Review: Pokémon Pinball Mini (Pokémon Mini)

By Merman (@merman1974)

Console: Pokémon mini

Developer: Jupiter

Publisher: Nintendo

Release dates: Japan – December 14th 2001, North America – November 16th 2001, PAL – Europe March 15th 2002 and Australia October 11th 2001

The Pokémon mini console was an unusual move from Nintendo. Going back to an LCD screen seemed strange in 2001, but the success of Game Freaks’ franchise led to a huge number of licensed products. These included a Tamagotchi style virtual pet and an electronic Pokédex.

Pokemon_mini_logo – The Pokémon mini logo

There were three varieties of Pokémon mini, matching the colour of its shell with three Pokémon from the later generations – these colours were: Wooper Blue, Chikorita Green, and Smoochum Purple. The hardware is particularly intriguing, as the smallest Nintendo console with interchangeable cartridges. The monochrome screen has a resolution of just 96×64 pixels, and it is powered by a 4MHz 8-bit CPU from Seiko. Squeezed into the case are an internal real-time clock, an infrared port for multiplayer gaming, a reed switch that detects when the player shakes the console, and a motor for rumble/force feedback. Memory includes 4K of RAM and the 4K BIOS, while each cartridge holds 512 kibibytes (just over half a megabyte). The console also has six save slots, which are shared between games. Power comes from a single AAA battery that can last up to 60 hours of gameplay. Officially the word mini was always shown in lower case, although many sources use that interchangeably with Mini.

  Pokémon_mini_Chikorita_GreenChikorita Green

 

 

Smoochum Purple Pokémon_mini_Smoochum_Purple

 

Pokémon_mini_Wooper_BlueWooper Blue

 

 

 

Internationally there were four titles available at launch. Pokémon Party mini is a mixture of mini-games, Pokémon Puzzle mini requires you to assemble pictures of Pokémon and Pokémon Zany Cards has four card games played with Pokémon cards. We are here to talk about the fourth launch game, Pokémon Pinball mini, but it is worth discussing how the poor sales of the initial games meant no further titles were sold in North America. Pokémon Tetris saw a release in Japan and Europe, but the last five official titles – Pokémon Puzzle Collection vol. 2, Pokémon Race mini, Pichu Bros. mini, Togepi’s Great Adventure and Pokémon Breeder mini – were only sold in Japan. Developers Jupiter were responsible for six of the ten released mini games, including Pinball mini – following on from their work on the original Pokémon Pinball game for Game Boy Color.

Pinball_mini_EN_boxart – The English box art for Pokémon Pinball mini

Pinball_mini_JP_boxart – The Japanese box art for Pokémon Pinball mini

Emulated versions of some Mini games appeared in the later GameCube title Pokémon Channel, and that allowed the console to be reverse engineered by hackers. Pikachu has to find the Pokémon mini under the bed and extra games are then purchased from the Shop ‘n Squirtle. It initially comes with a special bonus mini game known as Snorlax’s Lunch Time. Pokémon Pinball Petit was included in Pokémon Channel, with just ten Quest Mode levels from the original game and no way to save high scores. An emulator and homebrew titles are now available online for those who are unable to track down the elusive mini hardware. There was even a demo (SHizZLE, by Team Pokéme) entered into the Breakpoint “wild” demo competition in 2005. Fans have since created English translations of all the Japanese exclusive titles, making them playable in an emulator or via the Ditto mini flash cartridge (containing Flash memory, and thus allowing homebrew or translated cartridge files to be run on the original hardware itself).

Pokemon_Channel_US_boxart

US box artwork for Pokémon Channel (GameCube)

snorlaxs_lunch_time – Feed Snorlax to keep him awake in this Pokémon Channel mini-game.

So how does the Pinball mini game work? The game is split into three modes. Quest Mode has 70 levels that must be completed in order, Time Attack challenges you to complete one of ten selectable levels as fast as possible, and Score Attack has ten different levels to rack up as many points as possible. As with Time Attack, the player is free to play any of the ten Score Attack levels.

ppmini_title – The title screen initially just shows Diglett hitting the Pokéball.

ppmini_diglett_scoreattack – Diglett taking on a Score Attack level.

