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Pikachu Genki Decho Preview

Publisher - Nintendo
Developer - Marigul
Platform - N64
Release Date - February 1999
Type - Simulation

Pikachu is bigger than Elvis -- well, at least in Japan. The yellow "monster" from Nintendo's Pokemon series took the hearts of Japanese gamers by storm when it debuted as one of hundreds of Pocket Monster creatures on the Game Boy in 1996. From there, Pikachu has taken over the shelves of retailers with dolls, puppets, posters, stamps, stationary, rings, clothes, and even stars in its own TV anime series. It's no surprise then that Nintendo is giving the cute little monster a new venue to express itself: Its own N64 game.

Pikachu is making his solo game debut in Pikachu Genki Dechu (which literally translated means "Pikachu is feeling fine"), a co-production of several companies including Nintendo, Umbrella (Marigul), Creatures and Game Freak. In essence, the game is a virtual pet simulator, much in the line of Bandai's Tamagotchi or the countless imitations it continues to spawn. But since this is Nintendo we're talking about, there is a special little twist. Like Star Fox and Pokemon Stadium, the cartridge will ship with an added hardware bonus that is vital to the underlying concept of the title: A voice recognition system.

This accessory consists of an ear phone with an attached microphone that connects to a voice recognition device. This in turn plugs into one of the N64's controller slots. Once you start up your N64 with the Pikachu cart, you are greeted by a colorful polygonal forest accompanied by the appropriate ambient effects and the usual dose of super happy music.

Using the analog stick, you maneuver through the forest until you find Pikachu, sound asleep on a tree trunk. This is where the microphone comes in -- simply call out Pikachu's name and the virtual creature will wake up and look at your in astonishment. Since you're dealing with a shy, wild animal it's vital to gain Pikachu's trust and make friends.

Pikachu and his environment are represented with great attention to detail. The polygonal Pikachu looks just like his anime counterpart. Depending on the creature's mood, Pikachu's face expresses sorrow, anger, happiness, or embarrassment (in addition to little "mood bubbles" that pop up over Pikachu's head). If left alone, the yellow monster will run around the forest examining things, sneezing its trademark 100,000 volt sneezes, and looking for something to play with while muttering things like "pika pika" under its breath. Very cute.

When Nintendo demonstrated the voice recognition device at the Nintendo Space World '97, Pikachu responded to several voice commands (both male and female). If you called Pikachu "baka!" (stupid), the creature would get angry, shout something back and run off into a different corner of the forest. Once Pikachu is angry, it will not listen to your commands and you need a lot of patience to gain its trust again. On the other hand, Pikachu would be really happy about friendly comments like "kawaii" (cute) and readily play ball when encouraged. Every time you say a word, the microphone icon in the lower right corner will light up and let you know whether the command was understood.

An odd concept for a game? Sure, but Nintendo didn't forget to include some puzzles, interesting quirks and hidden items for Pikachu (and you) to play with. For example, when Pikachu gets hungry, it will look up into a tree and discover an apple. Since the apple is to high up to reach, you will need to help Pikachu. Simply grab Pikachu's favorite toy -- the ball -- and throw it at the apple. If you're good, the apple will fall down right into Pikachu's waiting arms.

Just like other virtual pets, you will need to keep Pikachu happy by feeding it and keeping it entertained. As of yet, it is not known how many words Pikachu will understand or whether there are other environments waiting to be explored -- but there is no denying that the game is interesting to say the least.

If everything goes well, Pikachu will be let loose on Japanese gamers before the end of the year. Nintendo has yet to make an announcement for an international release of the game (or announce other titles using the voice recognition system), but if the upcoming US release of the Pokemon Game Boy series proves to be profitable, this strange gem of a title is almost guaranteed to make a splash over here. Look for more info soon.

Note: Pikachu's sad claim to fame in the United States has so far been limited to a number of news stories of epileptic attacks linked to the Pokemon TV anime in Japan. In that incident, which is in no way related to Nintendo or the N64 console, a series of red flashes triggered convulsions and nausea in children prone to epilepsy. Since then, the company responsible for the Nintendo-licensed show has removed the scene in question.