Pokémon Pinball 25th Anniversary – Celebrating The Iconic Game Boy Color Game

25 years ago to this very day, a game dropped into North America that changed the way gamers used their Game Boy Colours entirely. Not only did Pokémon fans get to experience a new way of catching Pokèmon, but they did it with an added rumble too. Pokémon Pinball was, and still is, a revolutionary game that we simply cannot get enough of; it’s hard to put down, immersive, and one of the most exciting handheld titles around. The fact that we’re celebrating the 25th Anniversary of Pokémon Pinball makes me feel very old, but I’ll try to keep that under wraps for now…

Can you imagine what it felt like to open up a Game Boy Colour game that required a battery in it to make it work? All that time putting in flat cartridges to play our favourite Game Boy Color titles and DMG classics, and suddenly we get a mammoth cartridge that, at the time, felt like something had dropped straight out of the future. I’m just surprised it actually came with a battery too; these days you’re lucky if you get a plug or a USB cable with devices, so that was a real stroke of luck back then!

These days, we tend to play Pokémon Pinball on the Analogue Pocket as it’s just the best way to play any old Game Boy game, and Pika and his pals look incredible on it still. Here’s a brief history of the game to kick off its birthday celebrations in style, celebrating 25 years of an iconic title that, whenever we were bored of getting attacked by wild critters in tall grass, was always there to keep us occupied.

Gotta Pinball ‘Em All!

Pokémon Pinball launched in Japan in April 1999 but found widespread acclaim when it fell into gamers’ hands on this very day 25 years ago in the United States. Pokémon Red and Blue had arrived in the US 9 months previously, giving kids enough chance to get completely smitten with the Pocket Monsters and their antics.

Pokemon was a brand that in the beginning, took a while to get adults in the United States on board, mainly due to the fact that they were so exasperated trying to find the merchandise for their children. Kids went crazy for the Pocket Monsters in every way shape and form, trading cards in the playground, watching the show, and playing the Game Boy games.

While we were all used to catching and trading Pokémon, the idea of catching Pokémon on a Pinball machine was completely different. And you know what, I’ve searched the internet for hours this morning preparing for this article and can find very few traces of this game in the magazines and news publications of the day still around for people to read. The LA Times had a great write-up that has since disappeared, with the only real nod to this game at the time of release that we can still see online being a few paragraphs on IGN from 1999 about the game coming to stores, something I find amazing from a title that sold over 5.3 million units over its lifetime.

Mixed Reactions To Pokémania

Pokémon Power advert Roys R Us
The initial adverts that tempted young gamers in the United States into the world of Pokémon.
Credit: OmicronGR

I think, for many reviewers, that it might simply have been too much of a new fad for them to fully get behind at the time of release. The San Jose Mercury Times stated ‘Let’s be clear from the outset: I’m neither for or against anything Pokemon. It’s a polarizing phenomenon, no question. You’re either caught up in some aspect of Pokemon madness — in most cases because you were sucked in by some child in your life — or you’ve rejected all the cartoons, toys and games as another example of junk culture run amok.

The following year when people realised Pokémon was here to stay and with the imminent arrival of the game on UK Shores, sites like GameSpot gave a more positive spin (pun intended) on the title, stating that ‘Pokemon Pinball manages the impossible by being more than a shameless cash-in on the Pokemon phenomenon. In fact, it’s one of the best pinball games on the machine. How can anyone refuse such a tasty combination?’

pokemon pinball

The combination is indeed tasty, and Nintendo made a clever move by giving Pokémon the pinball treatment as people didn’t necessarily need to understand the world of Pokémon in order to enjoy it. What’s more, it was an easy way for people to get into the Pokémon phenomenon for people who didn’t understand evolving or Paralyze Heals but knew where they stood with a Pinball table.

A Pokédex Pinball Wizard

So what’s the premise of Pokémon Pinball? Players hit targets with a Pokéball to earn points and, when hitting small versions of Pokémon, can catch them and add them to the Pokédex. Hit triggers so send your Pokéball flying and feel the added rumble through the cartridge! The better you play, the more epic Pokémon you’ll find. There was also the option to trade high scores through infrared too (high tech huh?) and print them out using a Game Boy Printer too!

pokemon pinball in an Analogue Pocket

One of the best parts, however, was that players had to play on either a blue or red pinball field to get all of the Pokémon, just like completing your Pokédex by playing both Pokémon Red & Blue. I also loved the bonus stages where you had to hit featured Pokémon, especially Gengar and Mewtwo!

The sequel to the original Pokémon Pinball, Pokemon Pinball: Ruby & Sapphire came out 4 years later in 2003, dropping in a time where everyone had finally been won over by Pika and his pals. In fact, when you search for Pokémon Pinball, it’s Ruby & Sapphire that comes up the most. It still has a Metacritic rating of 81, whereas the original Pokémon Pinball seems to be absent from the site altogether!

A Real-life Pokémon Pinball Machine

Rumours about a real-life Pokémon Pinball machine coming from pinball-makers Stern have been doing the rounds for many years now, and a recent comment on their website from May of this year has given fans some hope that the rumours might soon become a reality. They’ve got John Wick and Jaws, so why not add arguably the most popular videogaming franchise of all time into the mix.

When one user asked the company, ‘When will we get Pokémon!!!’ the company answered ‘stay tunedddd’. I don’t want to say that that’s as good as ‘word from the horse’s mouth’ sealing the deal, but it’s definitely some justification from all of the people getting excited about the rumours of the years.

We can be sure of one thing – 25 years ago, Pokémon Pinball captured the hearts and minds of gamers everywhere. All it took was two games (and admittedly one of the world’s biggest franchises), and it’s left an impression ever since! So, from all of us at Retro Dodo, Happy 25th Birthday Pokémon Pinball, and here’s to 25 more years of excitement from you!

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