In each level, the player hits the Pokéball around with a Pokémon replacing the flipper usually found at the bottom of the table. The player starts off with Digglet, whose head pops up to hit the ball when A is pressed. Time it right and you get a faster-moving Power Shot. As you move through Quest Mode, there are three types of level. Fill Holes requires you to fill all the holes with Pokéballs as quickly as possible. These levels have a time limit, and this type of gameplay is the core of the ten Time Attack levels. High Score levels in Quest and Score Attack award one point for hitting the ball into a hole, and three points for a power shot. In Quest Mode these levels have a minimum score to complete them – also against the time limit. As well as holes, there are other features on the tables. Blocks can be broken by three hits (or one power shot), but hard blocks cannot be broken. Water will end the game, while the gravity changer (a black arrow) makes gravity act in that direction. Bumpers make the ball rebound, but the Out Hole will grab the ball and take time to release it. Ditto stops the ball bouncing and drops it slowly, while Pichu throws the ball in the direction it is facing (with the same strength it was hit).

ppmini_ditto – Ditto will affect the ball when hit.

ppmini_gravity – Hitting the Gravity arrow will make gravity start acting to the left.

ppmini_outhole – The Out Hole in the middle will hold onto the ball for a while.

ppmini_pichu – Naughty Pichu throws the ball around.

There are four Capture Levels in Quest Mode, allowing the player to unlock a different Pokémon. The Pokémon moves back and forth across the screen, starting with 3HP. Hitting the creature with the ball removes 1HP, while a power shot removes 3HP. Once the Pokémon is reduced to 0HP it faints, and needs one more hit with the ball to capture it. The player must then flip the Pokeball into the hole to complete the level, with its weight being heavier (making it slower to move) with the captured creature inside. If the player waits too long to hit a fainted creature, it revives with 1HP and must be hit again.

ppmini_pikachu – The player has unlocked Pikachu, who is a little unpredictable.

When a new Pokémon is unlocked, it can be used to replay any level – except its own capture level. Pikachu (#025) is unlocked by completing level 10, but the ball flies in a random direction when he hits it. Clefairy (#035) is the prize for passing level 20. Its psychic abilities allow you a small amount of control over the ball with the D-pad. The player must use Pikachu on level 11 and Clefairy on level 21 and is excluded from using Clefairy on some later levels. The slow-moving Wobbuffet (#202) is unlocked at level 30 but can send the ball flying further. The final Pokémon to be captured is Poliwag (#060) after level 40. Poliwag moves up faster than the others but is not as powerful (making power shots harder). One level filled with water requires the use of Poliwag, but only Diglett can be used on level 70. Completing the Quest Mode shows Poliwag and Clefairy alongside Diglett on the title screen.

ppmini_clefairy_blocks – Clefairy’s ability to influence the ball’s movement will help get rid of these Blocks.

As a pinball game the small size of the Pokémon mini screen is restrictive. But as a spin-off from the Pokémon games, it has a certain charm in the way it uses different creatures. It is a tough game to play through, thanks to the time and score limits. The cost of the console itself and the limited sales make tracking it down tough for collectors, so the recommendation would be to try the other two Pinball titles on Game Boy instead.

OVERALL: 6/10

This article is part of a big collaboration where various writers take a look at the Pokémon series in a retrospective way. Feel free to read more articles like these by visiting the hub article.

Review: Pokémon Pinball Ruby and Sapphire (Gameboy Advance)

By Merman (@merman1974)

pprs_logo

Console: Game Boy Advance (also playable on GameCube’s Game Boy Player, Wii U Virtual Console)

Developer: Jupiter

Publisher: Nintendo

Release dates:

Game Boy Advance in Japan – 1st August 2003, North America – 25th August 2003, PAL – Australia 26th September 2003 and Europe 14th November 2003

Wii U Virtual Console in Japan – 10th December 2014, North America – 1st January 2015, PAL – Australia 12th December 2014 and Europe 11th December 2014

pprs_intro – Part of the colourful intro animation.

 

 

 

pprs_us_boxart – US box art.

 

 

 

 

pprs_japan_boxart – Japanese box art.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Game Boy Advance hardware gave it more power, equivalent to the Super NES in a handheld console. It also gave Game Freak the chance to revisit its earlier generation of Pokémon games as well as the new Ruby and Sapphire games for Generation III – featuring the Hoenn region Pokédex. This would be echoed by this follow-up to Pokémon Pinball developed by Jupiter featuring the Johto and Hoenn region creatures. Its later Wii U Virtual Console release would make it the first Pokémon game released on that format. The Game Boy Player’s Rumble feature (through the GameCube controller) was supported by the Game Boy Advance Cartridge. Five special eReader cards were made available in Japan, allowing players to scan the card and trigger tricky in-game events; players had to attend the official Pokémon Centers or live Pokémon events to obtain these special cards.

pprs_title – The title screen.

 

 

 

pprs_config – Configuring the controls.

 

 

 

pprs_field_select – Choosing the Ruby or Sapphire tables before starting play.

