Updated: Jan 21
A fan-made VR game that proves alpha can be worth it
Played on: Oculus Quest 2
Platforms: Rift/s, HTC Vive, Windows Mixed Reality, ValveIndex
Genre: MMO, VR, fan-game
Developer: Pokémon VR
Release: April 17, 2020
There are quite a few games that have become household names, but probably none so much as Pokemon. Almost as big today as it was when I was six, there are few avenues that Pokemon has left unexplored in the realm of what Nintendo allows.
But what Nintendo allows is still a narrower window than what Pokemon could be.
This is why so many dedicated fans of the franchise have taken the existing material and spun it in a direction they would like to see. This encompasses hacks of existing games, entirely new games built with RPGmaker, and even a small few online MMO attempts (usually with the overworld graphics of previous games). I have an eternal library of these I could recommend if anyone is interested, but I am here today to talk about one in particular that is the most unique in my mind.
Pokemon VR is still in alpha stage. As admitted by the developers, there is a lot of work to do yet. But what is there is enough to be excited about. Especially with the thought of what could be.
Even though getting used to anime graphics in the first person was a trippy experience. Especially for a player like myself, not yet a VR veteran.
Pre-existing pokemon knowledge is a requirement
One thing older fans of the Pokemon franchise will be happy to hear is that the map and ‘story’ for Pokemon VR is taken directly from the first gen games. This means that you get to choose your starter Pokemon from Professor Oak, and leave for your adventure from Pallet town which is exciting to do in first person.
However for those who may not have played these games or Let’s Go Eevee/Pikachu, prepare to be confused. This alpha version has a huge amount of features built in already that I can’t believe were fan-made. The story and guidance features are apparently the last that will be put in.
After Oak gives his spiel and you choose your Pokemon, that is where any and all guidance ends. You are released into Pallet town with no information on where you are going or what to do. Or in-game tutorial.
Thankfully the Quest 2 controllers are surprisingly similar to Nintendo’s current Switch button layout so if you are used to that it will be intuitive enough to get used to moving around.
As someone who has played the original games to death, it was very obvious to me to head to Viridian city, then Pewter city to get a badge and continue on. But you are not told to do this.
Professor Oak never even gave me the customary 5 Pokeball head start. Because Professor Oak does not speak at all, in speech bubble form or audibly, once you finish picking your starter Pokemon. In fact, other NPCs don’t speak at all once you are in-game so I would advise keeping your headset active to communicate with other players if you want any grounding.
This game will be more accessible to newer players as it is developed, but for now, I would advise to only play if you are confident in your pre-existing knowledge of where to go and what to do.
It’s the little things
There are a huge amount of features built into this game, especially for an alpha version.
Like in any MMO, you can talk to other players. But they have also built in a lot of traditional things you expect to see in a Pokemon game. You can trade with other players, battle them, and catch Pokemon from generations 1 through to 7.
In the picture above you will see a standard battlefield. This took me a few seconds to figure out. Unlike the traditional Pokemon battle system, your choices are timed and you must choose your attack within 30 seconds. This is plenty of time, but it can be difficult to spot the counter.
A fun quirk of battle that I enjoyed is that you select your Pokemon’s moves from a holographic projection on your wrist. It took me a while to spot it at first, I walked around the battlefield letting my poor Bulbasaur get attacked over and over again until I realised what I had floating over my wrist. I don’t know about you, but I typically walk with my hands at my sides. I probably should have read a tutorial or two before jumping in, but once I got used to being observant regarding my own physical body it got easier to figure things out.
After figuring out that my wrist contained this magical watch, it opened up even more aspects of the game. You can change your own game character (you are automatically assigned Ash in the beginning) to choose between one of forty character designs from games and the series. This is also how you access your bag, your pokemon, and other features of the game.
While discovering different features of this game was great fun, one of my favourite moments playing this game happened when I was wandering past Diglett Cave and approached by an American child who must have had too much time on his hands. Apparently, a common pastime in this community for the younger players (I have confirmed this since with a few other older players so I now know it wasn’t just someone trying to steal my under-levelled Bulbasaur) is to offer to trade with us ‘oldies’ and level up our Pokemon and trade them back later so we can progress without wasting too much grinding in our spare time. Not directly gaming-related I know, but as a female gamer it is one of the incredibly few sweet online experiences I have had so I wanted to share. The community for this game is pretty decent, hopefully it doesn’t change too much as the game gathers traction.
“I stared into the eyes of death… and I blinked first”
Getting used to the anime graphics in a first-person setting was So. Much. Fun.
I was that kid that wanted to live in the world of the cartoons I watched and the games I played. While approaching wild Pokemon will bring you into a battlefield, there is another fun feature of your magic wristwatch. Floating on your wrist is the option to pick up one of your Pokeballs that contains your Pokemon. If you throw this on the floor your Pokemon will appear and follow you wherever you go.
I spent a lot of time walking circles around my Pokemon and examining it from a few angles. While they don’t blink or have any movement-based quirks, it was bizarre to see a Pokemon inches from my face. A throwback to the excitement I felt when Pokemon Go first came out.
It was similarly disconcerting to walk into a Pokemon Center and stare Nurse Joy in her soulless, unblinking, eyes. She does not speak or have any written dialogue yet, so the player’s actions require raising your hand and pointing at her with a click of a button. Your Pokeballs appear in the healing machine behind her and spin, all while you stare directly into her unblinking anime eyes.
This game is hilariously fun for fans of the Pokemon Franchise right now. When it is developed past alpha stage I think it will be fun for everyone.
I loved the feeling of being in an anime, which took a while to get used to but I am excited for when more RPGs or even JRPGs may come to the Quest 2. If someone managed to make Ni no Kuni, with the amazing Studio Ghibli watercolour-like graphics, for the Quest I may die of happiness.
So far the Quest 2 is restricted largely to mini-game-like titles such as Beat Saber, a few horror games, and first-person shooters. The VR world could use a few RPGs, Half-life Alyx is the closest to an RPG that I know of but it is still a first-person shooter. This fan-made alpha-stage game is giving me hope that it could work. My brand of games has a chance of being brought successfully to the VR world. Hopefully, producers and publishers agree.
Play this game if...
You own an Oculus Quest/Quest 2
You remember the overall plot/map direction of Pokemon games set in the Kanto region enough to travel the map without prompts.
You ever wanted to see an (almost) real-life Pokemon with your own eyes
You understand what playing a game in ‘alpha’ stage means and are not expecting a fully completed game (yet).
All images are screenshots taken from the promotional video here.
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