Pika! Pika pika? Piakachuuuuu! <For the sanity of the readers, the remainder of the article has been translated into English.> Pokemon for iPhone and iPad! If you’re of a certain age and were in any way interested in video games, odds are that the Pokemon bug bit you to some degree. Nintendo was maintaining a fairly solid dominance over mobile gaming (such as it was) with its series of GameBoy handhelds, and no game series was quite as popular as its flagship Pokemon franchise. No, you may not have been a “Poketot” or a “Lifer” (to use terms borrowed from this excellent Penny Arcade strip), but you were aware of it, and may even have enjoyed it (if even “ironically.”)
But as time goes on, those crazes from our youth become part of our nostalgia, even if they passed us by at the time. This is why I was quite glad to see the variety of Pokemon games and apps that are available for download on the iPhone and iPad.
It’s more important to master the cards you’re holding than to complain about the cards your opponents were dealt. — Grimsley
Pokemon for iPhone 6 & iPad
Now, as a quick disclaimer, I will say that the Pokemon game that you’re used to playing — the one that finds your ballcap-wearing stand-in wading through the grass trying to fill out his uncle’s Pokedex, the one that Twitch has been playing online for months now — is not available in an iOS version.
If this is the princess you want, it’s in another castle.*
*Yes, I know that’s from a different game/system/generation.
But there are four really interesting and distinct and official apps available for you iOS device (iPad or iPhone). A quick search through the App Store will reveal far more apps than just four, of course, but the vast majority of those are knockoffs, or else are unofficial utilities, like a Pokedex app or fan trivia quizzes. The official developer is “THE POKEMON COMPANY INTERNATIONAL, INC.” Although, one of the apps listed here is actually attributed to “The Pokemon Company” (no caps, no “international,” no “inc”), which I’m sure must have made things very awkward for someone at the office.
BOSS: Gary, did you submit Pokemon Shuffle to the app store like I said?
GARY: Sure thing, Boss. There it is.
BOSS: Wait… you listed the developer as “The Pokemon Company,” as opposed to “POKEMON COMPANY INTERNATIONAL, INC.”
GARY: Oh, is that the name we’re going with now? Nobody said.
BOSS: We’ve sent out numerous memos on the topic!
GARY: Oooh! I’ve been meaning to tell you — there’s a problem with the internal mail system. I’m only getting, like, every fifth email.
BOSS: Dammit, Gary, you gotta get ’em all!
GARY: Wait a minute, Boss! I figured out how we can fix this!
BOSS: I’m waiting…
GARY: What if we were a multimillion dollar company that made over $2 billion in a single year, selling one of the most popular game franchises based on a combination of adorable mascots and the fostering of obsessive collection behaviors.
BOSS: Oh, that’s right! I forgot about that! Looks like we’re gonna catch ’em coming and going either way you slice it. Good job, Gary!
So, given some inconsistent naming, as well as the App Store’s lamentable search algorithms, there are likely more official Pokemon apps out there than the four I’m covering, but I still stand by my contention that these four all represent unique corners of the iPad/iPhone/Pokemon field, and are a pretty representative sample of what’s out there.
Camp Pokemon (iPhone and iPad)
Camp Pokemon is about as close to the original Pokemon experience as any of these iOS apps are going to get. Like original Pokemon, you’ve got a space to explore, and you can discover a variety of Pokemon throughout the island.
This seems a little more mini-game focused that the original games, but there’s a good variety of Pokemon available. Some players may be put off by the 2D monsters in a 3D world design aesthetic of the game (it makes the entire experience feel like you’re in some kind of old-timey shooting gallery), but honestly, I like it. It’s a similar aesthetic to the Paper Mario games, which was a series of games that also managed to evoke a nostalgic fondness for a beloved franchise even while it took that franchise in another direction.
The collection mechanic that is central to the Pokeverse is alive and well here, but not just in terms of how you collect your Pocket Monsters. In addition to adding creatures to your arsenal, you also have a chance to collect “pins” and “stickers,” based on what obscure corners of the island your able to discover, or by completing specific actions. Pins live in your in-game pinbook, and are pretty much just achievements, but the stickers can be added to photos or videos that you take with your device’s camera.
There is presently no arena to speak of, so if you were hoping to train up your Pokemon and battle against your friends (or some randos in the Game Center), then you are out of luck. However, at this time, this is a free game with no in-app purchases, so if you’re looking for something to occupy a child’s time without coercing them to rack up insane credit-card bills on your device, then give this one a shot.
