Pokemon games offer family fun

Nintendo: Pinball and 'photo safari' provide nonviolent entertainment -- and shameless cross-promotion.

August 30, 1999|By Aaron Curtiss | Aaron Curtiss,Los Angeles Times

The whole thing made me feel sort of dirty.

There I was, a professed hater of Pokemon, having a good time with games overflowing with Pokemon. But I suppose it's moments like these that challenge our assumptions and help us grow. Call it the Pokemon path to self-actualization.

As much as I despise the Pokemon phenomenon, I cannot overlook that "Pokemon Snap" for Nintendo 64 and "Pokemon Pinball" for Game Boy Color are great games that parents and kids can play together. They offer the sort of good-natured, nonviolent fun that neither condescends nor panders.

For those who've spent the last year in a box, Pokemon are freakish little creatures so sweetly cute that they hurt the teeth. You've no doubt seen one of the plush toys in store windows. One of the most popular, named Pikachu, looks like a hairless yellow hamster.

Pokemon have their own video games, their own television show and, of course, a line of toys, stickers and other merchandise. All the shameless cross-promotion, plus the fact that I thought the original "Pokemon" video game was a dog, irritates me.

So it was doubly surprising to have so much fun with "Snap" and "Pinball." Not that the games are free from heavy doses of shameless cross-promotion. Quite the contrary. One of the main features of "Snap" is the ability to save images from the game and print them out on sticker paper at special kiosks in Blockbuster Video stores. Price: $3 a pop.

"Snap" is a photo safari through an island teeming with Pokemon. Players shoot pictures of Pokemon and save them in a photo album, where Professor Oak rates them on a variety of criteria -- including composition, pose and the size of the Pokemon. I was always taught not to put a subject in the dead center of a frame, but Professor Oak insists on it. It makes for better stickers.

Game play is simple. Players ride through various environments on a little scooter. Pokemon scurry or fly about. Those that hide can be lured out with treats. Once the Pokemon is in the right position or doing something interesting, players click to capture his image.

I have to admit that I had a great time trying to get the unruly Pokemon into my shots. This is a game that kids and parents should enjoy together -- if for no other reason than parents might learn the difference between Pikachu and Pidgey.

"Pokemon Pinball" is more straightforward. It's a pinball game that happens to feature Pokemon. At least, that's how I played it. True fans will no doubt pore over the instruction manual to understand just how to capture Pokemon that appear during the game.

I'm not the sort who really cares how many Pokemon I have in my collection, so whenever one appeared on my screen, I pelted it with the ball -- which, it turns out, is the way they are captured. But there are all sorts of other techniques to manage which Pokemon appear when.

Whatever. I was content just to play pinball. Under all the other features of "Pokemon Pinball" is a really nice portable pinball game with the ability to knock the table. And the vibration feature adds a nice touch of realism.

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