What Does Tembo Mean for Game Freak?

Tembo

The newest game being developed by Pokemon developer Game Freak is certainly a strange one and not just because it stars an elephant in commando gear named Tembo.  What’s strange is that the game is being published by Sega and that it will be releasing on PC, Playstation 4, Xbox One, and NOT the Wii U.  Obviously, something is going on between Game Freak and Nintendo, but what it is exactly is anyone’s guess.  It’s possible that this is just a one-time fluke that will come and go without any long-term impact.  Conversely, this could be the beginning of the end for Game Freak’s long partnership with Nintendo.

Of course, that raises the obvious question of why Game Freak would potential break away from Nintendo when their current relationship has been so profitable for the last nineteen years.  One possibility is that Game Freak simply wants creative freedom with this title that they couldn’t obtain through Nintendo.  Perhaps Nintendo wasn’t too keen on the cartoon violence that the game presents or the fact that there is a curse word in the game’s official title.  Maybe the game is expected to be larger than the Wii U download service is able to support.  Maybe Nintendo insisted on rebranding the game with Pokemon characters and Game Freak is tired of working off of the same property so many times and is just looking for a change of pace.

The more extreme possibility is that Game Freak is tired of working with Nintendo altogether and this is their first step towards breaking away from them.  While milking the Pokemon franchise for years to come would be the wise choice from a financial standpoint, that kind of repetition is torturous for creative minds.  It’s only natural that the members of Game Freak would want to experiment in new ways and take chances that Nintendo would be against.  Now, Game Freak has worked on non-Pokemon games since the series has had its explosion in popularity, such as Drill Dozer and HarmoKnight, but none of them have caught on like the collectible monsters craze.  Admit it, how many of you had even heard of either of those titles before I brought them up?  Nintendo may have given up on Game Freak’s side-projects and the only way something like Tembo or any future titles outside of the Pokemon series will see the light of day is through collaborations with other publishers.  Game Freak may even decide that these passion projects are worth more to them than the fortune that the Pokemon series is making them.

If that is the route that they decide to take, it is certainly a risky one.  Time has shown that the Game Freak brand is not as financially successful as the Pokemon brand and focusing on these more experimental endeavors could be enough to sink the company.  That’s an extreme possibility, but it simply isn’t likely that Game Freak can make lightning strike twice.  Depending on who they build a new partnership with, their success could rely entirely on that as Game Freak’s reputation leads the publisher to overhype their first outing in ways that they can’t deliver on.  As nice as it would be to have optimism in Game Freak’s ability to stand on its own, there is plenty that could go wrong with a departure from Nintendo.  This is especially risky considering that they would no longer have the Pokemon series to fall back on at that point.

Before you think that there is any chance of Game Freak pulling the Pokemon license away from Nintendo, know that there is absolutely no chance of that happening.  Nintendo owns a majority share in Game Freak and The Pokemon Company and is already being pretty generous in allowing Game Freak to pursue this partnership deal with Sega in the first place.  However, Nintendo would never allow one of their most successful franchises to slip away just because Game Freak wants to break it off.  Nintendo let Rareware keep the rights to most of its franchises when it was sold to Microsoft, but they made sure that they still owned Donkey Kong and Star Fox in their entirety.  If Game Freak has any desire to part ways with Nintendo, then they would have to sacrifice the rights to Pokemon to them in order to make that happen.  Expecting Game Freak to have any chance of getting out of such departure with Pokemon intact is like thinking that Bungie had any chance of keeping Halo when they broke off from Microsoft.

As a side note, I’d like to mention that Game Freak’s decision to partner with Sega for this endeavor is unlikely to be any sort of jab at Nintendo.  Whatever rivalry the two companies had was buried years ago.  It’s more likely that Game Freak turned to Sega because the two actually have a history together.  Prior to the creation of Pokemon, Game Freak developed a game titled Pulseman for the Genesis/Mega Drive that was published by Sega.  That history is likely why Game Freak turned to Sega for Tembo.

There is a lot worth speculating on with the Tembo’s announcement, but only time will tell what will actually become of the relationship between Nintendo and Game Freak.  Maybe Game Freak will decide that it’s time to leave Pokemon and Nintendo behind.  Maybe their just exploring new possibilities and nothing will really change in the grand scheme of things outside of seeing odd concepts like Tembo pop up every now and then.  What are your thoughts on the possible future of Game Freak?  Are they better off playing it safe or taking a risk on what they love to do?  Leave a comment below and let us know.