 

 

 

The major change from the original is the smoothly scrolling table. Where the original flicked between two halves, the new game had a much bigger vertical playfield. There was a choice of two tables, one for Ruby and one for Sapphire with each having unique features. The modes of play carried over from the original – Catch ‘Em, Evo Mode and Map Move. The Bonus sections were an even bigger part of the new Pinball title too.

pprs_ruby_field – The full Ruby field.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

– The complete Sapphire table. pprs_sapphire_field

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although the Hoenn Pokédex is featured in this game, there are only actually 205 of the 210 available. Deoxys cannot be found and captured at all, while Chikorita, Cyndaquil, Totodile, and Aerodactyl are unable to be evolved. If you encounter a Pokémon but fail to capture it, its entry in the Pokédex will appear as a shadow. The battery backup remembers which Pokémon you have caught. From the Pokédex you can transfer a captured Pokémon to another player’s console and their copy of the game via the Link Cable. You can also transfer the high scores you have achieved, with a separate list for each of the tables.

pprs_pokedex_mightyena– Mightyena in the Pokédex.

 

 

 

pprs_pokedex_transfer – Ready to transfer a Pokémon via the link cable.

 

 

 

The player launches the Pokéball from the plunger (the spring-like Spoink) by holding a button to set the power, and then uses two buttons for the flippers. This time it is possible to tilt and nudge the table left, right, and up – helpful to guide the ball into a target or knock it loose from an awkward point. On both tables there are sets of ramps to send the ball around a Pokémon Mart to purchase extras with Coins earned from the table. (Plusle and Minun create an electrical barrier protecting the Sapphire table’s Mart – both must be hit with the ball to make the barrier drop). Pikachu returns in the drain channel, moving left and right with the flipper. Hitting the spinner charges up his Thunder Strike, acting as a kickback to keep the ball in play – but it must then be recharged. The Ball Saver physically picks up the ball and flies it back to the Spoink plunger to launch again; on the Ruby table, it is the Legendary Pokémon Latios, while the Sapphire table’s Saver is Latias.

pprs_ruby_spoink – The Pokéball sits on Spoink, ready to launch.

 

 

 

pprs_ruby_ballsave – Latios swoops down to save the ball on the Ruby table.

 

 

 

pprs_sapphire_launched – The ball has launched on the right-hand side of the Sapphire table.

 

 

 

pprs_sapphire_saved – Latias zooms in to save a ball on the Sapphire table.

 

 

 

New to this game is Egg Mode. On the Ruby Field the player must knock Cyndaquil backward into its cave a few times to hatch the egg. On the Sapphire Field, the ball must travel up the right-hand ramp to light the lights surrounding the egg. The next time that ramp is successfully climbed, the egg is hatched. Once hatched, the Pokémon inside will descend to the lower half of the table and can be captured by hitting it twice with the ball. This counts towards the capture limit for opening the Bonus Rounds.

pprs_ruby_hatching – The Egg hatches to reveal Trapinch…

 

 

 

pprs_ruby_trapinch – …and Trapinch is caught.

 

 

 

pprs_sapphire_egg – Light the four clamps to hatch the egg on the Sapphire table.

 

 

 

pprs_sapphire_hatching– Ralts is hatching from the egg (Sapphire table).

 

 

 

pprs_sapphire_ralts_capture – Ralts being caught by the Pokéball.

 

 

 

pprs_sapphire_ralts_caught – Ralts has been caught.

 

 

 

Catch ‘Em Mode works in a similar way to the original Pokémon Pinball. The player must first light two or three GET lights on the right outer loop. Then on the Ruby table the ball must be hit into Sharpedo’s mouth while the whale-like Whailmer activates the mode on the Sapphire table. Once started, the player must hit the pop bumpers (Chinchou or Lotad on Ruby, Shroomish on Sapphire) at least three times to fill in the silhouette. Once the Pokémon has been fully revealed, it can be captured by hitting it three times with the Pokéball. Lighting up three Pokéballs in the center of the screen opens the Bonus Round (see below). Catching 15 Pokémon earns an extra ball.

pprs_ruby_catchem – Catch ‘Em Mode is activated on the Ruby table.

 

 

 

pprs_ruby_shadow – The Pokémon appears as a shadow until you hit the bumpers.

 

 

 

pprs_ruby_poochyena_2hits – I have one more hit to catch Poochyena.

 

 

 

pprs_ruby_poochyena_caught – Poochyena has been caught.

 

 

 

pprs_sapphire_catchem – Catch ‘Em Mode on the Sapphire table.

 

 

 

pprs_sapphire_shroomish_multihit – Achieving multiple hits on the Shroomish bumpers rapidly reveals the Pokémon in Capture Mode.

