Today marks the 23rd anniversary of Pokémon Pinball’s release in Japan (it wouldn’t hit Europe until October 2000). It sold 5.3 million copies worldwide, spawned a less successful sequel, Pokémon Pinball: Ruby & Sapphire and GoNintendo looked back at the iconic Pokémon spinoff game (aka the one that needed a battery and the cartridge cover was always missing when you tried to buy it preowned).
Pokémon and pinball share a common philosophy: they lay out a distant objective and then let the players push themselves as far as they’re willing to go. Ultimately, both games are about smacking things with balls in order to be the best; whether that’s becoming a Pinball Wizard or a Pokémon Master. Yet, even if someone doesn’t get the high score or complete the Pokédex, they can still have fun simply interacting with the game. Just hitting a ball around with flippers is fun. Just catching some Pokémon is fun. Since the game styles complement each other, that makes it easy for them to build on each other.
Obviously, this is a pinball game first and foremost, so this isn’t exactly an equal partnership. Rather than looking at it from the perspective of what pinball brings to Pokémon, it may be better to discuss what Pokémon adds to pinball. Primarily, it’s one thing: the ability – no, the duty, to catch them all.
I missed the opportunity to play this on the official cartridge but thankfully, my sister picked up a 100-in-1 game cartridge from China and I played it for a few months (on my DMG rather than the Game Boy Color). It was fun from what I remember. I never caught them all but I’ve yet to complete a Pokédex in any of the main series games so what’s new?
The Pokémon Pinball catching process recognizes the value of this surprise and translates it by initially hiding the Pokémon you encounter behind a silhouette. The first phase of catching always involves bonking into parts of the field to slowly chip away at the shadowy figure until you reveal its true identity.
The game even incorporates Pokémon battles into the experience. Well, kinda. I always thought of them as being like battles, at any rate. In bonus stages, a bigger Pokémon will appear and you have to hit enough times within the time limit to win. There’s something cathartic about knocking Meowth around and stealing his lunch money. Not that I have any particular vendetta against cats. I just feel like they shouldn’t be making more money than me.