By Merman (@merman1974)
Console: Pokémon mini
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.
– 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.
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.
– The English box art for Pokémon Pinball mini
– 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).
US box artwork for Pokémon Channel (GameCube)
– 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.
– The title screen initially just shows Diglett hitting the Pokéball.
– 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).
– Ditto will affect the ball when hit.
– Hitting the Gravity arrow will make gravity start acting to the left.
– The Out Hole in the middle will hold onto the ball for a while.
– 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.
– 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.
– 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.
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.