned from it.

Despite being a marketing goldmine (its merchandise sales exceed that of Star Wars even today), Pokemon was always more than that. As stated, the games were (and are) much deeper than they let on, and the TV series – though often lacking in structure, heavy on repetition, and having its share of cheesy moments – similarly made the effort to be something more. It’s shortcomings were still there, of course, but the Pokemon anime made many attempts at pulling at the heartstrings with its themes of friendship, love, and even loss. It wasn’t simply a fun little franchise, but something that really resonated with its target audience.

A Pokemon movie was inevitable, and it arrived sooner than anyone could have guessed. Going back to 1999, a mere year after Pokemon made its way westward, the Pokemon generation was elated to see their beloved franchise make its way to the big screen.

Pokemon: The First Movie – Mewtwo Strikes Back was a big deal in its day (it remains the highest-grossing anime film in North America, with only its immediate sequel coming close), and it remains a nostalgic treat for those like me who were at the center of Pokemania in 1999. Although I wouldn’t classify Pokemon: The First Movie as a great film by any means, I would still label it as something more than a mere guilty pleasure, seeing as it – much like the TV show – made the effort to be something more than the cash-grab cinematic transition it also very much was.

As the title makes quite clear, Pokemon: The First Movie centers around Mewtwo, the legendary Pokemon who was – at the time – the most powerful Pokemon of all. While most Pokemon are like animals, and the other legendary Pokemon are akin to mythological creatures, Mewtwo was engineered by humans in a laboratory, by means of cloning the “first” Pokemon, the legendary Mew.

In the film, Mewtwo’s creation was commissioned by Giovanni, the mysterious leader of the villainous Team Rocket organization. Giovanni manipulates Mewtwo to be his own personal weapon, but as Mewtwo gains greater sentience and begins pondering his existence, he abandons Giovanni in hopes of making a greater purpose for himself. Mewtwo plans on creating his own cloned Pokemon to inhabit the Earth, after he rids it of humans and the Pokemon of the natural world (beginning with a massive storm that Mewtwo is creating using his psychic powers).

It’s a pretty heavy story for Pokemon, with the point being hit home when Mewtwo destroys the lab that created him (killing all the scientists therein) within the first few minutes. No one died in the TV series up to this point, so that shift in subject matter definitely made this feel like Pokemon the movie.

Mewtwo decides to prove the worth of his clone Pokemon by posing as “the world’s greatest Pokemon master,” inviting trainers over to New Island to do battle. Among these trainers are the series’ original heroes Ash Ketchum, Brock and Misty. The trio – like the other trainers invited to New Island – are unaware of Mewtwo’s identity and of his clone Pokemon, and are only looking to test their Pokemon battle skills. When the trainers arrive and discover Mewtwo’s intentions, they find themselves trying to stop the legendary Pokemon’s plot.

It’s not exactly anything Earth-shatteringly new, but as stated, it certainly made Pokemon feel more dire than it did on the small screen. On the downside of things, the English version of the movie shoehorned a “fighting is wrong” message into the film, which is repeated ad nauseam in a single scene towards the end. Given the nature of the Pokemon franchise, with trainers battling each other with their Pokemon, it’s kind of hard for an anti-fighting message to resonate very strongly. Sure, the point the movie tries to make is that the fighting caused by Mewtwo is something truly brutal, as opposed to the competitive skirmishes of Pokemon battles, but all the movie does to make that point is say “Pokemon aren’t supposed to fight… not like this.” Granted, I understood that even as a kid, but I was familiar with Pokemon. I can’t imagine the parents who took their kids to see this movie in 1999 could understand the difference between a Pokemon battle and what the movie refers to as “fighting.”

It’s simply a forced message that doesn’t really work with the movie that’s presenting it, and it’s made all the less impactful due to the climactic battle between Pokemon and clones being accompanied by a pop tune that’s only included for the sake of a pop tune, which only clashes with the movie.

The Japanese version of Mewtwo Strikes Back better emphasizes the message of man playing God and its consequences, what with Mewtwo’s search for a purpose and all that. The English version may have benefitted both narratively and (perhaps) critically if it focused on that message instead of one that clashes with the nature of the franchise.

There are also some notable flaws with the translated version, with at least three Pokemon being referred to by the wrong name (confusing Pidgeot for Pidgeotto and Sandslash for Sandshrew are at least understandable, but when Team Rocket refers to a Syther as an Alakazam, it’s a hilariously glaring error to any Pokemon fan). Though at the very least I suppose there’s a bit of nostalgic irony to be had with these mistakes, but you do have to wonder if the translators had any reference material to avoid such errors.

