A Glance at the Past: Hey You, Pikachu! (N64)

When people say that something is ahead of its time, they usually say it as a form of praise towards something that is revolutionary or groundbreaking. Hey You, Pikachu! is ahead of its time for sure, but not really in a good way. Considering the fact that even now Siri and other voice recognition programs will sometimes have difficulty gleaning intent and meaning from what people say to them, a game for the Nintendo 64 using a microphone attachment was certainly not going to work as well as anyone could have hoped for. Still, despite the technological limitations that held it back, Hey You, Pikachu! could have certainly turned out much, much worse than what we did end up getting.

 

Hey You, Pikachu! is essentially a virtual pet game wherein a wild electric mouse Pokémon called Pikachu can be interacted with by way of your real voice. In the game, a Pokémon researcher by the name of Professor Oak contacts you to test out his new device that lets you speak to Pokémon, which you test out by speaking to a wild Pikachu. Over time, you will talk more and more to it, using a real life microphone attachment to give it commands, praise it, scold it, but more often than not, struggle to get it to respond as you want it to. Pikachu does have its own ideas of what it wants to do and depending on where you are in the game, he may be a bit more of a free spirit or might be willing to follow your instructions to a T. It would be difficult to ascribe any sort of personality to the little guy, unless you consider “playful” as a character defining trait or “easily distracted”. He can laugh, get angry, play tricks… but no personality is really cemented since these just crop up randomly if you let Pikachu do his own thing.

While I am not too big a fan of Pokémon’s big mascot myself, I definitely wasn’t immune to the appeal of Pikachu in this game. When Pikachu is cooperating, he’s decent enough to interact with, and there are more than a few moments that were so cute that it broke through any barriers my grown-up heart had built… not that I’m usually too resistant to cute things in general though. This game is admittedly designed specifically for kids, the box even saying that people ages 12 or younger should be the ones playing it and warning the microphone is not designed for anyone older, but Pikachu surprisingly had little issue understanding me. I spoke in my normal voice, pitched it up and down, put on different accents and mispronounced things… but Pikachu usually was pretty sharp when knowing what I was saying. That’s not to say it’s absolutely perfect at understanding you though. I had to repeat myself a few times on occasion, especially when what Pikachu needed to do wasn’t straightforward. Pikachu won’t understand complex commands of course, and most of the time, the game is tipping things strongly towards what it wants to hear. During the Pokémon Quiz minigame where you have to shout out the names of Pokémon as they are shown to you, I was able to get right answers just by making noises that vaguely sounded like the names. The big problems come when there are multiple words that share similar noises. “Okay” and “No” can confuse Pikachu, as it’ll hear the strong “O” sound of “okay” and sometimes misinterpret it, and “Come Here” or “Over Here” apparently sound a bit too much like Pikachu’s “Thunder” attack, so you need to find workarounds and other terms that won’t confuse your little friend. I went with just “kay” after realizing this and would just say Pikachu’s name when I wanted it to come to me, and those changes seemed to fix the issues there.

 

As for what you can do with Pikachu in this game, the game starts off pretty well in giving you a sequence of different ways to play together. These include but aren’t limited to a babysitting mission where you care for some caterpillar Pokémon, a pinata game where you have to instruct Pikachu on how close he is to the pinata, and some simple treasure hunting on an island. Fishing, I feel, is the standout of the things you can do with Pikachu for a very simple reason: Pikachu is incredibly responsive. In most of your play days, Pikachu can decide he wants to do something and wander off or just outright refuse to do what you tell him at times, and while the later levels have him respond to you far better, fishing is the only one where he’ll do exactly what you say. Couple the responsiveness with some simple goal oriented play of catching larger catches and different species and you’ve got what feels like the only type of gameplay that is enhanced through the microphone as it adds a special level of challenge to an otherwise straightforward task.

The other levels are where the voice recognition can be an issue. There are three types of levels: Pikachu’s Play Days, Pikachu’s Discovery Days, and Pikachu’s Daring Days. These almost could be seen as difficulty markers, but the big problem with that is even though you play Pikachu’s Play Days first, Pikachu is less responsive and you have less ways of interacting with him during it. You can revisit these levels later any time, but even after you get better controls and new items, you’re limited to what you had the first time you dropped by, making the Play Days some of the least fun ones to play! Strangely, when the game starts out, you as the player are locked to be staring at Pikachu at all times. Your movement is entirely based on his position, and you must walk in circles around him or back away to get around areas. You later unlock the ability to roam freely and look around, which is a godsend since the Pikachu-centric view grows nauseating quite easily. An even better addition I find though is your ability to point at objects. You can always technically do this as a way of reading descriptions of the objects you find in the levels, but later on Pikachu will take a special interest in things you are pointing at even if you don’t call them out vocally. You also later get a toolbox where you can store toys and other objects that you can engage Pikachu with, although Pikachu has some strange interactions with certain items. One time, I tossed him a beach ball toy and he decided he wanted to eat it! You can also bring home things you find on your adventures to earn money for a shop to buy more toys and treats for Pikachu. Holding items is also a pretty good way of making Pikachu take interest in them, turning levels that are needlessly annoying in Play Days into more manageable levels in their harder equivalents from Discovery Days and Daring Days.

