When I was growing up the Pokémon craze was at the peak of its popularity in the UK. I had the games, collected the trading cards, watched the TV show and I even owned the odd Pokémon beanie baby or two. Yes, it’s OK for you to laugh.
Fast-forward to today and I’m a grown man juggling married life, a full-time job, saving to buy a house, and a writing hobby that takes up most of the spare time I actually have for gaming. All I seem to do now is work, exercise and drink a bit too much, which is a far cry from those simple days trading Pokémon cards on the playground. That’s my biggest gripe these days; that I just don’t have enough time for video games anymore. Well that and the fact the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One seem to be on the constant brink of total technical failure.
Yet in the last two weeks alone, without even realising it, I managed to sink a whopping 20+ hours into Pokémon Platinum on the Nintendo DS. Growing up I played Red, Blue, Yellow, Silver, Gold and Crystal, with the Diamond, Pearl and Platinum era coming a little too late for my initial Pokémon training days. After a long hiatus from the series through my University days (although my Gameboy Advance and Pokémon Crystal cartridge did travel to Lincoln with me), I’ve now returned to the world of these Japanese Pocket Monsters. Why? Perhaps in part due to a longing for those good old days, but also in part thanks to Netflix putting the original Pokémon TV show online and my mobile carrier bumping up the 4G signal at the gym I use.
20+ hours might not seem like a lot of time to the hardcore DayZ, Minecraft or Call of Duty players out there, but for me it’s a staggering amount of time in only two weeks. Some would say it’s a waste, but as gaming is my main hobby I’m pretty happy to have managed to do so much recently (DS’ are really fiddly if you have big hands and a broken wrist, so it proved quite the challenge), especially considering I didn’t even notice the time passing by. I was on annual leave for one of those weeks, which certainly helped, but I’ve still been busy and yet managed to pluck 20+ hours seemingly out of thin air from somewhere.
I used to be addicted to Pokémon Crystal, and in my youth I sank over 100 hours into that game. I’m not normally one for RPGs, yet Pokémon’s simple, repetitive, but deep gameplay structure, always gets me hooked. The only time I became aware of the amount of time I was sinking into Platinum in the last two weeks was when my wife showed me a somewhat embarrassing photo. On one of days off together we took a day trip to Birmingham, where the long suffering woman had to wait in the middle of New Street Station for me to get my Pokémon out of day care, into the Pokémon Centre, and for me to save my game, before we could hit the shops. It’s remarkable how a game that has been in my life in one form or another for well over a decade can still have me gripped to that extent. And I imagine, from her point of view, really annoying.
As for Platinum itself? It’s the ‘best of’ game for the Diamond and Pearl generation, using a new region, new gyms, new Pokémon, and the same old “gotta catch’ em all” attitude (a strange slogan for a game where it is physically impossible to catch them all on your own in one game). Simply put it’s Game Freak doing what they do best; not reinventing the wheel, but adding some extra spokes, a new tyre and a lick of paint and shine. It’s Pokémon, simply put, and it delivers exactly what you’d expect it to deliver.
There were Pokémon games before Platinum and there have been Pokémon games since. Platinum isn’t the best Pokémon game (Crystal will always be the best in my book), but it’s also not the worst, keeping things just simple enough to pick up and play, but in-depth enough to create a compelling RPG experience. And like all Pokémon games it should come with a very simple warning printed on the box that says: “THIS PRODUCT MAY BE MORE ADDICTIVE THAN COCAINE.”
Now, someone tell me where can I go and buy some Pokémon beanies, before I have to pluck 100 hours out of thin air somehow for The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt…
Images from http://www.wikipedia.org and photograph by Alyson Orr.