Pokemon Pinball
  • Genre:
    • Pinball
  • Platform:
    • Game Boy Color
  • Developer:
    • Jupiter
  • Publisher:
    • Nintendo
  • Released:
    • JP 04/14/1999
    • US 06/28/1999
    • UK 10/06/2000
Score: 70%

This review was published on 07/16/2014.

Pokemon Pinball is a pinball video game developed by Jupiter and published by Nintendo for the Game Boy Color. It was released in Japan on April 14, 1999, North America on June 28, 1999, Australia on July 13, 1999, and Europe on October 6, 2000. Pokemon is a massively successful franchise that's about catching these cute creatures, stuffing them inside airtight balls, and then only ever releasing them to do battle against each other. The original games were a huge hit all over the world, resulting in a television show, trading cards, comics, collectible figurines, and countless spinoff games. Pokemon Pinball is one of Pokemon's first spinoff games, though it certainly wasn't the last. It's as its name implies, a Pokemon themed pinball game. Aside from the alliteration, Pokemon and pinball don't exactly mix. While this game was clearly cashing in on Pokemon's success, it's actually not half bad. Fans of the franchise won't find much here for them, but those that like pinball might have a good time with this game.

Image

Poke Balls are spherical objects used to catch Pokemon in the regular games, but here, they fulfill the role of the ball in pinball. Knock the Poke Ball around with the flippers to get it bouncing all over the darn place. In addition to controlling the left and right flippers, it's possible to tilt the virtual pinball machine to slightly alter the ball's trajectory. This is a feature present in most pinball video games, so it's nothing special. It does feel a little bit like cheating, though. The sound effects and graphics make the act of tossing the ball about a real treat, but the ball physics have issues. Generally, the ball will move and bounce around okay, but every so often it'll fall through the flippers, costing you a ball. This is really annoying whenever it happens, because it's not your fault and you lose a ball due to it. Also, the angles in which the flippers knock the balls are a bit awkward at times. Liberal use of the tilt function can help reduce these problems, though it won't eliminate them. If you're picky about pinball physics, then Pokemon Pinball won't be your thing.

Image

The primary mechanic of interest that separates Pokemon Pinball from other pinball games is the ability to catch Pokemon. The method of capturing Pokemon differs slightly depending on which board you're playing on, but both are pretty similar. To activate the Pokemon capture mode, the ball must enter certain holes when the conditions are right. Those conditions consist of knocking the ball into a loop at the top of the board three times to fill up a meter. Once the meter has been filled up, the appropriate hole can be entered to make the shadow of a Pokemon appear at the center of the board. The next step requires that the ball be knocked into bumpers near the top of the board to slowly reveal the Pokemon. After the Pokemon has been revealed, it can finally be caught by hitting it with the ball four times. From the moment that the Pokemon's silhouette appears, the game gives you a two minute time limit to successfully capture the Pokemon. Failling to do so within the time limit means you'll have to start the whole process over. All 151 Pokemon from the first two games are available in this one and can be obtained with enough persistence. Caught Pokemon don't actually do anything, so they're merely there for collection purposes. Despite that, catching Pokemon is quite fun and it adds countless hours of replay value to the game.

Image

Evolving Pokemon works a bit differently from catching them. Evolved forms of Pokemon can't be caught, so they must be evolved from their basic forms. First, a Pokemon capable of evolution has to be caught in the current play session, and then the passage to the correct hole must be opened up. Opening up the passage to the hole is done much in the same way as when catching Pokemon, by going through the loops at the top, just in the opposite direction. Entering the evolution hole triggers the evolution sequence, which sets off another two minute timer. This time, however, the ball must collide with three items that are randomly hidden around the board. Hitting different parts of the board has a chance of revealing the item's location. If you hit the wrong part of the board, however, you'll have to wait a few seconds before hitting the next one. Collecting all three items makes a hole appear directly above the pictured Pokemon at the center of the board, and entering that hole finally completes the evolution. Evolving Pokemon in this game is a major pain in the neck. It's such a long and tedious process that almost always ends in frustration. Catching Pokemon is fun, but evolving them isn't.

Image

There are a total of two boards to select from, each with their own layouts. The two boards are based on the first two Pokemon games, Red and Blue. A small picture of an area from Pokemon Red and Blue will be shown at the center of the board. Which picture is shown is randomly determined at the beginning of a play session, but it can be changed during the play session by activating map mode. Activating map mode requires that you bump the ball into Pokemon that are placed at the sides of the boards. Doing so three times in a row will activate map mode, which gives you thirty seconds to move enter a hole that appears at the center of the board. Upon entering that hole, you are taken to the next location. Each pictured location has different Pokemon that can be randomly encountered, so it's necessary to cycle through these to catch every Pokemon in the game. Map mode is the only way to reach the more advanced locations in the game, and these have rarer Pokemon to catch. Unfortunately, map mode doesn't alter the layout of the boards in any way. Additionally, getting to the later locations is monotonous and not terribly entertaining, especially since you're stuck with the same two boards forever. More boards to play on would have been nice.

Image

Are you ready to rumble? Well, you better be, because Pokemon Pinball has a rumble feature. Every Pokemon Pinball cartridge comes with a built in rumble, resulting in a cartridge that is larger than the average Game Boy Color cart. The Game Boy Color itself lacks rumble functionality, so putting rumble hardware into the cartridge was the only way to achieve such an effect on the handheld. The cart will rumble as the ball bounces about, attempting to give you a more exciting pinball experience. While a commendable attempt, it fails at achieving any added excitement. The rumble is weak, and since only the top of the cart rumbles, it feels awkward. That's not the worst part about it, though. The worst part is that this rumble feature comes at the price of one AAA battery. Considering the Game Boy Color already requires batteries to work, having to use additional batteries isn't exactly the greatest thing ever. This was likely done to reduce the load on the batteries powering the portable itself, but it's not worth the cost. Maybe if the rumble were better at its job, it'd be worth the additional battery. As it stands, the rumble feature is merely a poorly planned novelty.

Image

Pokemon Pinball isn't really a Pokemon game, but it is a decent pinball game. The mechanic of catching Pokemon makes what would otherwise be a dull pinball game into something that's more fun. As a result of that, this game could potentially last you a long time. However, it has poor pinball physics, and the lack of boards to play on results in lots of repetition. The actual pinball part of Pokemon Pinball could use some work. If not for the innovative concept of catching Pokemon using pinball, this game would have nothing going for it.

Word Count: 1,350