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Hey You, Pikachu!

Overall: C
Violence: A
Sexual Content: A
Language: A
Drugs/Alcohol: A

Platform reviewed: Nintendo 64
Publisher: Nintendo
ESRB rating: E

Hey You, Pikachu! is Nintendo's first voice recognition game, and an obvious effort to keep the N64 platform a competitor in the videogame race. The usual cartridge comes bundled with a microphone and small box that plugs into one of the controller jacks on the main unit. Secured with a small plastic strap that holds the microphone to a game controller (also provided), it should be durable enough for younger players who have little respect for delicate electronic equipment.

The game explains this technical gadgetry as a prototype computer, developed by Professor Oak (the foremost researcher of Pokemon), to enable humans to communicate with the pocket monsters. Oak would like your assistance testing the "PokeHelper's" ability to communicate with a wild Pikachu.

While this scenario takes place in the realm of fiction, I sense Hey You Pikachu might be a more literal experiment for Nintendo. Getting an aging N64 device to perform this feat could prove more challenging than the highest level of Donkey Kong.

Game play is divided into days (each lasting for a few minutes). You set off with Prof. Oak and his computer to find a Pikachu. Prof. Oak teaches you how to use the PokeHelper, and tells you exactly what to say to the wild creature. This repetitious process, covering about eight game days, takes about to an hour in real time and requires the player to read many screens of information. Any words highlighted in red are ones Pikachu should be able to understand. I found that Pikachu reacted as scripted to anything I said into the microphone at this point.

Finally I appear to have graduated from PSL (Pokemon as a second language), and gained the trust of this wild Pikachu who now wants to move in with me. (Will I need newspaper in the corner of my room?) Prof. Oak tells me to treat little Pikachu nicely, then leaves me with a tool caddy to carry important things Pikachu and I may find on our adventures.

Alone at last... here's my chance to ask the famous electrified Pokemon all those questions I've had on my mind... "Are you and Ash still friends when you're off the movie set? Does keeping your Pokemon in a Pokeball too long contravene SPCA regulations? What batteries do you prefer--Energizer or Duracell?"

Unfortunately, I quickly learn that I will be lucky to get this thing to roll over and play dead (although he did do that once...).

Waking up the next morning, I decide to feed Pikachu the stale muffin that came with my toolkit. Gobbling down the treat, he begins exploring my bedroom and makes a mess of the tissue box. "Clean it up" is a line Pika should understand. Wow! He begins zapping the tissues on the floor. It seemed like the perfect time to reward my roomie with a trip to one of the five set places we can choose from.

I decide to go fishing and arm Pika with the fishing rod. "Reel it in!" I coach. "Pull harder" I exclaim. Pika's already landed three water-dwelling Poke-creatures. On the next catch I suggest we "Let it go" (another phrase he should understand). He lands a Krabby Pokemon perfectly. Then just for fun, I try "oink oink!"--a phrase that wasn't on the recommended word list. He lands another Krabby.

A later excursion takes us to Ochre Woods where Bulbasaur is making stew for lunch. Pika and I are sent to the forest to find ingredients. Pikachu begins picking up sweet potatoes, corn and mushrooms, ands I tell him "Sure" if I want to keep the item. Pikachu understood about one in four commands at this point, so when he got to the stinky gas-filled mushrooms, my advice to leave them behind went unheeded.

Tired of that, we went digging for treasure at Cobalt Island where the tops of treasure chests peek out of the sand. Each trunk has a handy sign with the words you need to say to Pikachu in order to get him to blast it open with his electrical powers.

While the game is devoid of any objectionable content, the whole thing gets a little dull, perhaps because there really isn't a game here at all. You merely take Pikachu places and play with him. Along the way you earn a few points, but I couldn't ever determine what they were for. And Pikachu is frustrating too. Talking to him is like dealing with a rebellious child--he appears to listen, but usually goes and does whatever he wishes.

But the biggest disappointment of Hey You, Pikachu! will be felt by the game's marketing team because the action will only appeal to the youngest of players--yet reading skills are mandatory. The real Poke-kicker is this quote from the voice recognition unit's instruction manual: "Due to differences in speech patterns, it may not be able to recognize words spoken by young children."

That's a Poke-oops if I've ever seen one...

Rod Gustafson

If you're interested in other Pokemon adventures, check our reviews of Pokemon Snap and Pokemon Gold.

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