In terms of animation, Pokemon: The First Movie is of course an improvement over the TV series, with more fluid character movements and more detailed backgrounds. Granted, it still has its visual limitations, but in its stronger moments, Pokemon: The First Movie has that distinct “90s anime” look that has held up pretty well. And excluding the shoehorned inclusions of 90s bands such as *NSYNC, the music is actually not bad, and hearing that original Pokemon theme brought up to scale for a movie still gives me goosebumps.

Pokemon: The First Movie suffers from some obvious flaws and shortcomings (including a brief running time, with the film’s theatrical release being accompanied by a Pokemon short film to add an extra 20 minutes). But what elevates it to being something more than a mere guilty pleasure of nostalgia for me are its attempts at emotional moments, some of which are actually quite successful. One scene towards the end in particular, is surprisingly effective. Hey, when Pikachu is crying, it’s hard to not get a little misty-eyed.

In the end, Pokemon: The First Movie – Mewtwo Strikes Back is far from a great movie (its sequels – though flawed in their own right – were improvements), but it makes enough worthwhile attempts to be something more that it still provides some entertainment. Despite all the blemishes, Pokemon: The First Movie is still a nostalgia trip that I don’t feel guilty about taking from time to time.

 

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Pokemon the Movie: I Choose You Shows the Good in Nostalgia

I can be pretty harsh on nostalgia. With how often I deride Nintendo 64 games, and lambast many 90s kids favorite animated films, I often feel like I’m bullying my own childhood. But I never say anything I don’t mean, and am just trying to be honest. So if something hasn’t aged well, I gotta give my two cents on it. But nostalgia itself isn’t a bad thing, it only becomes bad when people allow it to blind them. Nostalgia itself, however, can be beautiful, as I just witnessed after viewing Pokemon the Movie: I Choose You.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this – the twentieth such Pokemon movie – isn’t a masterpiece or anything. But I will indeed go so far as to say it was one of my better movie-going experiences this year. Of course the Pokemon movies are all an extension of the TV show and, by further extension, the greater Pokemon franchise. They basically print money. But as I’ve stated in the past, I abide by the Andy Warhol approach, and believe that just because something is created with intentions of monetary gain, doesn’t mean they can’t also be more. And the Pokemon series and movies – though boasting more than their share of flaws – always tried to be something more, featuring some genuinely touching story elements from time to time.

I’ll save most of my praises and critiques of I Choose You for a more proper review (I plan on reviewing it, and the first few Pokemon movies, in the coming weeks). But in short, I Choose You is a retelling of the first saga of the Pokemon anime, and reimagines Ash’s iconic meeting with Pikachu, their early adventures, and their encounter with the legendary Pokemon Ho-Oh. It makes some changes to these stories (some work, others not so much). We get some new characters in place of some fan favorites, and Pokemon from the current generations of games are prominent. But for the most part, I Choose You recreates many of the show’s most iconic and heartfelt moments in a way that feels earnest. It serves as both a fitting introduction to the series for younger audiences, while those of us who are old enough to remember Ash and Pikachu’s early adventures will be taken back to their own childhoods.

It’s a fine line to walk, really. Playing up the nostalgia card can potentially be a manipulative move. But as stated, I Choose You recreates the nostalgic bits in meaningful ways, playing as something of a heartfelt gift to the series and those who grew up with it. Plus it throws in enough new and different elements to give it its own identity. Sure, not all of it works (more on that in my later review), but in a time when media and entertainment is so quick to fallback on nostalgia, Pokemon the Movie: I Choose You was one of the few examples in recent years in which the nostalgia had an emotional effect on me.

Pokemon the Movie: I Choose You probably won’t win over anyone who somehow isn’t familiar with the franchise to some degree. But in its own little way, Pokemon the Movie: I Choose You is a thing of beauty, and reminded me of the days when watching Ash and Pikachu’s adventures was at the top of my priorities list, and that there’s a bit more to Pokemon than simply catching them all.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I gotta get back to thrashing some N64 games.

Pokemon Moon Review

Pokemon Moon

When Pokemon Sun and Moon versions were released on the 3DS towards the end of 2016, they became the fastest-selling titles in Nintendo’s long history. New entries in the mainline Pokemon series are always a big deal, but it seemed more of a big deal than ever with Sun and Moon. Perhaps due in part to the (long overdue) changes the games made to the formula, and maybe partly due to the wild success of Pokemon Go earlier in the year, and maybe a little bit due to them being some of the last major 3DS titles before the Switch takes over Nintendo’s priorities. Whatever the case, Pokemon Sun and Moon were big. But did they live up to the hype?

