Atari Man Defense Squad #1-Pokemon Mini

Over 15 years ago, I made the decision that journalism was a route I wanted to take. I knew I was good at writing, but at the time I used it mainly as a form of communication with the opposite sex, because to say I was nervous talking to girls would be the understatement of the new millennium. In time, however, I learned that writing, namely journalism, was to be used in a way to create change, to expose the darkness for what it is, a terrible thing that must be brought to light and made good for those it has harmed. I can understand if that seems very deep for where I’m going with this article but keep in mind, I am, first and foremost, a writer who writes to create change and to defend those who cannot defend themselves in a manner that echoes my own articulate words. Yes, Atari Man Defense Squad is a look at some aspects of gaming that I truly feel in my travels have got a bad wrap or perhaps haven’t really been shown in a way that highlights why they are important to the vast history of gaming. This column will be fairly free flow, in that it won’t always be about a particular game, but at times a character or even a trend in gaming. It will be as scatterbrain as the scatterbrain writing it.

For my debut edition, after much deliberation, I’ve decided to discuss something that most likely flew under a lot of radars in 2001. Before I begin, I am admitting to you now that many of the topics discussed will be pulled from various publications I read, like Retro Gamer and any accompanying material produced by them, as well as any Internet or even face-to-face discussions I have with fellow gaming friends. If you’re a fan of Pokemon, you may want to pay attention to this first article.

In 2001 the Pokemon Mini was released and at first glance it is easy to mistake this as a Tamagotchi or other form of digital pet toy that dominated most of the 90s and into the early 2000s, but that’s doing the Mini quite the disservice in the same way calling it a Game and Watch with one game built into would. An anomaly in the history of Nintendo’s handheld gaming history to most of its loyal followers, the Pokemon Mini used cartridges as a Game Boy would, also mimicking its graphics in the 10 Pokemon focused games made for it, thus taking 1989 style and cramming it into a tiny 2001 piece of hardware.

So why should something that is so Pokemon-centric so vital in the history of Nintendo’s portable gaming empire? Well while dismissible to most, with its simplistic video games containing even simpler visuals, the Pokemon Mini possessed interactive capabilities that its far more prominent relative, the Gameboy Advance, which was released the very same year, could only dream of. When one looks at a Gameboy Advance, it can sometimes be difficult to see the foundations of what would become the Nintendo DS, but with an internal real-time clock, infra-red transmitter for multiplayer gaming, data transfer for up to 5 other players at once, in-built vibration for force feedback, as well as a shock detector for rudimentary motion control, you can see Nintendo’s future. All of these features, crammed into a tiny 74mm x 58mm x 23mm casing would lead to similar features that would play huge rules in the lives of the Nintendo DS as well as the Wii. Let that sink in for a second, something so small, the smallest handheld in Nintendo’s history in fact, would be the nucleus of what would become Nintendo’s future paths to innovation.

If you’re wondering how something with the Pokemon license, a tried and true meal ticket for Nintendo, is regarded as so obscure then you’ve really answered your own question. With only 10 games (all of which used the Pokemon license) ever officially released for this handheld, which is half of what the far more illustrated failure of the Virtual Boy produced, it is easy to see why this wasn’t a hot seller for Nintendo. Further complicating things was the fact that the Gameboy Color and Gameboy Advance not only had a far wider range of games, but better Pokemon games overall. In most stores, the Pokemon Mini was far more regarded as a toy than a dedicated game system, and while not expensive for the time, the games were, and as I said, there were far better (and cheaper) games available on the 2 other more dedicated Nintendo handhelds. Things looked quite bleak for the Pokemon Mini, as the last game released for it, Pokemon Breeder, hit stores exclusively in Japan at the end of 2002, giving the handheld just a mere 13 month shelf life. Still, it had a far longer lifespan than the Virtual Boy, and unlike its far larger commercial flop, the fate of the Pokemon Mini was almost sealed, had it not been from a very unlikely source, a quirky feature that was available in a Nintendo Gamecube game.

2003’s Pokemon Channel, a forgettable blip on the vast Pokemon catalog of games available on Nintendo’s consoles and handhelds had an emulator of sorts within the game of the Mini, which allowed coders to take and dabble with to open the doors to the possibility of creating games for the tiny handheld that DO NOT carry the Pokemon name at all. A few of these examples are below, but I’d like to point out the 2 more notable ones that may have a few retro gamers both excited, but also scratching their heads. The programmers using this code are so confident they can work their magic that they are hard at work contemplating the reality of both a Sonic The Hedgehog AND Legend Of Zelda game for this tiny piece of retro gaming history. The Sonic game will carry a lot of the same feel as early Sonic Game Gear titles had, and for those who fell in love with the original Nintendo Gameboy’s Legend Of Zelda: Link’s Awakening then you are in luck, because this Mini title will borrow heavily from that Gameboy favorite.

These are just a few of the many homebrew versions of popular gaming titles that are being attempted by the programmers who got their hands on the Pokemon Mini code 2 years after the handheld’s release and let’s face it, abysmal failure. Failure doesn’t always mean death in the world of video games though, my friends.

So why did I feel the need to come to the defense of the Pokemon Mini? Keep in mind, I am not, by any means, a fan of the Pokemon craze, and I am pretty indifferent towards the myriad of titles released for it on both handhelds and consoles throughout the years. In fact, I often joke with my friends who are fans of the brand that they should stop being unpatriotic and start playing American video games, but I digress. My reason is simple. One of the biggest mistakes we make as gamers, even today, is a simple rule we are taught NOT to do as children, to judge a book by its cover. Seemingly doomed from the start, it is very easy to dismiss the Pokemon Mini as a niche novelty that despite its advances over the Gameboy handheld with the same word attached to the end of it, suffered from a lack of noticeable firepower. With games that were priced too high for the lack of stellar graphics and gameplay compared to other Pokemon games, it is also easy to delude its worth as nothing more than cashing in on a fad of the time by hungry capitalistic toy and video game developers, but that’s the thing about anything doomed a failure or hated on based on face value alone, when we take the opportunity and give a fair look to something given such unnecessary negativity we find a better appreciation, and in this case, a better use for it then it was even originally intended for.

One company’s cash in trash is another programmer’s hidden treasure, and the Pokemon Mini deserves to be looked at as more than just a virtual pet looking, Pokemon branded, 1-hit wonder, because it’s been given new life, and if it wasn’t worth that, it wouldn’t be worth coming to the defense of. You can currently purchase one of these little beauties anywhere from $25- $100 online, paying a bit more for bundles that have some games or even those with other alterations to them, like backlight capability, but the fact is, whichever way you slice it, all of us enjoying our brand new Nintendo 3DS handhelds owe a debt of gratitude to the mighty handheld’s little distant cousin, the Pokemon Mini.

Join me next time as I come to the defense of another vital piece of the great retro gaming puzzle. Until then, there is one last thing I would like to come to the defense of..

Anyone who finds this following photo offensive and NOT cute at all. Come on now.

I mean seriously, just look at this face. How could you be mad or offended by this? Ok, so maybe there's way too much dental shine going on here, but just wear some sunglasses and take off, ya hoser!
I mean seriously, just look at this face. How could you be mad or offended by this? Ok, so maybe there’s way too much dental shine going on here, but just wear some sunglasses and take off, ya hoser!

Some of us need to be defended, and well, some of us have super our molars.

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