 

 

 

pprs_sapphire_taillow_appears – Taillow has been revealed.

 

 

 

pprs_sapphire_tailow_capture – The Pokéball captures Taillow.

 

 

 

pprs_sapphire_taillow_caught – Taillow has been caught, ready to evolve.

 

 

 

pprs_sapphire_reveal – A chance to capture Voltorb.

 

 

 

pprs_sapphire_voltorb_2hits – I have two hits on Voltorb.

 

 

 

pprs_sapphire_voltorb_caught – Voltorb has been caught.

 

 

 

Evo Mode allows you to evolve a previously captured Pokémon. On both tables, the entrance to the Pokémon Mart gains the lit Evo arrow once you have completed three trips around the outer left loop. Starting Evo Mode gives a choice of Pokémon to evolve. The player must then collect three items – including EX (Experience) and Evolution Stones – and sink the ball in the central hole to evolve the chosen Pokémon.

pprs_ruby_evomode – Entering Evo Mode on the Ruby table.

 

 

 

pprs_ruby_evo_select – Selecting which Pokémon to evolve.

 

 

 

pprs_ruby_evo_complete – Enter the Slot to complete the Evolution.

 

 

 

pprs_ruby_evolution – The Pokémon is evolving!

 

 

 

pprs_sapphire_evomode – Time to evolve a Pokémon on Sapphire.

 

 

 

pprs_sapphire_evo_taillow – Choosing Taillow to evolve.

 

 

 

pprs_sapphire_evo_ex – The EX token is sitting near Wailmer.

 

 

 

pprs_sapphire_evolution – The Evolution is complete!

 

 

 

pprs_sapphire_swellow – Taillow has evolved into Swellow and is added to the Pokédex.

 

 

 

Travel Mode – the renamed Map Move – acts in a similar way to the original Pokémon Pinball. The starting area is chosen at random when the player launches the ball.  Collecting three Gulpins on the Ruby table starts Travel Mode, while collecting three Seedots is necessary on the Sapphire table. Once activated, the player must send the ball round an outer loop and into the central hole within one minute. The next area chosen is selected depending on whether the loop hit goes left or right. The player can decline to change area if they wish to stay and catch more creatures. Each area has a particular set of Pokémon based on their type. The player will ultimately travel through seven of the nine areas available, with the Ruins only available on both tables after the sixth journey. A neat touch is that Volbeat (Ruby) or Illumise (Sapphire) will fly in to “paint” and reveal the new area reached.

pprs_sapphire_travel – Entering Travel Mode on Sapphire.

 

 

 

pprs_sapphire_paint_travel – Illimuse painting the new location.

 

 

 

pprs_ruby_travel_painted – Volbeat has filled in the new area on Ruby.

 

 

 

There are five Bonus Rounds, with Kecleon and Groudon on the Ruby table and Dusclops and Kyogre appearing on Sapphire. Completing Groudon or Kyogre rounds will then give access to the Rayquaza Bonus Round on both. Kecleon will turn invisible and must be knocked over to register a hit; fortunately, the tree contains a Devon Scope that can be shaken loose and collected to “see” the invisible creature. Once knocked over Kecleon must take ten hits inside two minutes to capture him. Groudon shakes down rocks, creates pillars of fire, and throws fireballs at the Pokéball. Rocks take three hits to break and the pillars take four, trying to stop you from hitting Groudon itself 30 times inside 3 minutes. Sapphire’s Dusclops round starts in the graveyard, where you must knock down 20 Duskulls. Then Dusclops itself will appear, and it must be hit in the back or while moving five times to conquer it; mistime a hit and it will swallow the ball and throw it back at the flippers. Kyogre uses Sheer Cold to freeze the ball and creates whirlpools to stop the ball from moving. Its final move is to dive under the water, with bubbles giving a clue to where it will rise again. Hit it 15 times in three minutes to win.

pprs_sapphire_bonus_open – The Bonus Round is open on the Sapphire table.

 

 

 

pprs_sapphire_bonus_duclops – Tackling Dusclops in the Bonus Round.

 

 

 

pprs_ruby_enter_bonus– You can choose not to enter the Bonus Round – but miss out on big points.

 

 

 

pprs_ruby_kecleon_spotted– Kecleon is briefly visible thanks to the Devon Scope.

 

 

 

pprs_ruby_kecleon_surrender – Ten hits later and Kecleon surrenders.

 

 

 

pprs_ruby_kecleon_bonus – Big bonus points for beating the Kecleon Bonus Round.