 

Discovery Days and Daring Days are only really harder than Play Days because more complex tasks are required of you, but since you are better equipped and Pikachu will listen better, they aren’t nearly as bad as the Play Days. That’s not to say Pikachu is ever a perfect listener. He can get it in his head he wants to do something and will completely ignore what you are saying to go do it. He’ll fall asleep, jump around, or just generally waste time, which can really hurt as some levels seem far too short before you’re booted out and others far too long if Pikachu messed something up. In the picnic levels especially Pikachu is particularly fickle. You need to gather ingredients to help make a meal, and it almost feels like Pikachu is programmed to pick up the one ingredient there is only one single instance of in the forest and gobble it up. Most of Pikachu’s misbehaving just leads to you standing around and watching him do something he’ll do again and again over the course of the game, but the picnic problems mean the day is ruined essentially. Pikachu also will later develop a bad habit of deciding one day you will not get to pick what you two are going to do together as he will instead steal the device that lets you talk to him and you are forced to shout at him with a megaphone to get it back. If this mission was mandatory once and then repeatable for fun it wouldn’t be so bad, but Pikachu will do it every few days, interrupting whatever plans you might have like going for the fishing flag by catching 6 Pokémon in one day. Funnily enough, the one problem with fishing I find is when Pikachu has caught 5 Pokémon, he likes to take a break and turn to you for no reason, running down the clock on the visit to the fishing hole which the time spent there is already pretty tight.

 

The strangest thing of all though has to be the requirements to trigger the ending… which there doesn’t seem to be a clear way of doing. Most internet sources say it will happen after 365 days of playing with Pikachu, but after over 400 days it still didn’t trigger. Another suggested that you needed to say at least 2,500 things to Pikachu, which failed to trigger it as well. Not only did these not work, but I’ve found people who have triggered the ending without meeting either requirement, so the way of doing so seems a mystery most people stumble into by accident. Were either of these accurate though, it would certainly mean the ending would be robbed of some of its intended emotional weight since no one would encounter it in normal play for how far off those goalposts are.

THE VERDICT: As a virtual pet game, Hey You, Pikachu! fails pretty badly. Pikachu cannot be trained or influenced, he just acts a certain way in every stage that regresses or progresses depending on how you chose to play it. His electrical attacks have minimal implementation and although he is more intelligent than a dog or other pet, he’s perhaps too close to human level intelligence that it’s only annoying when he deviates from doing things intelligently. There are no worries about having to treat him well either. One day during the treasure hunt Pikachu got separated from me and the game was having an incredibly hard time trying to get him over to me, frustrating Pikachu as a penalty for the game’s own bad path-finding. Even at the minimum mood meter though, Pikachu was happy as ever the next day, meaning care wasn’t really required much either. The areas you play in with Pikachu are either open-ended levels with barely anything to do or goal-oriented levels where Pikachu’s limited vocabulary and temperament might sabotage the level at any moment. No matter how cute Pikachu is at times, the limitations of the interaction method and the rather shallow levels to play in significantly hurt this game’s appeal.

 

And so, I give Hey You, Pikachu! for the Nintendo 64…

A BAD rating. Hey You, Pikachu! is a novelty. Speaking to a Pokémon and getting direct responses is interesting on paper, but the game it takes place in is limited both by hardware and design choices. Pikachu can’t respond to enough of what you’re saying accurately and the game tries to fill space with random actions to mask that. You can have a bit of fun playing it for a while, but it’s a short and vapid experience outside of some moments like interacting with other Pokémon and the fishing minigames. Hey You, Pikachu!’s voice recognition surprisingly isn’t its flaw as the game is pretty good at sussing out what you’re saying so long as it’s one of the words it knows and Pikachu isn’t arbitrarily disobeying at the time, and the game even makes sure you know many words that do work by highlighting them in red in text boxes or suggesting them through hints and the manual.

 

It’s an idle amusement that will only entertain kids for a bit and adults hardly at all, but it’s disingenuous to say a game is good if you decide to shut it off after only playing the early parts. The controls even hamper those early parts significantly, and while I do think Pikachu manages to stay likeable throughout, the game is the one that draws your ire as it restrains you from properly interacting with this cute yellow critter.

 

There are better virtual pet games out there and ones not limited by bad microphone integration, so it’s for the best that you just say “Goodbye, Pikachu”.

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3 thoughts on “A Glance at the Past: Hey You, Pikachu! (N64)

  • January 3, 2018 at 8:10 pm
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    The pains of having rose-tinted glasses sometimes…

    I loved this game as a kid, mostly because I didn’t have many friends and I loved the heck outta Pikachu. But unfortunately, this game is better enjoyed as it was during childhood than when you’re older. Especially with some of the more frustrating things… Maybe I got through it because I was a very determined kid.

    They did attempt something like this again… without the whole mic thing. Perhaps you know of a game called… Pokemon Channel?

    Maybe later down the line, you could get your hands on it and review it? :U

    Reply
    • January 3, 2018 at 8:16 pm
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      I really am interested in Pokemon Channel even knowing what the gameplay entails. It’s such a strange idea for a game that I’m super curious about the execution. So long as Pikachu doesn’t eat the T.V. Remote when I want him to change the show I imagine it will at least go a little smoother if I ever get my hands on it!

      Reply
  • January 4, 2018 at 12:35 pm
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    Every time I see an article that hypes up voice recognition technology in something, Hey You Pikachu is what comes to mind. This was a cute idea, and I actually did play it quite a bit and got some enjoyment from it despite not particularly loving Pikachu (he’s okay, but way overmerchandised and takes the spotlight away from other Pokemon I like more), but too much of the content was luck-based, even if Pikachu listens to you (for instance, which species of Pokemon appear when fishing and how big they are).

    So to this day I still have no faith at all in voice recognition despite the almost two decades it’s had to evolve since this game came out. Hearing my family try and fail to get proper responses from Kinect and Alexa doesn’t wash those thoughts away. :V

    Like StirFry Stunts, this game was made for kids. But just because something is meant for kids doesn’t mean it can get away with lame gameplay choices!

    Reply

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