In a lot of ways, Pokemon Sun and Moon were the breath of fresh air the series sorely needed for a long time. Despite Pokemon being a series that’s all about fantastic creatures and their evolutions, it has been – ironically enough – Nintendo’s most un-evolving series. Mario and Zelda have continuously changed up their formulas, but Pokemon was always content with going through the motions, and simply adding a new roster of creatures and some minor tweaks to the gameplay.

Pokemon MoonOf course, Pokemon Sun and Moon introduced a host of new Pokemon of their own, but here, even old school Pokemon were made new again. The games take place on the Alolan Islands, which are not-so-subtly based on Hawaii. Because of this, some familiar Pokemon have adapted and evolved differently in this region, which means not only do they have new character designs, but new types and movesets as well. Ratatas now boast villainous mustaches to go with their new Dark type, while Sandshrew’s shell looks like an igloo to match its new Ice type. Meanwhile, Exeggutor has become a palm tree, which somehow makes him Dragon type.

Pokemon MoonThis may not seem like a big deal, but it does add a good dose of freshness to the mix. Not only do you have a whole new array of Pokemon to catch, but now you have to learn about old favorites in a whole new light, which makes the entire lineup of Pokemon feel newer than they have in a number of generations for the series.

Additionally, the games now feature creatures known as “Ultra Beasts,” which are more or less alien Pokemon. Mega Evolutions also return from X and Y, allowing for certain Pokemon to reach temporary “mega” levels during battle. And now Pokemon can learn powerful Z-moves, which can only be used once per battle, but can greatly change the outcome of a fight.

Another useful change that helps streamline the experience are that HM abilities have been removed entirely. Some of the existing HMs have simply become TMs, while now instead of teaching specific Pokemon the “ride” ability, the player now has the option of “Poke Ride” which summons specific Pokemon to carry you across different terrains.

Other new features include Pokemon Refresh, which are simple uses of the 3DS’ touchscreen to pamper your Pokemon (by coming their fur, using a blowdryer to remove dirt, etc.) and help win them over to you. You also have more customizable options for your character, and now players have their own plazas to connect with other players to trade Pokemon and items, or do battle. You can even customize what kinds of special shops appear in your plaza.

Pokemon MoonPerhaps the change I most appreciate is that the actual structure of the series has been altered. No longer do you have to go through the usual eight gym leaders before moving on to the final section of the game. Now, you travel across the four Alolan Islands, and go through trials and build yourself up to take on each island’s Kahuna, a supreme Pokemon trainer who serves as the final obstacle of each island.

This is a greatly refreshing change of pace. Though I enjoy the Pokemon series, it was re-using the same format for so long that it became insanely predictable. While this change in structure doesn’t radically change things up, the fact that it’s changed at all makes it more enjoyable than the series has been in a long time. And the changes made to the Pokemon themselves help liven up the core elements of the game.

With that said, I do have reiterate that the changes aren’t anything radically new or different. Pokemon Sun and Moon add enough newness to make things feel fresh, but perhaps not quite enough if you’re among those who want a little something more from the series. This is still a deep gaming experience, but if you’ve been waiting for a reinvention of the series in the same vein as what Mario and Link have accomplished in the past, you may be a tad disappointed.

Aside from new moves, Pokemon battles really haven’t changed. Pokemon can still only learn four moves at a time, and the battles still use the same turn-based setup. Perhaps a little more interactive battles akin to the Mario RPGs of yesteryear might help make Pokemon battles more fun. As they are, they aren’t necessarily boring, but they are starting to feel dated.

Pokemon MoonAnother downside comes in the games excessive story and dialogue. I appreciate that Sun and Moon look to add more narrative to the series, and I like the story they have going on (especially the new villains, Team Skull, who act and talk like would-be hip hop artists), but things get so wordy and the cinematics can get so long, that you may find yourself skipping through as much of it as you can just so you can get back to the gameplay. Again, I enjoy the story, but maybe they could have told it with a few less dialogue boxes and some shorter cinematic moments.

Pokemon Sun and Moon are imperfect, then. But they’re still a whole lot of fun when they want to be. The fact that they’ve changed the formula up at all feels incredibly refreshing, and I greatly like the new Pokemon and the new spins on old ones. The graphics are an improvement over X and Y, and give the series a whole new visual life, and the music is enjoyable.

Pokemon Sun and Moon certainly serve as a fitting “final act” of the 3DS before the Switch takes away its spotlight, and they’ll satisfy Pokemon fans new and old. But hopefully by the time the next Pokemon generation rolls around, the series can double-up on that “newness” factor, and bring the series to a whole new level.

 

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