Pokémon Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby: The Trouble With Mega Evolution

Pokémon

It’s an irrefutable fact of poké-life: these games don’t change much. Pokémon is one of gaming’s most beloved franchises, yet it’s also one of the most stubbornly stick-to-its-laurels-ish. (Yes, that is a thing).

Each installment adds a subtle twist or gimmick to the formula. We’ve seen contests and pokéblocks and all manner of other distractions. Oftentimes, these take the form of minigames, quick distractions you can try out in one of the towns or cities. Nothing substantial, just some new feature or other that can be splurged across the back of the game box.

For Pokémon X and Y, the biggest of these was the Mega Evolution mechanic. This allows certain pokémon to undergo a temporary evolution in battle, changing their appearance and bolstering their abilities. It’s performed via a held item, which reacts with an accessory the trainer is wearing.

But anywho, pokéholics know all of this. They’ll also know that an interesting range of candidates were given the power to mega evolve. Fan favourites Charizard and Mewtwo were the only ‘mon granted two different forms, each exclusive to a version of the game. Through this mechanic, Charizard became viable again, Kangaskhan (of all damn things) became a horrifying powerhouse and Mewtwo grew even more ridiculous.

Mega Evolution is a fascinating concept. When utilized well, it’s a perfect opportunity for previously craptacular pokémon to become decent team picks again. In the aforementioned Charizard case, the fiery lizard had been ignored by competitive players for years. Its mediocre power and the savage beating it takes to the face from Stealth Rock sealing its fate. Suddenly, Mega Charizard Y is claiming souls and whupping butts all over the place with the sun it summons. Who saw that coming?

Yep, this has happened.
Yep, this has happened.

The freshly-released Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby took that idea of elevation and ran with it. In the run-up to release, we were seeing Mega Pidgeot, Mega Sharpedo, Mega Camerupt, Mega Audino and all kinds of madness. Yup, freaking Pidgeot.

All of these are sorely neglected (or plain damn awful) ‘mon who have been patiently awaiting their chance to unleash a whup-ass can or two. I never thought I’d see the day when Pidgeot would become a fearsome special attacker, armed with deliciously spammable No Guard Hurricanes.

But there’s the rub. While this makes these oddities usable again, they’re in danger of remaining sub-par choices in the faces of Mega Salamence and monsters like that. You can only have one mega evolution per team, and there’s so much competition for that slot now. It’s great to see Mega Camerupt rampaging on a Trick Room team, I’m just afraid that you won’t see it enough.

Retro Corner: Pokémon Snap

Pokémon

Lord knows that the pokémon have been shafted into all kinds of ridiculous spin-offs in their time. That crappy DS launch game where you rubbed Pikachu’s butt to run, that voice-recognition thing that had absolutely no clue what you were saying… there have certainly been some stinkers.

But Pokémon Snap. Pokémon freaking Snap. This little doozy makes us forgive all of the hideous abominations the ‘mon have spawned.

A 1999 N64 release, this was one of the series’ early attempts at this newfangled ‘3D’ thing. But that doesn’t make it a conventional entry by any means. It’s an on-rails photograph ‘em up (because that’s a thing), which is the kind of crazy proposition you have to hear more about.

You play as Todd, a curly-haired little dude who has never appeared in the franchise before, a trainee working for Professor Oak (who most certainly has). He has dispatched you to Pokémon Island, one of the world’s few undisturbed poké-sactuaries. There, you are to document them in their natural habitat, and relay the photographs back to the professor.

You follow a brief course around the area, aiming and shooting as the wild pokémon cavort around you/ignore you entirely/use Explosion and presumably kill themselves. At the end of the stage, you review the snaps you’ve taken and pass the best of them on to Oak to be judged. He scores each on pose, centering within the frame, whether there are others of the same species in the picture, that sort of caper. Perform well enough, and you’ll be authorised to continue to the next area on the island.

Yep, that's a Pikachu riding an Electrode. What of it?
Yep, that’s a Pikachu riding an Electrode. What of it?

The levels are fairly standard: your regular woodland place, cave-y place, volcano-y place, and so forth. Each are populated by the appropriate Pokémon, and fans will love seeing their old favourites in their natural setting. You know, sort of.

Pokémon Snap seems quite a brief, rudimentary game, but there are some hidden depths. Later, the Professor will give you three different items, which allow you to interact with the wildlife rather more. In the very first stage, for instance, there’s a sleeping Snorlax. A photograph is worthless, as you can only see its stomach from that angle; it doesn’t even register as a Snorlax. After you’re given the Poké Flute, you can return and wake it up.