 

 

 

Rayquaza must be beaten twice to capture it, meaning the player must play through and complete the first two bonus rounds a second time to get back to it. When it bounces left and right, the ball will pass under it. It will pause to cast Thunder at a slow-moving ball and paralyze it, while the ExtremeSpeed move causes two tornadoes to appear – these will send the ball flying helplessly into the air for a few seconds. Fifteen hits on Rayquaza are needed inside three minutes, but it does award a juicy 99,999,999 points for winning.

Lighting up the HOLE lights at the bottom of the table activates the slot machine, entered by putting the ball into the center hole. This can be stopped by pressing the A button – or grabbed by Zigzagoon on the Sapphire table to award the current prize. Small and Big points bonuses and Coins can be awarded, Get starts Catch ‘Em Mode and Evo starts Evo Mode automatically. Ball Saver starts saving the ball for 30, 60 or 90 seconds depending on the value and the player can also be advanced automatically to the next Bonus Round.  Extra gives an extra ball while Max upgrades the current ball to a Master Ball (see below). The Pika bonus in this game sees Pichu joining Pikachu in the drain channels, charged in the same way to act as a kickback.

pprs_ruby_slot_hole – The Slot is open, ready to offer you a bonus.

 

 

 

pprs_ruby_slot_reels – The Slot reels are spinning.

 

 

 

pprs_sapphire_slot_zigzagoon – Zigzagoon is jumping to stop the reels – on the Small Bonus, unfortunately.

 

 

 

pprs_sapphire_pikachu_charged – Hitting the Spinner charges Pikachu’s energy levels.

 

 

 

pprs_ruby_pikachu_thunderstrike – Pikachu stops the ball from draining with his Thunderstrike.

 

 

 

On both tables there are the three upgrade channels that can be lit, but as in the first game running over a light already lit turns it off again. The flippers rotate the upgrade lights and the HOLE lights too. The upgraded ball offers a larger bonus multiplier for a short time – x2 for the Great Ball, x3 for the Ultra Ball and x4 for the Master Ball – but the ball will drop back down a level after a while and revert to the basic Pokéball if the player drains it. There is a separate table multiplier that can be increased through the slot machine. Once the ball has drained (dropped off the bottom of the table) then stats for that ball are shown, including the number of Pokémon caught and evolved and the number of spinner turns. These subtotals are multiplied by the bonus multiplier in play at the time. Starting with three balls, when the player runs out it is Game Over – and if they have earned enough points, they can enter up to four initials in the high score list for that table.

pprs_sapphire_upgrade – Upgrading the Pokéball gives higher bonus multipliers.

 

 

 

The game was first revealed at the E3 Expo in 2003, with GameSpy describing it as “much more than a pinball game”. When the reviews arrived, they were as positive as those for the original Pokémon Pinball – currently giving it a Metacritic rating of 82/100. Martin Taylor of Eurogamer surmised that “only the most demanding of pinball wizards would be right to turn their nose up at Pokémon Pinball [Ruby & Sapphire]’s a charming slant on the genre.” It earned an IGN Editor’s Choice award with an 8.8 score, Craig Harris calling it “the greatest pinball game for the Game Boy Advance.” Famitsu in Japan scored it an impressive 34 out of 40.

pprs_sapphire_hiscore – Entering a name on the Sapphire high score table.

 

 

 

In an interesting bit of trivia, the American company Personal Pinball Inc. created a one-of-a-kind real-life pinball table based on the game. It was made for Pokémon USA and was housed in the New York Pokémon Center. Selling more than a million copies on the cartridge, the game would have a second life on Wii U’s Virtual Console. The Cutting Room Floor website (https://tcrf.net/Pok%C3%A9mon_Pinball:_Ruby_%26_Sapphire) has some interesting finds. There is a GameShark code to activate Debug Mode (allowing you to press L to freeze and then move the ball around, with R resuming play) and an unused Bonus Round Select screen. The eReader screen found in the Japanese version is still present (and its text translated) in other regions, but it was disabled for the later Virtual Console release.

pprs_language – European Game Boy Advance titles usually offered in up to five languages, with a selection screen.

 

 

 

This is still a game I pick up and play, as both a pinball and Pokémon fan. The improved physics and scrolling table make it better than the original. There are more motion and animation than the original, with the hatching Pokémon from Egg Mode being particularly adorable. Control feels smoother and it is much easier to achieve the loop shots. I can certainly concur that it is one of the best pinball games on Game Boy Advance and should definitely be in your collection.

OVERALL: 9/10

pprs_ruby_game_over – Thanks for reading! Want to continue your retrospective look at the Pokémon franchise? Well, take a look at the hub article where I and several other content creators made more retrospective content about the Pokémon franchise.