Going Back To My Routes

Oct 13

Going Back To My Routes: Intro

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super nerd This is a set of posts about the Pokemon series of games – one long post for each Pokemon generation.

I wanted to write about something my sons cared about – pop music doesn’t quite cut it yet. And also I had that critical itch you get when you’ve spent a long time on something, the urge to somehow recoup it through writing.


Going Back To My Routes: Kanto

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pblue “Isn’t technology wonderful?” says one of the inhabitants of Pallet Town, Kanto – your home in Pokémon Blue, and the root of every Pokémon game, and every Pokémon journey, ever since. It’s a statement of outright optimism from the dawn of the mobile gaming era. Mobility – the pocket power of the handheld device – is the central ideal of Pokémon. It’s in the miniaturised creatures your character carries around, and in the Game Boy he and they live on. Throughout all the games, your reality – trading and battling with friends, and latterly just passing strangers by – mingles with the gameworld. Your real journeys criss-cross its routes and cities.

Pokémon games include magical artefacts, fantastic beasts, haunted towers and psychic powers, but the world of the games is almost always a modern, brisk one. In Pokémon Blue you keep running into technology. Your climactic battle with the larcenous Team Rocket takes place in the region’s most high-tech corporation, you explore a burnt-out research centre, and your reward for becoming champion is a chance to capture the most powerful creature of all – not some ancient or primal force, but a clone in a set of form-fitting mecha-style armour. This constant genre shifting – explore a ghost tower one minute and a modern skyscraper the next, all in the name of adventure – is one of the reasons Pokémon is so beguiling.

beaten by a kid The lion’s share of attention and celebration the games receive go to their creatures and mechanics. The texture of Pokémon – its settings, stories and themes – gets much less love. But as one of the best-selling game franchises of all time, Pokémon is a core part of modern children’s literature – its lands, concepts and ideas as much a fixture in the imagination of its players as Narnia or Hogwarts. They deserve more attention, and these posts – one for each of the game’s six generations – are an attempt to do justice to these fantasy places which have occupied so much of my and my sons’ time.


Aug 14

Going Back To My Routes: Johto

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packshot This is the second in a series of critical essays on the Pokémon games, one for each generation.

Where Pokémon Blue delighted in technology, Pokémon Silver sinks into history. After being given your starter Pokémon, your Pokedex and your mission, you walk into the deep woods of Johto and encounter in quick succession a tower built around an ancient, giant Pokémon; 1500-year old ruins filled with strange carvings and an entire race of enigmatic beings, and a well whose significance to its local village dates back four centuries. In that village lives Kurt, master of the art of Apricorn carving, a skill that predates the Poke Balls you use. Like the great trunk of Sprout Tower, the Pokémon world is putting down roots.


Nov 14

Going Back To My Routes: Hoenn

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pkmnruby This is part of a series of critical essays on the Pokémon games. This one is about Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, the third “main games” in the series, and unavoidably contains LOTS of spoilers for the remakes of those games released this month.


Pokémon games are consciously built by developers Game Freak around very high-level themes – single words that are meant to capture the spirit of each game and the region it’s set in. With X and Y the theme was “beauty” – for Black and White it was “cool”. In discussing the imminent remakes of Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, and their home region of Hoenn, a spokesman suggested the idea behind the games had always been “abundance”. And you can see their point. Hoenn is a region bursting with life and incident. It offers a lush range of new environments and new ideas, a rethinking of the series’ established use of rivals and villains, and a sudden expansion of the franchise’s gameplay in terms of breadth (a whole parallel career path in the form of Contests) and depth (the introduction of Natures, Abilities and Double Battles). Not everything comes off – in fact the crowding-in of ideas means few of them completely work – but the bright ambition of Ruby and Sapphire is delightful.


Mar 17

Going Back To My Routes: Sinnoh

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pokemon pearl This is part of a series of critical essays on the Pokémon games. This one is about Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, the fourth “main series” games, and inevitably contains LOTS of spoilers for anyone who hasn’t played them.


Every generation of Pokémon games reacts, inevitably, to the one before. In Gen III’s Hoenn region, nature had the upper hand – man had to compromise and adapt to it, literally carving out his niche. In Sinnoh, home region of Pokémon’s fourth generation and the Diamond and Pearl games, nature has been thoroughly tamed – delved, cultivated, and exploited. The first areas of interest you visit are a working mine, a flowery meadow and a wind farm. None of the towns have the wild, precarious character of the Hoenn settlements – instead, they are solid and well-established, to the extent that they seem to blur together. Oreburgh, Veilstone, Hearthome… it’s one well-rendered stony town after another.