The joy of the game is in replaying levels, and discovering secrets you didn’t know of. Safari Zone-style pokémon food can coax out something that was hiding, and Pester Balls will cause all kinds of reactions. With these, you can return again and again to experiment, and reap the rewards. High scoring photos result if you can capture something special.

When you perfectly time a shot of a band of Pidgey attacking a Meowth with Gust, you appreciate the bizarre majesty that is Pokémon Snap.

Hey, Drifloon! What’s Your Deal?

Drifloon

As we know, Nintendo isn’t the most hardcore, horrortastic of games companies. Their family friendly, rainbows-puppies-and-gambolling-pink-unicorns outlook is refreshing in a cynical world, but it’s really against the grain.

Of all their exports, the one most of derided for being ‘childish’ is Pokémon. Y’know, toontastic creatures, the adorable little furry yellow rat-thing Pikachu… none of it screams manliness. But even so, Pokémon has a dark side. And it’s darker than a very dark, dark dark thing. With extra darkness sauce and a dark side salad.

Take a look at Drifloon. It’s a harmless, moron-grinning balloon dude. Who’d be afraid of this little bugger? Nobody, that’s who. You could probably give it away at carnivals to pestilential children, who will whine for it and then release the damn thing seconds later and howl as it floats skywards.

Or so you’d think. Then the pokédex comes in, and everything becomes all terrifying and horror-filmy.

Drifloon 2

For the uninitiated, the pokédex gives details on every species of pokémon you’ve caught. Its height, weight, habitat, that sort of business. There’s also an outlandish and ridiculous fact about them, something like Magmar’s core temperature being 8 billion degrees or some dumbassery like that.

The ability to melt your face right off from a whole continent away notwithstanding, let’s look at little closer. At Drifloon’s creeptastic pokédex entries through the generations, more specifically.

This thing is known as The Signpost for Wandering Spirits. It lures children to take hold of it, and they then mysteriously disappear. I don’t want to dwell upon the whys and then-whats of this, so let’s just file it into the drawer marked what the hell. Ghosts in the Pokémon world are mean, as we’ll see later.

The VGamerZ Monster Files: Mewtwo

Mewtwo

GAH! Hold on to your underpants and lock grandma in the closet (for her own protection, naturally), it’s Mewtwo!

Anybody who vainly endeavored to catch this bugger back in 1998 knows what a fiend Mewtwo is. Your buddy Brian lied and told you that hammering the Up and A buttons helped, but it didn’t. It didn’t. What the hell, Brian? It was a long ol’ slog to catch this thing, which cemented its position as the ultimate Pokémon.

This mutated monstrosity was the result of –once again– scientists playing around with things that should really be left darn well alone. In this instance, experiments with the DNA of Mew. Now, ‘horrific gene splicing’ isn’t a phrase you’ll find in many of Nintendo’s family friendly games, so you know the brown stuff has hit the fan right here.

The result was a terrifying, remorseless feline death machine of deathly death. With death on.

In the original Red and Blue games, it could be encountered only after defeating the Elite Four. This would allow you access to the cave it resides in, where you’d have quite the fight on your hands. This guy had Master Ball written all over it, what with its high level and steadfast insistence on breaking out of every other darn kind. That Recover spam was probably the first thing in video games I ever raged at.

I STILL don't know why the little one has a tail growing out of the back of its head.
I STILL don’t know why the little one has a tail growing out of the back of its head.

Back then, the Psychic type was king, and Mewtwo was its… king. (I didn’t think that sentence all the way through.) Still among the most fearsome special attackers in the game, Mewtwo remains among the ‘Uber’ pokemon banned from standard play. It certainly isn’t moving any time soon.

With the release of X and Y, this beastly beast was given two Mega forms. Only Charizard shares that honour, which says a lot about the villain’s popularity. As does the clamour for Number 150 to return to Smash Bros. Now there’s an added element of mystery about this titan, as it may also morph into a physical attacker (Mega Mewtwo Y) and beat on you from a whole different angle. Just to add to the fun.

Playing Games as the Antagonists

Games

To (belatedly) celebrate the release of the film Maleficent, I thought it would be fun to have a look at a number of games and just consider what it would be like to play that game as the villain, rather than the hero. I mean, let’s face it, evil-doers are always so much more badass than heroes anyway, no wonder we’ve recently gotten so into anti-heroes.
So here are my top-five games I would love to play through as the villains, rather than the heroes.

