There’s always the chance that videogame IP’s can be great at one genre but stumble in another, and few franchises are as aware of that as Pokémon is. The globally-popular masterpiece has always been adept at the combination of turn-based strategy and role-playing, but the life-sim game Hey You, Pikachu left a bad taste in Nintendo 64 owners’ mouths. Three years later, the team at Ambrella busted out their Potions and designed a spiritual successor on the GameCube. Watching a variety of in-game TV shows with a wild Pikachu is the name of the game in Pokémon Channel.
No stadiums, no colosseums, but lots of television
The game places you in the first-person perspective of an unnamed child in Mintale Town. After a trio of Magnemite delivers a new TV into your bedroom, Prof. Oak appears on the screen that he is launching a network known as Pokémon Channel. Lucky for you, the professor has chosen you to test out the programs that a variety of Pokémon are producing. But just when you think you’re doing all this testing solo, this new television you’ve received somehow attracts a wild Pikachu. In contrast to its normally-shy personality, this Pikachu wants to help out with all the binge-watching and also explore Mintale Town with you.
With the previous paragraph in mind, it already seems like Pokémon Channel is just an updated version of Hey You, Pikachu, but it does bring some new moves that may remind you of The Sims, Harvest Moon, or Nintendo’s own Animal Crossing. When sitting in front of the tube, you have a wide variety of programs to test out, but most of them must be unlocked by waiting for the next day. It should be noted that the in-game clocks copies that of the GameCube’s clock, so when Prof. Oak says that new programs will launch tomorrow at 5:00 AM, he means it. To pass the time, you and Pikachu can buy new stuff for your bedroom, play a Pokémon Mini emulator, and venture around both your house and the entire town of Mintale. During your travels, you will not only have a laundry list of activities to do, but you and the electric mouse get to converse with other Pokémon. It’ll take at least five days (That includes waiting for each new show to launch) to 100% complete this game, but I’d say it’s worth the effort if you’re an open-minded Pokémon fan.
Since you and Pikachu have your work cut out for you, Pokémon Channel makes up for that by treating you with a well-designed graphics engine. The 3D models of each Pokémon look very crisp, as do every part of the environments from the ocean to the snowflakes. Every song on the soundtrack fits perfectly for each place you go and every show you tune in to.
Gotta binge-watch ‘em all
Despite the rough-around-the-edges performance of Hey You, Pikachu, Nintendo and Ambrella crafted an enthralling spiritual sequel in Pokémon Channel. As long as you can accept the absence of the turn-based combat that is the norm for the franchise, there’s a chance you’ll appreciate the direction it takes. But just for the record, I do not recommend gathering a bunch of magnets in an attempt to carry your television like Magnemite. Safety first!