Monday, October 14, 2013

The Wonder that is Pokémon Roulette

It’s been a while since I’ve done an initial release of anything that didn’t involve Amazon delivering to my door or Steam delivering to my hard drive. The last time I think was when I camped out at -5C/23F in the parking lot of Best Buy to be one of the first people to pick up a Wii. I say “camped out” in the loosest of terms here. I was in University at the time, and I had my foam base and sleeping bag, but there was nary a wink of sleep to be had. Not only was it flipping cold, but there were people singing Zelda and Mario tunes at the top of their lungs (I may have joined in). Nintendo fans are the best fans. I’ve done Xbox stuff, PC stuff, PlayStation stuff, but Nintendo events have some of the nicest people in my personal experience.

I was in that freezing parking lot for a good twelve hours until the doors opened at 10 AM, and was the twentieth person at that store to have a Wii, despite having a crappy little 12 inch CRT to play it on. I set it up, played a single game of Wii Tennis, and then promptly passed out until that evening.

Line for Pokémon XY. Pretty quick.
This time I participated in the Pokémon XY release. There were probably about a hundred people there, but thankfully GameStop had a slightly more sane way of doing the midnight release than having people camp out all day. In fact, I didn’t arrive until about 11:45 PM. I paid, got my receipt, and twenty minutes later left with my very own copy of Pokémon X.
There’s a lot of things about Pokémon I could talk about. Like how the series has stayed close to its core game play, evolving rather than revolutionizing, and this series is no different. Or how I love the new graphics, and how awesome it is to finally see a lot of the monsters in fully animated 3D glory for the first time since Pokémon Coliseum--at least, for me, since I only really played the handheld games, not the companion games. Instead I want to talk about a new feature that’s straightforward, yet quite interesting.

Swarms of Psyduck aren't precisely menacing.
Also, trying to get a screenshot from a 3DS is annoying.
It’s called Wonder Trade.

The premise is exceedingly simple: you put a Pokémon--any Pokémon you have--up for a random trade online. The system takes it, picks a person who also happens to be performing a Wonder Trade at that moment, and swaps your monsters.

So far I’ve gotten a couple of relatively uncommon monsters that would have taken me a few more hours into the game to find, which has given me more options for my team. Once the Pokémon I received came with a rare item (a Rare Candy, even the item name tells you how often you’ll see it). Other cases I’ve gotten my hands on a monster that was infected with Pokérus--a virus that increases the stat growth of any Pokémon who are infected so they can reach their maximum potential twice as fast. Given that in a normal game you have a 3 in 65,536 chance of running into this anytime you catch or breed a new monster (and I’ve seen it precisely once having played and beaten eight Pokémon games since the virus was introduced), this is an incredible and helpful way to see this occur.

There are a large number of stories on GameFaqs as well where people have received other rare or unique Pokémon. Legendries, starters (which you can only get one per game), and hard-to-find monsters have all been seen. I’ve seen plenty of trades where I’d put up something as common as a Pikachu, and get back something equally as common. But even then, you still get a critter from a foreign country. I’ve gotten multiple creatures from Germany and Japan so far, which is pretty damn cool. And even then you get points based on how far people are from you when you interact with and can use to buy items to help you in game, rewarding you for using this service.

Finally, after the Wonder Trade, this person becomes an “acquaintance,” and you can optionally interact with them further, like thanking them for putting something super cool into the system.

It’s a system that could be rife with abuse, nothing but Caterpie and Pidgey all over the place, but people have been using it to make the game world a better place for others. It’s like Pokémon roulette, but I find myself winning more often than losing, and wanting to pay it forward by putting other awesome creatures into the system for others.

I can’t think of another game off the top of my head that does this. MMOs certainly don’t. It’d be nigh unthinkable to have a system like this in WoW. I’m not sure I’d have enough faith in the playerbase to actually treat it as a way to pay it forward, to put more into the system than you’re getting back, which in turn should make the system better for all. A positive feedback loop, if you will. Or on Xbox Live, the hive of villainy that service often is. But who knows what Wonder Trade will look like in a few months, when the furor of the game has died down a little and folks are well into the endgame. Will we see even more awesome critters, or will the system have petered out? I’m not sure, but it’s definitely something to watch.

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