GlaDOS (Portal)
GlaDOS is more of an omnipotent presence, than an in-game character. Just the voice of god that makes you giggle, and then die, as you proceed through her course. It might be boring for GlaDOS, having just Chel to look over and torture in the name of “science”. But let’s imagine when the entire facility was at its maximum potential, with dozens, if not hundreds of subjects to preside over. Create whacky levels for them to explore, or simply watch them fail hilariously. You could either design and test these levels, or simply run the facility from your lovely armchair. Making sure you get the most out of your subjects. Making sure they sit on them chairs without lead-lined underwear.

Team Rocket (Pokemon)
Let’s just forget Jesse and James for a moment (easier said than done), and think about the actual corporation that is Team Rocket. Why not Team Flare, who star in the new games? Heres why – Team Flares goal’s are to make money, and make the world more beautiful. Team Rocket’s goal; steal all the pokemon and take over the world! Much, much more awesome.
Now imagine you aren’t collecting Pokemon in the orthodox sense, you’re stealing the little monsters. You’re not playing through trying to get all 8 gym badges, you’re playing through to take over the world! Screw daycare centre and grinding. Screw the three starting Pokemon. You start out as a criminal underling, and you can steal whichever first pokemon you want. And if one of those damn whiny kids come walking past in some stupid adventure to beat some league, just challenge them and take all their money. Who wouldn’t rather play a Pokemon game where the aim is to take over the entire world of Pokemon? Or would you rather just bike along to the next gym leader?

A real outlaw (Red Read Redemption)
No matter how you look at it Red Dead Redemption is an awesome game. It follows ex-outlaw John Marston as he holds up banks….Wait…Robs trains…Shoot…Sleeps with….Nope….Kills everyone…He doesn’t do that either. Ok so the game is 50% staring at a horse’s arse, and little else besides. I don’t think anyone would disagree if the game allowed us to get a little Grand-Theft-Auto in the west, and it doesn’t do any of that! John Marston is a pure straight-shooter, which is about as boring as it get’s in a setting that has it’s own satire on the millions ways people die in the west. Ok, we knew he wasn’t an outlaw anymore, and we knew he was married, and was making atonement for his bandit-y ways, but damn did this game concentrate on the wrong section of his life. No one wants to be constrained in the west, we all wanted to go out shooting people, robbing banks and holding up trains for money. But no…. we don’t ge to do any of that.

Any of the Colossi (Shadow of the Colossus)

I’m going to assume you haven’t been living on an uninhabited island for the past decade, and have had access to a games console, rather than just a ball to keep you company, and that you have also played Shadow of the Colosus. If you have (and finished it) then you will know that at the ending you get the briefest most pathetic glimpse at what playing as a Colosus would have been like. Not that Dormin was anywhere near as tall as some of the actual Colossi you take down throughout the game. I’ll admit, just trying to thwart a single-player as he climbs your body and stabs your face might be a bit rubbish, but if it was more than one person? What if you were as large and as powerful and menacing as one of those Collossi, against an army. Let’s say those guys at the end finally get what they deserve, and they step out into the mainland, giving you the chance to utterly destroy them. Even better, imagine fighting another Colossus. Now that would be a fight we would all be happy to participate in.

Alduin (Skyrim)
If you’ve played Skyrim – and if you haven’t then your excuse better be you’ve been in a straightjacket for your whole life – you might vaguely remember one scene where you were invited onto the back of a dragon. But did you get to ride it – well yeah, I guess – but did you get to control it, did you get any sort of decent view? Hell no!
Alduin get’s top marks because Skyrim is a great land to explore on foot, but from the sky, as a hell-bent fire-breathing evil man-kind destroying black dragon, the game probably feels a bit more kickass. And the map is still big enough to give you a good sense of scale even when you’re whizzing past (stopping to incinerate farms because dragon) that it won’t feel restrictive.
Let’s face it, Bethesda missed out slightly here by not allowing you to control a mythical dragon (even for that second of gameplay they put in), because I don’t think anything would make Skyrim better other than being able to play as Alduin himself. Fighting giants and bears would be pretty awesome, but fighting other dragons, aerial combat as a dragon, against other dragons surrounded by giants, perhaps, would be unbeatable. The only person who could give you any trouble would be the dragon-born. But Alduin would have kicked-ass in that final fight if the dragonborn wasn’t accompanied by three other dead heroes.