Pokemon Shuffle (iPhone and iPad)
First of all, make sure that you download Pokemon Shuffle released by “The Pokemon Company,” rather than any similarly named apps (such as the one that costs $5, and is just a strategy guide for the real one). The version of the game that I’m talking about is more or less “free” — which is to say that it doesn’t cost anything to download, but there are in-app purchases. Boy howdy are there in-app purchases!
Longtime readers of the site will know that I am not averse to the freemium game. I’ve racked up quite a few hours in both Boom Beach and Clash of Clans. I like these games because, unlike any other game in the App Store, you can actually try it out before you give any money (seriously — how hard would it be to implement a demo feature? How many developers can’t shift their games because there’s no choice between “leave to molder” and “purchase sight unseen”?). However, these games can be quite predatory when it comes to getting you to shell out real money for an in-game advantage.
Pokemon Shuffle is a pretty charming little match-3 puzzle game (get three of the same kind of icon in a row by swapping around tiles). You’re not just solving puzzles for their own sake — clearing the board of icons give you specific combat bonuses against monsters and bosses (the specific type of bonus to be decided by what sort of icons you’re matching). When you defeat a monster, there’s a chance of collecting it. However, after some introductory levels, the game quickly takes its gloves off. Bosses get ridiculously hard very quickly, and grinding against low-level baddies to gain levels and strength takes forever.
This is where the in-game currency comes in, because you can buy bonuses and advantages against these bosses. Now, this game isn’t the worst at its in-app purchases (that distinction belongs unequivocally to Fire Age), but it is a little sketchy for a game made to appeal to younger gamers as much as this one. And the exchange rate is insane, as one “Jewel” costs 99¢! Now, to be fair, you can advance without buying your way through, but it will just take a longer time. Much longer. So it really depends on how you view the game: if you’re thinking of it as a cute little puzzle game you can play on the toilet and, hey, occasionally you win a Pokemon (insert obligatory Squirtle joke), then the payment mechanic likely won’t be a problem. But if you’re the sort of obsessive completist that Pokemon appeals to so much (in fact, the sort of obsessive completist that Pokemon has contributed to making), then it might start to feel too exploitative for comfort.
Pokemon TV (iPhone and iPad)
Perhaps you enjoyed Pokemon primarily as the Saturday morning cartoon, rather than the series of games. If so, Pokemon TV is the app for you. To put it simply, this app is a large collection of clips and even complete episodes from the various Pokemon cartoons. It even works with the iPad Screencast function, so you can watch it on your Apple TV. It’s basically YouTube for Pokemon videos. And it’s free! There are no in-app purchases of any kind! Granted, this does not have all of the episodes (so it’s better at scratching your Pokemon itch than it is for binge watching every episode), and some of the episodes and clips are mislabeled, but I think this can largely be excused because, as I said, this app is FREE!
Pokemon TCG Online (iPad only)
This is the one that I was interested in, because I’ve always been a fan of CCG (Collectible Card Games, though this game chooses to identify as a TCG, Trading Card Game). Magic the Gathering, Hearthstone, Yu-Gi-Oh, I’m always up to try out a new one, as they all have distinct mechanics and strategies. Also, the iPad is a perfect means of engaging with these, because you can start playing for free and see how you like it, as opposed to having to shell out a few bucks for a “starter set” (which will not by any means be competitive) just to try it out.
Of course, CCGs on the iPad always have a paid element, and Pokemon TCG is by no means an exception. While you can usually win new cards just by playing (specifically, by winning), it is usually a slow grind. (And some games, like Hearthstone, update so often that by the time you make any headway towards a complete library of cards, suddenly there’s another 100+ cards for you to get). But I’m going to give this payment mechanic a pass for a couple of reasons: First, it’s par for the CCG course. Second, CCG fans usually skew a little older than consumers of these other games, so players are more likely to be making informed, mature decisions about their purchases.
If you’ve played the meatspace version of Pokemon TCG, you won’t find any surprises here, as this plays just the same as its physical counterpart. True to form for most CCG apps, there are AI opponents as well as the option to battle against real players. At the moment, the main problem is that there are some connectivity issues. Many users report their games getting dropped, or the app freezing up in mid battle. This is not indicative of the lion’s share of players, but it is something to be aware of — maybe play it consistently for a couple of weeks before making any in-game purchases, if any, to make sure that you’re going to be good with this, because I’ll tell you, this game has some very specific hardware demands for an iPad game. You specifically need an iPad with Retina display, so older generations of the iPad are already not supported.
But, as I said, the game is free to download, so go ahead and give it a try.
Those are a few apps that Pokemon-loving readers may be interested in. But perhaps there are others I’ve overlooked, or perhaps you’d like to add to my observations on these four. Please leave a comment with your own experiences with the apps, or just some of your favorite Pokemon memories.