Pokémon is a worldwide phenomenon but in its birthplace of Japan it takes on even more significance. Pokémon seems enshrined within the pop cultural norm with everything from curry to airlines featuring Pokémon branding. The center of all things Pokémon is of course the Pokémon Center. Being a resident of New York for all my life I have vague memories of my mother taking my brother and me to the Pokémon Center in New York back when we were tots. The Pokémon Center is no longer there - it's now the site of the Nintendo World Store - but the retail outlet is alive and well in Japan with six locations spread throughout the country. I took the time out to check out the Pokémon Center Tokyo.
Gamers around the world wait with great anticipation for the worldwide launch of Pokémon X and Pokémon Y this fall for the Nintendo 3DS. The Pokémon Center is doing its part in drumming up excitement for the title. Screens and speakers throughout the store periodically display the latest information and trailers about X and Y. I do not think I learned anything at the Pokémon Center about the game that is not already widely available on the internet though. The trailer showed off the new Fairy type of Pokémon and their super effectiveness over the previously overpowered Dragon type. It also showed a new feature where you can pet your Pokémon using the touch screen and give it various accessories a la Nintendogs. Needless to say the game seems to be everything Pokémon fans want and more from the first iteration on the 3DS. Pokémon X and Y launch worldwide this October.
Of course games are on sale at the Pokémon Center as well. A wall by the entrance holds placement cards representing various Pokémon game products. You can buy games ranging from Diamond and Pearl on the Nintendo DS, to Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Magnagate and the Infinite Labyrinth and just about every game released in between. You can also buy limited edition Pokémon branded DS and 3DS handhelds, as well as the Basic and Premium Wii U Bundles. The games are not displayed in actual cases, rather you have to take the product card to the cashier to complete your purchase.
There is also an area dedicated to playing the Pokémon Trading Card game and even an instructor that will give you tips on how to play. Of course thousands of Pokémon Trading Card packs are up for sale in 5 card packs that cost from 158 Yen to 1000 Yen. Japan has a large variety of Trading card games and it seems that new ones keep popping up all the time. It is nice to see that after all these years Pokémon cards have held their own in terms of endurance.
Separated from the main retail space of the Pokémon Center is the Union Room. The Union Room seems to be a place for trainers to wait and interact with each other through battles, trades, and the like. There are two service counters where you can buy advance tickets to the latest Pokémon movie, releasing this July in Japan.
The Union Room is also where I got to try out an arcade exclusive Pokémon experience by the name of Pokémon Tretta. There are signs around the machines that prohibit taking pictures of the game while in action, however. The arcade cabinet stands straight with the screen embedded within a giant pokeball at the top of the unit. There is a Pokeball button in the space between the screen and the tabletop setup. Below the Pokeball button is a dial that you use to cycle through various menu options. On either side of the tabletop are buttons you use to confirm your choices. The tabletop has various areas to place the special Pokémon cartridges that form the backbone of the gameplay.
Be aware that I approached Pokémon Tretta having no understanding of what type of game it is and barely being able to understand the Japanese instructions. With that in mind I hope my preview does the game justice. The arcade cabinet accepts 100 Yen coins (about $1 USD) and once you insert it you are allowed to select what type of game you want to play. I selected the first option which brought me to a radar screen of sorts showing a map and pictures of the types of Pokémon residing there. Using the arcade dial, I circled over to the west side of the map and selected the Pokémon I wanted to go after. At this the game prompted me to place any of the special Pokémon cartridges and I had to choose which Pokémon I would use in game. Since it was my first time playing the game I did not have any Pokémon of my own, but thankfully the game provided me with a random team of three to use: Meowth, Foongus, and, of course, Pikachu.
Next I encountered a trio of wild Pokémon: Charizard, Braviary, and Fraxure. In comparison my team did not seem good enough and I started to resent the game for giving me such lousy Pokémon. Nevertheless it was time to battle and try to catch the wild Pokémon. The battle was 3 vs. 3 with all six Pokémon on-screen at once. I got to make the first move. Using the dial I selected Pikachu to attack first. A spinning roulette appeared that represented the possible moves and amount of damage they would deal. I had to press the button at the right time to select the most effective move. I landed on Iron Tail and Pikachu proceeded to attack all three opponents. After that Charizard assaulted my team with Flamethrower causing my Pikachu to faint. The battle continued in that vain until all of my Pokémon fainted. Rather than a game over screen, though, the game presented me with another roulette screen featuring various types of Pokeballs. I pressed the center Pokeball button and was lucky enough to land on a Hyper ball. To my surprise I caught all three Pokémon. The game then asked me to select one of the 3 Pokémon I had just caught to add to my collection. I picked Charizard and out popped a yellow cartridge featuring Charizard on the front and various stats on the back. For another 100 Yen I could select from the other two Pokémon and suddenly the purpose of the game became clear. You can pay for and collect all the Pokémon you come across and carry your collection of cartridges to arcades to continue at your will. I saw a little boy at the machine next to me bring a case featuring about 30 cartridges to play with. This actually seems like an ingenious way to bring the collecting aspect of Pokémon to arcades. How many Pokémon are there again? 649 and counting? That is a lot of Yen.