My close runner-ups were Ganon from the Legend of Zelda, and Vaas from Far Cry 3. What games would you rather play through as the villain.

Whatever Happened to… Gen 1 and the Non-Sucky Pokémon Designs?

Pokémon

Now, before you spit blood all over the Internet at that title, it’s more of a parody than anything. There are these elusive Pokémon known as ‘genwunners,’ you see, who think in this way.

Nostalgia, as we know, is a dangerous thing. You may have loved your old Plymouth Fury back in the sixties, but that doesn’t mean it’s the be-all-and-end-all of cars today (Particularly not when the model is prone to being darn well haunted and going on murderous rampages, as in Stephen King’s Christine). By the same token, you don’t have to dismiss any pokemon that came after the first 151, simply because they aren’t ‘originals’.

Charmander, Squirtle, Bulbasaur and co have special places in our Poké-hearts, it’s true. But let’s not forget, there’s some really uninspired designs to be had here too. Geodude is a rock. A rock with a face and manly arms. Diglett resembles something you’d find in your toilet bowl, and Dugtrio looks like three of them.

So let’s not delude ourselves that the first generation were all perfect in that sense. They’re the poké-beasts of our childhoods, and such icons as Pikachu and Charizard are among them, but so is Jynx. Nobody likes Jynx. Not even if they do.

Come on now, who thought THIS was a good idea?
Come on now, who thought THIS was a good idea?

Nevertheless, the old ‘running out of ideas’ argument is still rife. There are over seven hundred of the buggers now, and it’s a herculean task for the team. So you’ve got to excuse the occasional ice cream cone with a face, or keychain, or huge pile of literal garbage showing up.

Still, if we remove our snarky hats, ‘laziness’ or any other accusation is subjective. I’m sure Vanilluxe and Garbodor have their fans. Somewhere. As for the rose-tinted, ‘golden era’ idea, that’s subjective too.

Retro Corner: Pokémon Red and Blue

Pokémon

Oh yes indeed. Remember when there were but 151 pokémon? There are almost a thousand of the buggers now. It’s too much for my addled, decrepit mind to handle. So let’s party like it’s 1998 and reminisce about a simpler time, when Pokémon was simpler and our hairlines hadn’t started to recede.

It’s Pokémon Blue and Red!

How auspicious that these two titles were released that year. 1998 is a nerdily famous one, bringing us such ball-busting blockbusters as Metal Gear Solid and The legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Pokémon, despite being a crazily obscure, niche-tastic concept, lived up to that lofty company; eventually becoming the best-selling RPG of all time (joint Guinness World Record). Let’s take a look.

The original slice of cutesy animal warfare needs no introduction. The setup is simple: you play as a young boy with ambitions to become the world’s greatest Pokémon trainer. To prove your mettle, you must tour the region and defeat every Gym Leader; and so the champion in turn. The whole weird business begins with the amiable Professor Oak, who gives you one of his freakish mutate-o-beasts (your pick of the legendary Charmander, Squirtle and Bulbasaur) and sends you out into the world alone. Your mum doesn’t give a rat’s buttocks either.

No you don't, Erika. You really don't. Trust us, we fight dirty. We aren't above name-calling or pulling hair.
No you don’t, Erika. You really don’t. Trust us, we fight dirty. We aren’t above name-calling or pulling hair.

To bolster your ranks, you must hunt other Pokémon in long grass, caves, water and so forth. Encounters spark a simplistic battle, in which you choose from one of four moves your beast has learned and lay the Poké-smack down. This is easier, naturally, if you utilise the typing chart: using a Fire type attack on a Grass type opponent will scorch its furry face off, but avail you of little against Water opponents.

Weakening wild ‘mon in this way will allow you to capture them, for battling or simple collection purposes. You can then, via the cumbersome link cable, trade creatures with other players, so as to help your collections along.

But of course, if you haven’t been living in a remote cave in the Himalayas for the last sixteen years, humming with your fingers in your ears and/or faking photographs of yetis to scam money from gullible news agencies, you know all of this darn well. Which is precisely the point. Pokémon is, at its core, quite a peculiar concept, but its phenomenal success has made all of this oddness the norm.

Pokémon Red and Blue had that magical combination of charm, innovation and the key ‘collectathon’ concept which so appeals to gamers. There’s little wonder why the series continues to keep Japanese businessmen in expensive suits and haircuts to this day.