I like visual novels, and I briefly talked about the very first VN I played when I reviewed Time Hollow. But the more I thought about it, my mind kept coming back to an even earlier example I played when I was little. That game happens to be the notorious Hey You, Pikachu! for the N64. It was released in America in 2000, when the Pokemon rage was running in full force. Naturally, I had to get the game, but I got was slightly different from anything I could have imagined.
As a kid, all I ever knew about Pokemon was that they needed to battle each other, or at the very least play competitive mini-games such as the likes in Pokemon Stadium. This game, however, was completely out of my comfort zone. I can’t exactly remember my reaction, and hell, I might have been very excited to talk to Pikachu for the first time. Though in the end, the game turned out to be a frustrating experience to say the least.
Hey You, Pikachu! is the only game in the US to make use of the N64’s Voice Recognition Unit, VRU, (i.e. that stick with the fluffy yellow Pikachu fur). However, descendants have been observed in the form of the mic for Mario Party 6 as well as the mics for the DS and 3DS. To put it bluntly, the VRU did not work. Either that, or I was just terrible at giving orders to Pikachu, but I’m pretty confident that if I were to pull out that game today, the results would probably be no different.
Still, despite the frustrating play mechanics, I poured hours into the game if not just for the great atmosphere. This was the very first (and only) time we got to explore a Pokemon world in 1st-person 3-D, predating most FPS-shooters. Well, I guess there’s Pokemon Channel, but that was a little different. The variety of activities you could partake in were just as enjoyable, ranging from cooking contests to babysitting Caterpies to the ball-busting pinata game. Every game required you to give vocal directions to Pikachu because it apparently can’t do anything by itself.
Oh wait, if that were the case I think things would have been much easier. The most challenging part of the game was when Pikachu went off to try to do things by itself, often causing more trouble than anything. This includes getting the wrong ingredient or blowing it up with electricity. Thankfully, I think it’s impossible to get mad at it just because of how cute it is.
My personal favorite activities were always the “Field Trip” and “A Pokemon Picnic.” In the former, you would follow Pikachu around and pretty much just screw around an admittedly nice looking field. In this area, you could attempt to water all of the Oddish’s to make them evolve or hunt for rare gems. You could take a peek into Abra’s shop, on the off chance some rare item upgrades appeared.
The latter has you going around with Pikachu in a forest to collect ingredients for Bulbasaur’s picnic. First of all, why can’t Magnemite (who collects the stuff you’ve picked up) just get it himself. Second of all, Pikachu is a pretty terrible artist. It tries to draw each ingredient that has to be collected, but usually they’re fairly indiscernible. I think my worst memories involve telling Pikachu that it has the wrong ingredient and looking helplessly on as it unabashedly thrusts the damn thing into the sky against my wishes to have that freaking Magnemite take it to Bulbasaur to prepare what can only be assumed to be, at that point, a pretty shitty meal.
So I said early on that this game is related to visual novels, right? Well…if you replace Pikachu with a girl that you suddenly find in the woods who ends up living in your house, it kind of makes sense. I mean, I would hope that a human being would be a little more intelligent at least, but you get what I mean. Also, the ending to this game is probably the most VN-like thing ever, and I was too young to realize it. Basically, Pikachu gets mad one day and runs away. You, being the man you are, then have to follow it around in a box to make sure it’s okay. In the end, the two of you make up and then the credits roll. Yeah, if that’s not a VN I don’t know what is.
Also, take a listen to some of the music, like the Springfield Leaf theme or the Ochre Woods theme. Maybe I’m just crazy, but if you just close your eyes I think it totally sounds it be playing over a classroom scene in a visual novel of some sort. I’m also not trying to imply that I ever wanted to date Pikachu or anything, it’s just something interesting I realized.